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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Tips on turning a photo into a pattern: the Ladybird Poppy

Cross stitch software is hugely popular now with hobby stitcher as well as professionals and this is a great way of exploring your interest in embroidery and making your own designs. You don't have to be a professional to benefit from design software and it can be really fun to play around with. If you're thinking about buying a package, start with something basic and don't spend too much. I only progressed from my first basic package when I became serious about publishing my own designs. Before you buy anything, look for free trial versions to download. That way you can decide if you like them first.
Even basic software will offer you plenty of features to allow you to create good quality patterns, whether you're starting from scratch or working from a photo. Scanning in a photo and converting it to a cross stitch pattern is really easy and all you have to do is follow the onscreen instructions. However, if you want to end up with a workable pattern, you will need to make some changes before you print it. Here is a little insight into how I work with photos and some tips on how you can make great patterns from your own pictures.
The first thing to say is that your computer may be awesome at many things but it doesn't have the eyes or the brain of a cross stitcher. It doesn't understand how to select the right colours or create a pattern that works well from a practical point of view. All those annoying little things you don't like about cross stitch patterns - your computer doesn't understand that you don't want them.
Here is a pattern I have just recently finished called Ladybird Poppy. I adapted it from a picture my Dad took in our garden a few years ago. As soon as I saw the photo on the screen, I knew it had the potential to be turned into a pattern; the colours and the shape made a really striking image. Flowers make an excellent subject for cross stitch and are great starting point for making your own patterns.

I began adapting the picture by removing all of the background. You want the focus to be on the main subject of the piece so by removing all of the unnecessary parts of the picture, you're not only cutting down on the amount of work needed to complete the pattern, you're creating a much cleaner image and a better composition. When I was left with just the flower head, it gave me the perfect sized pattern to fit into an 8-inch hoop.
Next, you need to check the colours. The computer will automatically match colours it picks out from the photo with the colours in the cross stitch software's database. This is where you need to be careful. The colours that you see on the screen are likely to look very different to the actual threads. It might be worth investing in a colour card to help you decide if the colours are correct or you might have colours in your stash to compare with the image.

The Ladybird Poppy pattern I have now is significantly different to the original and the picture below compares the two stitched versions. You can see that my first attempt (on the right) has brighter tones and even quite a bit of orange in it. I realised as I was stitching it that it looked completely wrong. Ladybird poppies have beautiful rich, red petals with black spots - hence the name. The computer had interpreted patches of sunlight on the petals as an orangey-red colour. This is where you can make a decision that the computer can't and it's also where a colour card really comes in handy. I had to do a bit of 'shuffling' of the colours to get a more realistic palette.

I also had to look carefully at the light and shade in the petals. The bottom petals are curled up and this is what gives the image the interesting shape. The computer doesn't understand what a flower looks like and so you have to make sure the colours reflect the light and shade and form of the petals. This was not clear in the original pattern and so I corrected it in the new version.
Another very common problem with using software is the 'speckling' that often occurs. This is when you get odd stitches here and there of a different colour to the surrounding stitches. Here, you have to make a judgement about how much detail you want in each area of the picture. For the poppy, I wanted more detail on the green seed-head in the centre in order to give texture but I wanted the petals to look smooth and shiny. The petals of ladybird poppies are not as delicate as those on other types of poppy and are not as transparent. They do reflect a lot of sunlight and so there are quite a few different shades of red in the petals of this pattern. I wanted these different shades to be blended properly in order to get a naturalistic effect but too much speckling can make the pattern more complicated than it needs to be. As much as I love cross stitch I have a relatively short attention span so I like to feel that I'm making progress! Therefore, I keep speckling to a minimum in my designs.

While you've checked the speckling, have a look at the colours in your palette. Are there enough? Are there too many? Sometimes you'll find that some colours are only used for a tiny number of stitches. When I checked the shades of green used in the centre of poppy, I found that two shades were very similar and were used for a fairly small number of stitches each. I decided to use just one of the shades for all of those particular stitches. If you're devising your own pattern and the same thing happens, check if you already have those colours in your stash. If you do, then it doesn't matter and you don't necessarily have to leave one of them out. I made the change because I wouldn't want to buy a whole new skein for just a few stitches and I wouldn't expect somebody buying my pattern to do that either.
So, you've got a good composition, you've checked the colours and you've decided how much detail you want on the picture. Now all you have to do is check the overall shape of each part. Does anything look a bit weird? If so, simply add or take away stitches until you're happy. Don't forget to save the pattern when you've made changes you're happy with. That way, if you go on to make a mistake you can go back to an earlier point in the design and try again.
I hope you find this helpful. If you have any questions or comments, leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter or Facebook. If you'd like to buy this Ladybird Poppy pattern, you can either click on the Etsy Mini listing at the top of this page or click here to go to my Payhip shop.

All photos (c) Karen Eley 2015



Friday, 13 March 2015

Leopold Shakespeare Letter B design

I have mentioned in previous posts how much I love old books and how much of an inspiration they can be when I'm looking for ideas. This design is one such pattern and is inspired by a motif in an 1899 edition of the Leopold Shakespeare.

The Leopold Shakespeare is an anthology of the bard's works which list al of his plays and sonnets in chronological order. Originally published in 1877, the volume was dedicated to HRH Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the eight child and fourth son of Queen Victoria. He died at the early age of 30 from haemophilia in 1884.

The edition which inspired my design has my Grandad's name written in the front along with the date 20th November, 1947. This is very close to his birthday so perhaps it was a present or something he bought with birthday money. As well as illustrations of various scenes from the plays, there are numerous arts and crafts-style motifs. This letter B is at the beginning of Scene 2 Act 1 of King John. The letter is used as a trellis for an ivy-like plant which winds around the form.

In my design, I have replaced the ivy with roses and simplified them a little. The main part of the letter is worked in cross stitch while blackwork is used to fill in the spaces and also to give some texture to the roses. A sparkle of gold finishes off the trellis. These days, you can use any colours you like for blackwork but I prefer the traditional black because it's so striking and has a classic, timeless beauty.

You can buy the pattern from either of my shops which you can find on Etsy and Payhip. You can now also follow me on Instagram, with the same name as my twitter account hawthorntree_xs - I'll be posting behind-the-scenes photos and sharing more about my inspirations.

All photos (c) Karen Eley/The Hawthorn Tree 2015