More and more stitchers are becoming interested in creating their own patterns—either to break into next-level creativity or because they cannot find exactly what they are looking for from the many designers and creators out there.
Whatever your reason, here are some helpful tips and tricks for creating a cross-stitch pattern.
If you are not a designer (or have a designer's "eye"), don't start by trying to create a full-coverage piece. It's not that you can't, it's just that it takes time to build up to a piece with lots of details. Start with some smaller pieces so you can refine your skills, reduce frustration, and reduce the chance of giving up on pattern creation altogether.
Don't snag someone else's design
You may be tempted to use elements of other designer's work to create your own. Please don't. People work very hard to come up with their original designs. If you do see a design that you think would make a great pattern, reach out to the artist to ask permission. You'd be surprised at how many artists are flattered that you want to adapt their work, especially if they are not into stitching!
If you want to try your hand at designing but you're not a good hand-drawing, consider subscribing to services that provide art, like Creative Fabrica. If there is a chance that you may be selling these patterns some day, be sure that you have a service that includes commercial use of artwork or that the art you are selecting is OK for commercial use. This may require you to read fine print (GASP!) but it's important to protect yourself and respect the artist. Different artists and art sources have different parameters for commercial use so don't assume (ass-u-me) you're OK on one site because you are OK on another.
Decide if you want to design on paper or on your computer
I can't draw. I can picture what I want to create in my head, but I can't translate that to a drawing on paper or draw from scratch in Illustrator, Procreate, or another design software.
What I am really good at is putting together elements to make a design. For that reason, I use a design program to create the art for pattern then import that art into stitching software.
Stitching software is another matter of personal preference. While I use MacStitch (the Mac companion to WinStitch), there are many others. [Note: For a run-down on cross-stitch pattern creation software, you should head over to Lord Libidan's great cross-stitch blog.]
For smaller, simpler pattern — or if you are a talented artist — gridding it out on graph paper is a great, low-tech option. And, if you are designing just for your own enjoyment, it works perfectly!
Be prepared to modify your pattern while stitching
When you start stitching your pattern, you're likely to find errors or want to tweak parts of your creation. Don't be discouraged. It's absolutely normal. That's why pattern creators generally stitch their designs before making them available to the public.
If you are planning to sell your patterns, here are some additional tips:
Be aware of the size of your design
It's easy to get caught up in the stitching part of your pattern rather than the finishing part. Consider typical frame and hoop sizes when planning your pattern. If you make an odd-sized pattern, your buyers may have a difficult time finding off-the-shelf finishing options.
Use readily avalable flosses
Sure, there are some stitchers that like to bring their own flair to any pattern, substituting floss colors and brands, using hand-dyed fabrics, and so much more. But for those who like to follow patterns to the letter, don't make it difficult for them to find the called-for colors. There are some DMC colors that are not widely available, especially in stores. Yes, people can order floss online but if you only need one skein it's difficult to justify ordering it and paying shipping (especially if it turns out to be an international shipment).
Make the pattern available in different formats
As more and more people work from tablets, phones, and laptops rather than printed pattern pages, be sure to deliver the pattern in multiple ways: People who like to work from printed patterns appreciate when patterns are broken up into sections so individual squares are clearer. Those who work from a screen prefer to have a one-page digital pattern that they can display on their tablet or phone.
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I'm teaching my husband, an engineer, how to cross stitch.
I'll admit that I'm not the most patient teacher, especially with people I know. But I am also confident that my husband is not the most patient pupil.
If you know any engineers, you'll know that most engineers think and act precisely. Why? Because, as my husband likes to remind me, when you aren't precise, people could die: airplanes can crash, bridges could buckle, our power grid could fail, medical devices could cause harm. Yeah, my husband is a very up-beat and positive person, right?
Now take that need for precision and bring it to our world of cross stitching. Sure, what we do, in most cases, follows a pattern so you'd think that would be great for someone who craves precision.
Not my husband.
I'm from the "it's art, so do what feels right" school of creativity, including cross stitch. As a student, my husband wants to know what to do, step-by-step, and doesn't want to hear any variations on the "right" way to do it.
