DIY Needlepoint Design IX: Tracing It


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.

Ever wonder how professional needlepoint designers are able to have their sometimes extremely detailed images reproduced on canvas with such amazing fidelity?

Gimp Logo

Gimp Logo

We’ve spent a lot of  time in this series discussing image manipulation software and some rudimentary ideas about its potential use in original needlepoint design or image reproduction.

Now comes the tracing bit, which can be both the simplest and most difficult or frustrating part of the process, particularly depending on the complexity of a design, and, most critically, the mesh count of your canvas.

Most instructional vids or tutorials, while extremely helpful, are rather brief, and will usually make use of 13 mesh and a  simple design with little detail.

This makes it very easy to go zippity do dah, watch me trace this in a flash, but the reality is, unless you are planning to only stitch your grandkids’ kindergarten doodles, it is pretty useless, because if you want detail, you will probably want to stitch it on 18 mesh, and tracing a detailed design on 18 mesh is notoriously difficult — and, I would argue, almost impossible for the average stitcher to do well in any reasonable time frame.

Let’s look at the actual example design I finally ended up with. 

In the earlier posts, I showed you various ways to come up with a nice design on your computer.  It takes work, but one thing you will quickly realize is that less is more — the less complexity in terms of curves and shadows and other business, the better a design is from a needlepoint perspective.

With that in mind, I reworked the admittedly crude looking example design we ended up with in Section 9 of this series.
I took out the border, the arrowhead bottom of the shield, made sure the quadrants are all proportional, got rid of the hand in the upper right quadrant, bucket filled the cross Picasso blue, added the clan name, and a shamrock on the shield’s crest, resulting in a collage (remember, the icons or design elements I used in this example are reworked versions of royalty free images and clip art) that looks like this:

Final Design

Final Design

Much better.  It’s a nice, clean and simple design,  Or so it seems.  So we print it out, get all the materials that I mentioned in Section 1 of this series, place the canvas under a bright source of light, tape everything down, start tracing with our 4H pencils (easy to erase mistakes!) and coloring away with our trusty Zig Dual Tip markers. (This series aims at showing a quick way to reproduce an image:  the ins and outs of detailed acrylic painting are another subject entirely). 

Now If you are anything like me, that is to say, if you are NOT by nature a sketch artist or at least someone with a flair for copying a drawing… and believe me, on 18 mesh, you are not really going to be able to trace everything that easily, and will have to draw free hand the bits you can’t see through the mesh — then you will most likely end up with something looking like this (click on the image to enlarge).

Traced Shield

Traced Shield

Pretty limited in terms of appeal, no?  Notice the error above the top right quadrant — which I covered up with white acrylic paint (this mistake happened when I traced over the pencil with a MICRON 08 Archival Ink pen) — and, if you look closely, some other problems (not to mention that the canvas is pinned on incorrectly sized stretcher bars for a quick picture: when ready to stitch something, I would of course use much better-fitting stretcher bars!).  Sure, you can cover some of this up with nifty stitching, but the result in terms of the (18 mesh) canvas design you end up stitching is unlikely to be anything that you would remotely consider acceptable if it you saw it at a needlepoint store or online catalog.

Even with this crude tracing job, however, I can still stitch my design, and it won’t look too shabby.  For example, here are a couple of pics to show the shamrock after I stitched it.

Clover 1

Clover 1

Clover 2

Stitched Shamrock

And here’s the somewhat tricky En Passant lion. 

En Passant Closeup

En Passant Closeup

Stitched and Unstitched Quandrants

Stitched and Unstitched quadrants

A couple of things came up while I was stitching my design:

1)  There are 5 stitches at the base of the shamrock.  The 3rd stitch should have lined up exactly with the line that bisects the shield, but doesn’t.  Careful design review and/or tracing would have caught this.

2) The lion’s tail was a problem because of its extreme curves.  To solve this problem, I had to do a couple of backstitches to round it out.

3) I was able to give him some features by using a single ply of black embroidery floss.  I’m pleased to say he still looks diabolical!

4) I added 1 stitch to the raised paw, to make it look more like, well, a paw.

5) I gave him a belly, by skipping one stitch on the bottom part of his stomach.  On the trace, it was a straight line,

Luckily, I was able to solve most of these problems on the fly, using a regular Continental stitch. 

(I’ll put up a complete picture later of the entire stitched piece.  Once I put in the background, the visible tracing lines and other extraneous details you see here will disappear.)

Stitching a poorly traced DIY design can nevertheless produce a decent finished product.  However, the question remains: is there a way for a so-so tracer to come up with an awesome version of a DIY design?

The answer is yes, of course:  it involves grids, or paint charting.

Below is a peek of the design, with an 18 mesh overlay grid that is entirely software generated.  

Needlepoint design is the art of representing or interpreting the world in the form of a symbolic grid. There are valuable insights to be had into some of the basic principles of needlepoint canvas design and the art of needlepoint stitching when thinking about a technical alternative to error-prone hand tracing.

Unfortunately, discussing this subject goes well beyond the scope of this DIY series, which was how a needlepoint hobbyist can go about designing and reproducing on canvas a simple image of his or her own choosing for under $50. 

Quadrant 2 with 18 mesh grid overlay

I’ve accomplished that goal.

That said, I hope I have given you enough of a taste for the possibilities afforded by computer aided needlepoint design and image manipulation to stimulate your own interest in this endlessly fascinating topic.

 Feel free to share in the comments section any thoughts / corrections / objections/ or plaudits you may have on this series.  Meanwhile, that’s it for the tutorial on DIY Canvas 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!

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