Sunday, January 1, 2017

Needlework Patterns: Tips, Tricks and Hacks

pansy color chart
Colors plotted for a needlework pansy
I make my patterns from my own sketches or from J.D.'s or J.J.'s photographs, but I know not everyone feels comfortable doing their own designs. Most of the questions and requests I get are for counted cross-stitch embroidery or tent-stitch needlepoint. I'm going to show you how I convert an outline design into a chart for some of those techniques. I'll also provide some downloadable designs that you can use as you wish, some suggestions for their use, and some general tips for making needlework simpler and easier.

Tip: If you are tracing the outlines of a photograph, trace only the basic outlines or outstanding features. Don't put in any unnecessary details. J.J. says she finds it useful to half-close her eyes (squint) and mark only the features she sees that way. If you put in too much detail, you may make something that is difficult for other people to identify as strange as that may sound. You can always refer to the photograph and add more detail later if you think it is necessary.

(A Note from the Gnome: words in bold are terms or techniques that may be unfamiliar to you. Clicking on these words will open earlier posts from Annake with more complete explanations than we have room for here. Or, you can use "Search My Blog" in the sidebar to find all earlier mentions.)

downloadable rose drawing
Downloadable Rose design - click here
Let's begin with this simple line design of a full bloom rose and a half-open bud. You could use it as it is for a number of different types of needlework. For example:

1. Download the design and print it. Make a hot-iron transfer or use dressmakers' carbon to transfer it to fabric. Embroider the outlines only, using back-stitch, outline stitch, or (my favorite) chain stitch. You might find it interesting to do this in variegated yarn or floss, rather than in solid colors.

2. Fill in your outlines with satin stitch, long-and-short stitch, or solid chain stitch (Beauvais embroidery).

3. Make the outlines with black, red, or white yarn or floss, using the color that shows best on your background fabric. Fill in the spaces with diaper patterns. Then perhaps do it in redwork or Spanish blackwork on the front of a plain white blouse.

4. Transfer the outline to a counted cross-stitch fabric like Aida or to a needlepoint canvas. Work the sections in counted cross-stitch (on cloth) or one of the tent stitches (on canvas) up to the outlines, using partial stitches as necessary. Back-stitch around the outlines. (If you are used to working counted cross-stitch or tent stitch from a color-symbol chart, you are probably not going to like this technique; I don't like it much, either.)

Square-off rose design for cross-stitch or needlepont
"Squared-off" rose design for cross-stitch or needlepont
Cross-stitch, because of the shape of the stitch, works best with straight vertical and horizontal rows in the form of squares or the diagonals of squares. To convert curved lines to this type of pattern, I first use dressmakers' carbon and a ball-point pen that has used up all its ink to transfer the outline to ¼-inch-square graph paper. Then I use straight lines, square corners, and forward and backward diagonal lines to come as close to the curves in the design as I possibly can. The resulting design, shown here in red, is ready to be charted for either cross-stitch or needlepoint.


Tip: You can make a perfectly usable carbon by coloring the back of your pattern with a heavy layer of carbon from a soft-lead pencil. After all, the “lead” in a pencil is pure carbon. Go over the lines several times from different directions. Press hard, but don't tear the paper. If you have both the pattern and the graph paper secured to a clipboard, you can lift the pattern from time to time to make sure you are transferring all the lines.

owl design plotted on graph paper
Owl design plotted in color on graph paper

Now let's look at an owl that has already been made into a design for counted cross-stitch. I have already “squared” the curves of the bird and drawn in the whole or partial cross-stitches with colored pencils in the colors I plan to use for the embroidery. The solid lines around the sections indicate the back-stitching I will use to complete the embroidered design. This design can be worked in many sizes, from tiny ones where each stitch is done over a single thread of the background fabric to a much larger one in which each X covers a large gingham square.



When we left Panama more than forty years ago, some of my artist friends gave me a going-away party. They knew I liked owls, so each of them had made a decorative owl for me. There were raffia owls, macrame owls, embroidered owls, and small framed pen-and-ink, watercolor, and tempera owls. Sadly, the lady who drew this particular owl is no longer living. I have meant for some time to convert the plump little cross-eyed owl into a needlework design and here it is.

owl needlepoint in progress
Owl needlepoint from chart, in progress


To show how versatile these charts are, I used the cross-stitch chart to make the little owl in needlepoint also. After all, a tent stitch is really just half of a cross-stitch. I plan to do the background in light blue, but you could do it in any color of your choice.


Tip: The chart may also be used in latch-hooking a chair seat or a rug design; in that case, each X represents a knot made with the latch-hook.




In tent-stitch needlepoint, whether continental, basketweave, or diagonal stitching, all stitches are diagonal stitches slanting from lower left to upper right. Charts are usually done with each stitch represented by a square. The squares may be colored or color-coded, using numbers or symbols. I usually begin with a design worked out in colored squares. I try to use pens that closely approximate the color of yarn or floss I have used (or plan to use) in the finished design. But I also add a color “key” describing the colors and even give floss numbers if I have them. If I use numbers in a chart, they represent shades of color in the design, with #1 as the lightest shade and higher numbers for increasingly darker shades. You can see this in my downloadable iris pattern.

Tip: if you are left-handed, simply make your stitches slant from upper right to lower left and work from right to left instead of from left to right on the canvas. The over-all effect will be the same.

Here is a final tent stitch pattern of a pansy for downloading. J.D. has converted my original design to an electronic version. We have also provided a simple “squared-off” outline so that you can make the pansy in the colors of your choice. Just remember to keep the darker colors toward the bottom to make the pansy “face”. I hope you have found these examples and tips helpful.




To dowload outline, click here;
To download colored needlework chart, click here.

I want to wish all of you a safe, healthy, and happy New Year.




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