I see similar approaches to stitching in many of the cross stitching (and general crafting) groups I belong to on Facebook. Regardless of the poster's level of stitching expertise, there is often a question of finding the "right way." It doesn't matter if it's about where to start your pattern, or the technique to start (or end) your stitches, or how to wash your finished project (if at all): stitchers are seeking THE answer.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but there isn't one correct way to do anything. There are best practices, but not clear right or wrong.
Cross stitching is your art, so don't let anyone dictate how you practice your art. Take chances. Make mistakes (and don't frog them). Sometimes your experiments will work out but, to be honest, sometimes it won't look the way you envisioned, but you may learn a new technique that you can try when stitching something else or be able to decipher where you went wrong.
Start your pattern wherever you want. Mix up the direction of your stitches for added texture. Swap out French knots for beads. Knot your thread. Never wash your fabric. Don't bother framing your finished projects. The world is at your fingertips and no one can tell you what to do.
Sure, ask for advice on the fabric you choose for a pattern, or whether you should backstitch or not, but don't let the posts you see in your stitching communities or the people who comment on your work make you question your decisions about your own projects. Heck, you may even find more people who approach stitching the way you do and build an entirely new community of like-minded, adventurous stitchers.
Sources: Wikipedia, apa.org, time.com, businessinsider.com. Illustration courtesy of medium.com
References: cdc.gov; nationalbreastcancer.org; breastcancer.org, komen.org; cancer.net; American Society of Clinical Oncologists; Elle Magazine online, Doherty Is Not Signing Off Just Yet, Katie Pickert, September 29, 2020.
As you may know, stitching was historically used, in some cases, to express political and even subversive views and to involve women, who were typically the stitchers at the time, in causes and activities of importance to them and society. Women weren't in the room so they had to find ways to include themselves in the issues of the day.
I am fairly active in a number of Facebook stitching groups and have seen, over and over, people frustrated by political posts in stitching discussions.
"Can't we keep this to stitching," is the overarching mantra from these posters.
My answer to that: Absolutely not.
StitchLife may be about stitching, but it's also about life - and life is messy (like the back of my stitch projects) and uncertain and complicated. Life is lived in gray areas. Stitching may bring color to our day-to-day but it isn't the only thing happening in any of our lives.
On any given day, our members may be living with grief, depression, abuse, food, housing, and/or financial insecurity, sexism, racism, xenophobia, hate, poor health, and so much more. Turning away from these life events because this is a "stitching group" is short-sighted.
We are here to help each other holistically - not just in finding a particular floss that is sold out at your LNS or big-box store.
StitchLife was founded on the premise that this is not your momma's needlepoint. We will not be silent. We will not blindly accept. We will not squash opinions, even when they are not in line with those of the founders of this publication. We will not stay quietly in the dark because we feel that whatever is happening in society doesn't impact our lives as stitchers. We will not bury our heads in the sand, ignoring what is going on around us just because we are a group of cross stitchers.
As for StitchLife, just to be clear:
I heard on the news today that South Carolina (USA) is the latest state to cancel in-person schools for the rest of the academic year. I also heard the collective sigh of parents across the U.S. trying to figure out how to balance their homes being offices, schools, movie theaters, restaurants, dog parks, houses, and sometimes even doctors' offices.
I'm going to start this by telling you: I don't have human children. I'm not going to pretend to understand what parents are experiencing right now. I do, however, have lots of friends all over the United States who have children from age 3 months-old to 25+ years-old. These parents post their experiences and frustrations on social media, and I take notice.
You may have seen the same posts I have; or at least the same theme. Some are funny. Some are frustrating. Some make me glad I only have dogs.
But just because I'm honoring our stay-home order in a house with only my husband and our dogs, I'm going to share some thoughts on keeping your cool when you are seeing the same people in the same setting, all day, every day.
Keep a Schedule
Even though we don't have children, we still believe in keeping a schedule. I'm not that high-strung, I promise, I just know that my husband needs routine while he's home. I have worked from home before so all this home time isn't bothering me much. We have kept our weedays on our "normal" weekday schedule of getting up, taking the dogs to daycare, starting work, stopping for meals, doing chores around the house. We go to bed at our normal "school-night" time and get up "for work" at the same time as we used to. It helps us tremendously. It helps our dogs, to be honest, to have their schedule, too. Friends have told me that they are staying up later, sleeping more, eating mindlessly, and are generally feeling more out of sorts. Schedules may seem boring but in this time when the month of March seemed to be 93 days long and most days start by asking, 'What day is it?' on your first conference call of the day, they are so important to keep grounded during this unreal time.
