Tutorial: DIY Paint Charting

Modified PD Illo

Modified PD Illo

So I was stitching the Cross Quadrant (or Quadrant 2) of the Coat of Arms (see my previous 9-part tutorial, yes, 9), when some unexpected issues came up.

Final Design

Final Design

It just wasn’t coming out right, like in the nice picture on the right.

So I decided to write a mini tutorial post about how to fix stitching problems that may arise after you trace a design. In particular I will discuss how to create a painted stitch chart guide on the fly to fix such problems.

Here goes.

What I am about to show you makes use of Gimp — it’s open sourced, freely available, downloadable software.

First, I cut out Quadrant 2 from my design image (see above). This will enable me to isolate and fix the issues with the part of the traced design I am working on.

A word about grids.  I’ve read some discussions on the Internet about how the holes in a stitch grid represent pixel sizes, or something to that effect.  However, according to Needlepoint Land’s opinionated house parrot (see my logo), they don’t.

The good news is, this really does not concern us here.

I will refer to the holes in the canvas as stitch holes, or simply squares (which is what they look like on a grid).

The picture you see below is 99 px W x 125 px H. In inches, the picture is 1.375″ W x 1.736″ H. This is close enough to its actual size (see the traced canvas I showed you iin the earlier, DIY Design/Tracing Series) to get a good visual sense for the improvements I am about to make.


Pic 1

Now as we all know, 18 mesh means 18 squares per inch on the canvas. Stated another way, if you measure an inch along a straight line in your canvas, you will be able to fit 18 squares.

If you divide 1″ by 18, you get .0555.

So what I did is overlay a grid on my cropped out image.  I went to the Image –> Configure Grid, and set the spacing to .055.  Below is how the quadrant then appeared in Gimp.  Notice the ratio of squares per inch.  It is exactly what you would expect.


Pic 2

It’s often quite useful to have your grid squares numbered. Gimp, alas, does not natively provide this facility. I’m looking into finding an add-on that might do the job.

One of the beauties of using a desktop computer monitor as a stitch guide is that you can enlarge your display.  So I reset the resolution of the tiny image you see above to 400 percent.  This created a new image that I could easily examine without straining my eyes.


Pic 3

Looking at this image, I immediately spotted three major problems.

You can now clearly see that most of the curves of the traced design don’t entirely fill the squares they pass through.  It is not possible in needlepoint to stitch, say, half a square or stitch hole.  That’s no problem in cross stitch — which is one of the reasons why you can get more richness and detail with it.

The other problem is that the stems (or limbs) of the cross are not properly aligned.

The third problem is the additional misalignment of the cross itself inside the quadrant.  As you can now easily tell thanks to the (perhaps overly!) enlarged grid, the cross has 2 columns to its left, and 3 to its right.  I shall ignore this problem in the traced version of this design, but will return to address it at a later time.

Having identified the two problems I’m going to deal with, I decided to fix the first one by coloring each square in the partially filled curve cells, while trying to still keep the overall design intact.

The objective is to provide the illusion of a curved line using a stitch charting technique I will refer to as stair-stepping.

In other words, I will have to completely shade in some squares (for example, going two down and 1 across), which in effect will result in a custom stitch guide for this part of the traced design.

In addition, I shall have to straighten out the stems of the cross — again, to give the illusion that this is a perfectly executed tracing of the design. This will entail coloring the main column of the cross, as necessary, to create an unbroken line of blue.

I’ll use MS Paint (which comes with Windows) to show you how this is accomplished (much quicker to use for this sort of thing:  I’ll just click on pale blue in the color palette, then bucket fill).


Pic 4

The above pic shows you how I experimented with potential solutions.

The pale blue coloring represents squares that I decided to stitch completely. I also bucket filled with yellow to identify which ones I didn’t.  Please note that what I’m showing you here is how to apply paint charting fixes using this software, not the completed fixes.

As it turned out, I didn’t even have to paint chart the entire thing.

Once I came up with a potential fix say, to the top limb of the cross, I immediately verified if it worked with a few stitches on the actual canvas.  I found that I could play around with the colored boxes, without having to stair step the whole image.  This way, I was able to quickly fix these two problems through a process of trial and error, with a minimum of stitch pulling.

Here’s a pic of the (partially) stitched end result (note the pic is dark looking because I took it indoors at night):


Pic 5

I used a royal blue (Anchor 147) embroidery floss (4-ply).

It closely matches the color of the cross in the design (although it does not quite appear to do so in the image you see above).  It’ll also complement the yellow thread I’ve chosen as the background for Quadrant 2.

Notice that each end point of the widest part of each cross lines up with its opposite.

This made the design element symmetrical, with everything now lining up properly.  It also brought into relief the underlying + motif that runs throughout the design:  the battle ax, the lines separating the quadrants, the shamrock, and of course the cross pattée itself.

(By the way, please ignore the blue threads you see on the back of the cross, I was just doodling to see how I could fix the problems and carried my blue thread in the back.  That may show through under my yellow background, so I am going to fix that before I continue.)


I’ve discussed the basics of what I refer to as stair-stepping a design.

The quick and dirty technique outlined here is useful in fixing a poorly traced DIY design.  This does entail a learning curve with Gimp, which is enormously powerful for image manipulation, and can be customized in many interesting ways for the purpose of needlepoint stitching.

If you’re a beginner, I hope I gave you a sense of what needlepoint charting is about.   If you’re more experienced, I hope you might consider this paint charting technique in your future projects.

While tracing through mesh is a crude way to create a DIY design, it has its place when you want to quickly stitch a simple design.

Charting your designs ensures that they’ll be stitch-friendly.  It also is an indispensable technique to accurately paint a design on canvas the same way every time.

Try it!


Added Wed Aug 21

Here’s a comparison of the original traced canvas vs the now fixed and stitched upper quadrants.





Erin McGrath and Needlepointland.com, 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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