Monday 30 June 2014

Converting a Photograph (or other picture) to Cross Stitch

As the title of this post states, I'm going to talk about converting images to cross stitch, but, before I get going, I want to mention something.

The X-Factor.

Why, I hear you ask? It's simple really. If you've ever watched The X-Factor you will know that there is always someone who auditions and thinks they're the best singer in the world - whereas, in reality they're simply awful and should never be allowed to sing again.

That's how I feel about some cross stitch conversions I've seen. They are simply awful. No detail and barely recognisable as the original image. But, for some unknown reason, people still stitch them.

Maybe people think that it will be better once stitched. 

If the image looks bad in the picture it's going to look the same when stitched. So, I want to attempt to help people understand this a bit more. Don't get me wrong, I'm no expert - there are plenty of people out there converting images with incredible results (see my review on Paine Free Crafts). There's also the incredibly popular (but overrated in my book) Heaven and Earth Designs (or HAED to those in the know).
Ok, let's get started.
I'd like to introduce you all to my beautiful cat Faith. Sadly she passed away a few years ago - but I'm sure she'd be very pleased to be the star of this post.

I took this beautiful photo in our garden years ago and it's always been one of my favourites. This is obviously the original photo.

For conversions I use Easy Cross Enterprise (which can be found here). It's not the best program on the market (I think that honour probably goes to Cross Stitch Professional which can be found here). But, compared to many of the free or very cheap programs out there Easy Cross is easily the best.
Prices are very different between these programs. I've been using EasyCross for years, but will definitely be buying Cross Stitch Pro when I can afford it.

So, I decided to convert the photo of faith at a reasonably manageable count of 18. A lot of the very detailed designs go for a much higher count (25 for example) and I will be giving an example of that too.

Ok. Here's the first example. 18ct. 22x18 inches. 35 Colours.
Now, this conversion is a BIG design. But, at 18 count the bigger the design the better the detail in my experience. Still lots of detail on Faith. The grass isn't quite as good as it could be - but with more time it could be. But, let's try to reduce the colours even more:

This is 20 colours and you can see that the definition is beginning to fade. More blocks of solid colour and less variation.
Let's reduce even more:
 This is 14 colours and there is even more loss. Yes, this still looks like faith; but the detail is really at a minimum.

Let's try something different: a smaller design. Many people don't want to do huge designs, they want a more sensible size...and that's where many problems can arise.
This version is still at 18ct. 11x9 inches with 40 colours!
Compare this one to the one above. This one is 40 colours, the one above is only 14, but because this one is much smaller most of the detail is lost. This is the sort of bad conversion I see all the time on facebook - or worse!

But, let's move on.
Now, I'm going to show you Faith at 25ct. 15x12 inches (still a manageable size in my opinion). 
This version has 67 colours (no more than many HAED designs):

The difference is instantly there for all to see. Amazing detail and subtle shading. Practically photo-realistic.

Here's another. Same size, same count, but colours reduced to 50:
Still looks good doesn't it? You can mainly see the difference around Faith's nose.

Finally, we have the same count and size but only 40 colours:
This time there's barely any change to Faith. Mostly the greens in the grass have been affected.

Hopefully, I've demonstrated that it's possible to get excellent results and still keep your design to a reasonable size. It's doesn't have to be massive to look good.

BUT...there is something you also should know. No matter how few colours, there's still going to be a lot of confetti stitches (that's those pesky isolated ones). It's the confetti stitches that help to create the shading and details. It's an inevitable effect of converting a picture and keeping the detail. Even the best companies out there still can't avoid confetti, so, if you hate it don't even bother to attempt a design of this type.

Just remember: 
Higher count fabric, more colours, bigger design the better your design will be.

But, also the photograph you start with MUST be of good quality. Don't expect miracles from pixellated, blurry or tiny pictures - you'll just get awful charts. You need a high quality, sharp photograph or image.
Likewise, if you go for small your finished design is going to look bad. Sorry, no sugar coating it.
The trick is to get the balance just right so you're happy with the results.