Editor's Note: If you have a toddler, you are likely laughing at this "schedule" nonsense. You should be. Toddlers live by their own rules, which change every hour.
Share Home Responsibilites
My former boss and his wife have this stay-home stuff perfected. Seriously. They are taking this time to have fun with their two middle-schoolers and their two dogs. They have "PE class" together most days, go on nature walks to do photography during "art class," and share meal-making responsibilities throughout the week. I asked my boss if he would rent out his daughter to teach me how to cook after I saw pictures of a remarkable seafood dish she made. I'm sure they still bicker about taking care of the pets or putting away laundry, but making required online learning entertaining and dividing day-to-day chores so they aren't falling on just one or two people helps everyone, ok helps busy parents, cope a little better. Ultimately, if that means fewer meltdowns, it will make this unexpected forced-family time a little more bareable.
A dear friend of mine has a family date night every week with his wife and two children. They have a wheel where they each got to put two of their favorite every-day type restaurants. They added a couple of spinner's choice spaces and that's how they pick where they are going to enjoy their date night meal. They've continued to do a modified version of this during the pandemic, just switching to places that are either doing takeaway or delivery. That's their quarantine indulgance -- and it keeps a sense of normalcy at a time when my friend is working from home, the kids are learning online, and his wife is furloughed. Maybe your indulgance is getting an ice cream cake at the grocery store or renting a first-run movie from your TV. Whatever it is, try to celebrate being together at least once per week.
Most states' stay-at-home orders don't prevent you from going outside, even to public and state parks. Now is a great time to do yard work, plant your garden, wash the outside of your home's windows, or just walk around! For the record, I'm not advocating outside play dates with the neighborhood kids or a pick-up game of basketball at the community courts -- I'm talking activities that get you outside, gets you away from a screen, the couch. and/or the news. A change of landscape could do a world of good. My best friend in NYC has been on lockdown, arguably the strictest in the United States, for about 10 weeks. For those people who have never lived in or visited NYC, it is not designed for staying in your apartment all the time. Trust me. I lived there for eight years. Apartments are small, kitchens are tiny and have appliances and cabinetry that barely will hold enough food for a few meals. There are thousands of restaurants because New Yorkers eat on the run. They are in packed buses and subways multiple times per day. Add to all that activity my very outgoing BFF. Not a good combo. When I asked how she was coping she told me that going out for a run or long walk is what keeps her sane. She said that she trys to go outside -- in full compliance of all NYC regulations -- at least once per day. She keeps those outings purposeful and focused.
Of course, please check your local regulations, follow all precautions, and wear protective equipment -- and only go out if you are not testing positive, waiting for test results, or are immunocompromised.
Find Ways to Help Others - as a Family
My former roommate's wife is not only kind and caring, she's hella crafty, too. They live in New York (state, not city) so their stay-at-home order started a little earlier than most. As soon as the PPE shortages were announced, she started a family production line for cloth masks. Even though she has two teenagers, she was able to get everyone together for a few hours per day to churn out masks and deliver them to local healthcare facilities. Not only were they doing something together, and filling their days with something other than YouTube and Netflix, they were doing their parts to help their community. If sewing isn't your thing, how about volunteering at the food bank or offering to foster an animal to help your local animal shelter? I know a friend who goes on hikes with her family -- and have decided to clean up the trails that they hike each weekend by picking up trash, cleaning up the path ammenities, and moving path hazards.
If all else fails, focus on what you can focus on. I'm a big fan of a checklist (see photo above) that a friend posted on Facebook to keep in line and continue to do as much as I'm capable of right now.
I see more and more pictures of stitchers with their stitching buddies - cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs (you know who you are!), and more. As someone who generally prefers pets over people, I love these photos. Love them. They warm my heart.
Then I talked to a friend whose sweet little dog swallowed one of her cross-stitch needles.
