DIY Canvas Design: Part II — Getting your Design in Needlepoint Shape


Disclaimer: This tutorial series is intended for educational purposes only and is aimed at needlepoint hobbyists.  If you make use of any information presented in this series, please do not infringe on any copyrights.

Now that I’ve ordered my needlepoint working materials, it’s time to focus on getting my design ready to trace. 

I’m selecting a reference illustration that has some nice, straight lines, so that I can easily position the canvas on to my finished design the same way every time, when tracing.  It’s a heraldic Irish design that dates back to the Middle Ages:  namely, the McGrath coat of arms.  I found one here that I will use as a baseline.


To determine how close this design (which is widely reproduced on T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc) is to the original, I compared it to the coat of arms found on (the notorious) Miler McGrath’s 17th-century tomb:

It’s a long way to Tipperary

I definitely liked the spacing and decorative elements of the original better.  As you can see, there are several important differences (going from upper left, clockwise):

1) The O’Brien lions should be facing the viewer

2) The Cross Pattée is the wrong variant

3) The antelope should be rearing up on its hind legs

4) The hand holding the axe is way to the side, in the bottom left quadrant, and the forearm is too long

5) The position of the thumbs are incorrect

6) The escutcheon (shield) tapers to an arrowhead

7) The Miler coat of arms has borders, around the shield, and between the quadrants

I tried fixing these problems using freely available graphic image manipulation program (Gimp 2.8, and MS Paint).

Here is what I did.

I pasted a public domain, altered version of the Cross Pattée from Wiki.  I also reversed a royalty free illustration — the rearing agacella (stylized, heraldic antelopes) — from the Collection of Dorling Kindersley RF, which is available on Thinkstock.  I also replaced the vaguely Albion-like charge lions with the more authentic looking O’brien ones, which I found here.  What I ended up with is, no doubt, a historically inaccurate version of the McCraith/McGrath coat of arms, but no matter:  I’m just having fun illustrating how to put a design of one’s own making, using freely available software — the ultimate aim being to learn how to trace a simple custom design on a needlepoint canvas.

I then saved the result as a PNG file, a better format than JPG.

How long did this step take?

I’m not a graphics designer, so it took me approximately 30 – 45 minutes worth of noodling to end up with what you see below.  An experienced designer would have done this in minutes, no doubt. I should mention that there is initially a high learning curve with Gimp, unless you’ve used Photoshop or similar programs before.  But once you get the hang of it, it’s quite simple to make the small changes that I did to my starting image.

Customized Version of McGrath Coat of Arms

Finally, I sized the reworked image  to 7″ x 8″, or 653 x 768 px, so that it prints nicely on a regular printer page.  This way, I won’t to have to stitch a lot of montonic background.  You might have noticed that I added some kelly-ish green for effect, and decided to pass on fixing the thumbs (which should be straight, not pointing down), as well as the arrowhead and borders.  I may decide to add these later, when I’m stitching the design.  We’ll see how it goes.  That is one of the many nice things about needlepoint: you don’t have to slavishly adhere to a design template.  I often improvise as I go along, which to me is part of the enjoyment of needlepoint stitching.

The next step is to trace this design on 18-mesh canvas.  I certainly hope that I will end up with well-defined stitching lines.  If the agacella gives me any trouble, I will trace him separately off a black and white printout (sized correctly of course), or get rid of him entirely.  I may have to do the same with the lions.  At any rate, I now have a good idea of how my finished piece will look.


(this new segment added Sunday evening, August 11, 2013)

Just found the perfect rearing antelope illustration for my little custom design project.   Unfortunately, I cannot attribute it here, as no artist or copyright information whatsoever is made available about this image on the automated aggregation page I found it on (if you happen to know the name of the artist who drew it, please let me know and I will be sure to post it!).

At any rate, I reworked the bottom right quadrant, and now have something I’m almost done fiddling with.  One of the useful features of Gimp, by the way, is the Cartoon tool.  It allowed me to automatically make the lines in the drawing appear more defined, without having to trace them over with the Pencil tool, or whatever.  Then I used Paint to erase the few little splotches it left behind (I find Paint is easier and more intuitive for some simple tasks).

McGrath Coat of Arms

Click on the pic to see the full 7″ x 8″ image

Next I’ll print the image out, and hand draw over the fuzzy bits with my Sharpie.  It should then, at last, be good to go in terms of tracing it on to my canvas.

Stay tuned for further adventures with my totally fabulous coat of arms needlepoint design!

Next: Tracing your Design

Erin McGrath and, 2012 – 2016.


About Erin

Owner of Needlepoint Land, LLC. Professional in the field for more than 15 years, during which I have managed and/or worked with various high-end needlepoint shops. I enjoy teaching both beginners and advanced stitchers, and have created numerous stitch guides, with speciality thread selections, for in-store customers and private clients. I maintain contact with an extensive network of needlepoint vendors, custom artists, and, most importantly, reliable, high-quality finishers. I look forward to hearing your comments on my blog!

2 responses »

  1. Glad you like this coat of arms project–great idea for the jewelry box tops for your medieval group. 18m isn’t that bad. If it gets to higher count canvas or linen, then I need magnifiers also. And to think of all the x-stitch I used to do on 36 ct. linen over one.

  2. Love this! I am going to do tiny ones for jewelry box tops for SCA friends (medieval group). I’m intomidated by the 18 ct canvas….yikes. New reading glass time!

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