  1. Hi Neil,
    It has been interesting reading your blog. From what I gather you seem to stitch kits from Amazon from mainly the 'large' well known designers. Is Amazon the main store you purchase? I actually purchase my patterns generally at Scarlet Quince, XS Collectibles or Golden Kite and have recently discovered the UK company Gecko Rouge (they also own Fred Spools) and they only sell kits, but of modern often vastly different art compared to the first three companies I mentioned who mainly carry classic art patterns.

    Have you tried any of their patterns? Am just curious. stitch way faster than I do and am currently working on the Disney Dream Collection, in specific Peter Pan & Tinker bell which is taking me a whopping 2 years+. :)

    Am basically just curious as to how you go about picking your designs.

    Also, do you stitch by hand or do you use a frame & stand?

    And my last question, how long have you been cross stitching?

    Hope you don't mind the questions, am just curious.

    1. Hello Bianca

      Thanks for your interest in my blog!

      I tend to prefer kits for the simple reason that everything I need is included. I do have some more specialist projects to do. Paine Free Crafts' 'Awwoo' is one. Paine Free Crafts also produce kits in association with Gecko Rouge. Lots of detailed designs in the same vein as Gecko Rouge and Heaven & Earth Designs.

      I am also working on a self-charted picture of Indiana Jones. A one-off.

      I choose what I like purely on an emotional level. If I like a design I buy it. Quite simple really.

      If you look at two of my past posts 'Man at Work' and 'Tools of the Trade' (see archive of previous posts) you'll see what items I use.

      My mum taught me to sew - just the practical stuff like hems, buttons, darning etc when I was very young. I picked up my first cross stitch about 20 years ago as a way to occupy my hands when I was trying to give up smoking (the first time).
      I may have started smoking again - but I never stopped stitching. I was hooked.

      Hope that answers everything and hope you enjoy my blog in the future. :-)

  2. Thanks, I much appreciate your response. Have you tried and an opinion about Scarlet Quince & Golden Kite? Just curious.

    Why do you feel Haed is overrated?

    I enjoy reading what your thoughts are.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi again Bianca

      I haven't looked at Scarlet Quince or Golden Kite, but I will if I get the chance. I'm currently in the process of setting up my own cross stitch design company: Eclectic Bloke Designs so I'm really busy with that.

      Why do I feel HAED is overrated?
      That's not really a short answer, but I'll try. The shortest answer is that I feel - and this is only my personal opinion - that most of their designs are much too big. Now, that would be fine if the level of detail was in line with the size, but from what I've seen from people stitching their designs, that is not the case. Many of their designs (especially the older ones) are out of focus.
      Now, having said that, I do own a HAED chart which I do plan on stitching.
      The other major reason is I'm just not a fan of much of the artwork they convert. Some is lovely (the little dragons are great) but a lot of it is too dark for my liking.

      I love Paine Free Crafts and Tilton Crafts primarily as I think, combined, they offer a really good variety in styles.

      But, there are so many artists out there who knows what's just around the horizon?

  3. Thanks for your input, I enjoyed reading it. Am thrilled to see you moving ahead with your own designs and I hope your new company will become a roaring success. I am 'on the wagon' with at least 30 projects to stitch before I will allow myself to buy more (not sure how successful I'll be), but I will certainly check in to see your new designs...

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Bianca! Hope you visit my website soon! :-)

  4. I so so so appreciate you putting all this info on your page. This specific problem has been my Achilles heel forever. I didn't know what software to use. I didn't know what size to make my designs. I have been cross stitching for 20 years. I can tweak an existing pattern with colored pencils and highlighters but have always wanted to design my own patterns and recently my sister who is a graphic designer, designed me some highly detailed images for my children who are autistic. I have been trying to convert them in to patterns but I won't even start to stitch them because I know for a fact they are going to be blurry because I am not converting them correctly. Now I think I can do it a lot better thanks to you! And if I can't do it I'll just come to you! I love your designs by the way! Beautiful! I will definitely be a customer in the future!

    1. Hi. I'm really glad this article helped you! It's funny, reading it now. I have learned so much about charting since writing this article - although everything here is still true. I hope you manage to convert your designs - and if I can help in anyway I will certainly try. Good luck! :-)