As you can imagine, she was panicked. Luckily, her pup was fine, after a trip to the emergency vet and surgery to remove the offending needle. But it scared my friend shitless.
So I got to thinking about all the things we work with while stitching that can be dangerous to our furry and feathered friends.
That's the obvious one. They are so easy to lose - even with needle minders or what I scientifically call the "couch arm method" (jamming it into the arm of whatever chair you're in!). I have dropped my needle so many times and only found it when it stabbed me in the flesh. Now imagine if your fuzzy friend found it first. Curious kitties may get one lodged in their paws. Nosy pups could swallow that needle, just like my friend's dog did.
Injuries could run from a benign poke in the paw to complex surgery or worse.
While those magnetic cuties may be helpful while stitching, they could be dangerous for your pet. Those little magnets can be swallowed and called all sorts of digestive havoc. "While even one magnet can cause problems, such as obstruction and/or irritation of an animal’s digestive tract, the real danger happens when two or more magnets are swallowed by a curious, mischievous, or otherwise wayward pet," preventivevet.com reports.
I'm not positive, but I am pretty sure that the internet was made for cute cat videos, especially kittens playing with string. You may still think it's cute to taunt your pet with your floss, seeing them swat at it as you dangle it in front of their curious faces. Just stop there. In doing some research on PetMD, I learned that an animal swallowing string, yarn, floss, or twine is called swallowing a linear foreign body. It can be incredibly dangerous for your fur baby to swallow long lengths of floss and it may be instinctual to immediately try to pull it out of their mouths. Don't! Take your pet to the vet immediately so it can be removed safely.
No shit, it can be dangerous to your pet. Many fabrics have dyes or fabric stiffener that, if ingested, can be harmful to your pet. It can also be dangerous for your pet to eat and swallow your fabric -- not just because it could cause tummy issues or gastric obstruction -- but you would likely get pretty angry if they used your fabric as a chew toy!
Any Small Do-Dad
OK, this is a bit of a catch-all but there are so many little thingies that we use during our stitching -- clips, organizational accessories, stretchers, threaders, bobbins, and so, so much more (she says as she looks at the loads of stitch-related stuff around her). There are so many things to swallow, chew on, lick -- heck, even floss conditioner that is 100% beeswax could upset your pet's GI system (though it is not 100% toxic for dogs and cats).
Let's face it, your nosy pet is gonna be in your stitching business -- just be sure to watch what they are doing when you have your stash out and try not to tease them with your supplies so they aren't tempted to dip into your project bag like it was their toy box!
Depending on where you live, you have been following stay-at-home orders for a few weeks...or more. We've covered ways to keep moving while you are staying home and how to cope during the quarantine.
Now I want to cover how you can help others...if you are able.
Seriously, just stay the fuck home. We're stitchers...so stitch if you have the mojo to do so. I've heard several people say they have lost their stitching and crafting groove since this hit. That's OK, too, but just stay home. If not for yourself, for the others who you may encounter if you are unneccessarily out and about.
If you must go out, practice physical distancing, wear a mask, don't take, as a family friend used to say, "the whole fam damnly" with you. Respect others and especially respect the service workers who are risking their own health to make sure you have access to fresh food, medication, and other essentials.
And speaking of essentials -- I'm not going to tell you what is essential to you but think very carefully before choosing to go out for comfort items, including stitching supplies. For some, they can be essential because stitching helps soothe the effects of depression and anxiety. That's cool. Shopping for a new pair of earrings for yourself...can probably wait.
Support a Food Bank
In the last few weeks, unemployment in the U.S. has skyrocketed and the demand on social support systems has increased substantially, including food banks and free meal providers. If you are able, please consider donating money to a local service that supports those who are food insecure. Not only are the shelves and kitchens of these groups becoming more bare than they are comfortable with, they are facing huge decreases in donations from restaurants, which typically would donate leftover food but aren't open to do that any longer.
