Designing & Charting Programs

Designing & Charting Programs
Over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of programs that promise you will be able to turn your photographs into charts for stitching.

Stitchers have, naturally, flocked to these. Many, however, have been very disappointed with the results. The first surprise many get is the number of colours the program wants to use – sometimes 200 or more! – and then there is the quality, which always seems to be pixelated.

Even the charts, which come from “professionals” who do these conversions, seem to lack the finish that the purchased charts we get have. And then, suddenly, you find some that are exceptionally good and professional. And stitchers ask “how”?

Well, I have to confess that I find these programs difficult to use. Mostly because, good as they are for other computer tasks, a mouse is just not useful for drawing.

So what are the pros and cons of these programs?

Firstly, they allow you to create charts yourself, using a relatively simple interface. This means that your stitching world expands massively, letting your create original works even if you have no drawing talent.

Secondly, they let you truly appreciate what effort professional designers put into their work. There’s nothing like doing something yourself to make you appreciate an expert.

On the con side: it is a lot of effort. You have to have excellent mouse control, and an ability to “see” the picture in your minds eye as you design. The problem with this is the size of the screen and your pattern. If it’s small enough to see the whole lot on the screen, then it’s too small to work on. On the other hand, if you enlarge it to make it easy to work with, then you can’t see the whole pattern.

Now, that’s not a problem when you’re stitching, but it can be when designing. It’s why many designers draw their initial picture first. I know when I design, I like to draw the design onto graph paper, and then I can transfer it to a computer program for the final process – assigning symbols to each colour, etc.

Of course, then there’s the problem of back stitching, or even designing for linear work (like blackwork). If you’re using a mouse to do this, you need incredible control of your mouse – which most people just don’t have.

I recommend that if you are going to be using and designing using computer programs, then you invest in a tablet. The stylus that comes with the tablet gives you incredible control over your work in these programs.
It means that you can draw your back stitching in, and control with exacting precision the placement of the stitches on the chart.


When using one of these programs to convert a photo or piece of artwork to a chart, then you will be astonished at the hundreds of colours the program will through up at you for the converted piece.

I’ve had the experience of using 2 colours in an original artwork, scanning it and then importing it – and the conversion used over 20 colours!

Why is this so? (to quote the late Professor Julius Sumner-Miller)

When you scan, the scanner picks up all sorts of colour variations, including those from imperfections in the way the light of the scanner lights up the piece. The computer then converts these using as many colours as it can, to try to get the best reproduction it can.

Obviously, some engineer thought this was a good idea.

So your first decision is to make sure that you set the parameters at the beginning of the conversion. Look carefully at the original, and decide how many colours you’re prepared to use.

Usually, a maximum of 40 colours for a very intricate piece is the most you will need. You can cut this down further by choosing to blend colours.

Then, look at the main colour in the background. If it’s blue, then specify using a blue cloth. When the conversion is done, remove all the blue that matches the background. It’s a technique often used by professionals. You may want to keep a few stitches in for texture, but that’s something that you can put in at the end to suit yourself.


Never try to fit your piece on one page, unless it’s really small. It’s just not readable. Let it be as big as it needs to, so that you can make adjustments as you go.

It’s up to you how you print – all programs have a choice of displaying the chart as symbols, symbols on coloured blocks, coloured stitches, etc. I often print two – one with just black and white symbols, and the other as coloured stitches.


I promise you – you will be making adjustments and correcting errors as you stitch. It’s not you, it’s the nature of design. It’s why professional designers have “test stitchers” whose job it is to stitch their design, noting how much thread it takes, whether the instructions are clear or not, and (most importantly) if there are any errors in the chart.

Now, these errors can be mistakes in putting the wrong colour in the wrong place, but often they are small things where the particular stitch or colour just doesn’t “go”.

So, when stitching your own designs, be prepared to make constant adjustments, and for unpicking and re-stitching.

The important thing is to keep a record of the changes you’ve made, and then adjust your chart so that in the future it’s correct.

Of course, the fun also lies when you experiment with blending threads, different threads for different areas, adding beads, charms, etc. It’s why we all want to design – to let our imagination run free.

And lets’ face it: isn’t that why we embroider? To let our stitching release our imagination so that our finished artwork is “ours”.

Designing your own embroideries is very time consuming, and can be frustrating. But it can also be rewarding and fulfilling.

The important thing to remember is that the charting program only does the first part – it’s up to you to provide the details.

Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.

Happy Stitching

Happy Stitching from Megan

© 2007 Megan McConnell

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