COVID-19 doesn't seem like the type of disease that puts stress on a healthcare facility's blood supply, but it is -- for a number of reasons: need for transfusions, fewer blood drives, fewer people coming out to donate blood. All of those factors reduce the inventory in blood banks. I read somewhere that community blood drives are the most effective way for blood banks to build their supply (don't quote me on that). Well, they aren't happening right now; most outreach to get blood donations has been paused indefinitely. To add to that challenge, many smaller communities don't have dedicated blood donation centers for people to visit. It's a perfect storm. Do what you are able to do: vIsit the NHS blood donation site (UK), American Red Cross (US), Australian Red Cross Lifeblood (AU), or Google your country's blood and/or plasma donation services to find a location to donate.
You may have heard of experimental treatments that use plasma from fully recovered COVID-19 patients to treat those still battling the virus. If you fall into the perameters set by your country's health service for the COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Program, please consider donating plasma. The links above will give you information about donating plasma, as well. Not sure about other countries, but both the U.K. and U.S. have companies that pay donors for plasma donations, which can help replace any income you may have lost due to business closures. One that comes to mind: BioLife.
Connect with Neighbors
This one hits home for me. My mother just turned 84 and she lives alone. Though I have a sibling, I'm my mother's main support person -- but I live 2,400 miles away from her. Not being able to be there for her scares the living shit out of me. I don't want her going out but if she needs something, she doesn't have family close by to help her. Long before the pandemic hit, probably because I'm a worrywort, I created a support network for my mom of her friends and neighbors so they could be my eyes and ears when I couldn't be physically present.
All that said, check in with your neighbors - yes, the people that you likely try to avoid every other time of the year. Mabye they are struggling to make ends meet. Maybe they are immunocompromised and can't go get food for risk of being exposed. Maybe they battle anxiety and depression and are having a hard time making sense of this unbelievable time. There are so many maybes but the bottom line is that we don't know if we don't ask. Sure, some people will brush you off but some may not and it may be the physically distanced contact they needed to get through this safely.
How do you do this without breeching physical distancing and without knowing phone numbers or email addresses? Get creative. Find something that is safely shared, put a note offering your assistance, and ring their doorbell. Consider a plant, hand sanitizer, a hand-made mask, or just a note. Remember what your nana always told you: It's the thought that counts.
Last week, I talked about how to stay active during stay-at-home orders but this week I'll share my thoughts on how to take care of your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the biggest problems I have is disconnecting from all the news and information from social media, texts, co-workers. Sometimes you just have to put that phone in a drawer and take a deep breath. The National Institutes of Health put together this great guide for how to get through any stay-home orders or business closures, and turning off electronics plays a part in those recommendations.
I hate to use the term self-love because it has different connotations for me, but I just used it. Practice it. Chillaxing takes on different forms for different people, but here are some of my ideas:
Shut the Door
Sometimes the best solution is to get away from it all. In this case - to another room in your home, if possible. If you have kids or a bouncing-off-the-walls partner, you may have to schedule that time so others know not to bother you. If you are part of the work-from-home posse, like me, maybe that means blocking off some time on your calendar.
What do you do now?
STITCH! Grab a book. Listen to a podcast. Read a magazine. Nap. Stare into space. Play Animal Crossing. Whatever floats your boat. The point is to have some quiet time to yourself, without interruptions.
Seriously! You can't stay miserable too long when you are dancing! Turn on your favorite music on Spotify and dance around your living room for 5 minutes. Don't know where to start? Pick a character from Peanuts and start moving! Suitable substitution: Karaoke!
Talk It Through
As someone who battles with anxiety and depression (and who watches too many news programs), I can understand that many people are struggling at this time. Being stuck at home - even if you are an introvert - can lead to feelings of loneliness and desperation. Add to that the need to home-school your children, work from home, do all your normal adulting and it can get overwhelming. Don't feel like you have to smile through this, pretending everything is puppy dogs and rainbows.
I'm a huge fan of therapy but maybe you can't access your therapist as much as you want or need to - adding to anxiety. Here are some ideas that I've heard while binge-watcing the news for the last 10 days:
* Nothing in this blog post is meant to replace advice from your healthcare provider or override your own personal common sense regarding your personal situation. Please stay safe, keep your distance, and be vigilant in following all safety and hygiene recommendations. If you, or someone you love, suffers from any mental health issues, including thoughts of self-harm, please reach out to a healthcare professional using one of these resources. If you are outside the U.S., please share reputable contact information with us so we can share with others!