Step-by-Step Guide to Charting with Thread-Bare
Easy how-to guide for converting images to patterns
- Getting Started
We already have a number of Cross-Stitch Chart Design How-To Tutorial Videos to provide help using our app but after receiving some feedback from a follower who was looking for written instructions rather than video we have put together this guide.
Our app is web-powered and runs in your browser so there is nothing to download or install and it should work on most platforms using the latest versions of Chrome, FireFox or Safari browser. We strongly recommend using Chrome if possible.
Go to the Thread-Bare charting app and click on the Designer link to bring up the conversion tool:
The left hand panel contains all the controls that adjust the results. There are some drop-downs, checkboxes, buttons and sliders. Note that the sliders can also be adjusted by using the left and right arrow keys after clicking on them - this is especially useful for fine tuning and making smaller adjustments.
The first tip before you do anything is to set the size scale down so it isn’t too large. The default is 500 which is OK but something closer to 300 is good. Just don’t start with it set to the max, as it will immediately create an amazing looking chart but it will also be HUGE and take many years to stitch. It will also help speed up the initial charting of the image depending on what device you are using.
You need to be realistic about the size of your project so start with the smaller size and you can gradually increase it. It is important to find the balance between a manageable size and the level of detail you are happy with, a lot of charts on the market look fantastic but are unrealistically large and so will likely be abandoned. The aim when converting a chart is to make the smallest size and lowest color-count possible with the quality you want. It’s really no achievement to use more colors or make a large chart, often it’s just adding extra work and cost without significantly better results.
We have a tool to estimate the stitching time of a project based on the size and your past stitching speed - do you really want to dedicate yourself to a project that is going to take 12+ years to complete? Will you ever really complete it or get discouraged and sad whenever you come across the abandoned piece, languishing in a draw? A lot can happen in that time and your tastes can change so be realistic.
Upload Your Image
Always start with the absolute best version of the image possible to ensure the best quality result. If a file has been uploaded and downloaded from facebook multiple times it becomes compressed and loses quality each time and you will end up with JPG artefacts which will affect the quality of your chart. Also beware of taking a screenshot of an image instead of downloading the proper version - this can seriously impact the quality as the image may have been shrunk down to fit the smaller display.
The image you upload will need to be either PNG or JPG format for the app to use it. Images contained within documents such as PDF or Word files will not work.
It is also important to pick the correct image to chart as some images will work better than others - you can read more about choosing the correct image on our previous blog post Photography for Cross-stitch
We provide basic image adjustment options within the app but if your image requires major cleanup, removal of a background or cropping, then these will need to be done in a graphic editing app first.
Here’s an example image we’ll use throughout this tutorial:
Now to get started you can either drag and drop your image onto the page or click on the box which will open your file explorer window to choose your image from.
Once you select or drop your image it should take just a few seconds to process and show a progress of the processing steps in the top-right as it does.
Here is the first draft of our charted image. We should see good results with the default settings but lets see how we can make it even better by adjusting some of the options:
While most people will probably use DMC thread, there are also other manufacturers such as Anchor or Riolis who have a different set of available colors and if you’re using those the chart needs to be generated with that thread-set selected.
DMC currently has 482 unique colors available in their palette which includes the new 01-35 colours which were released in 2018 but if you’re using CXC thread or creating a chart for Diamond Painting, you’ll want to chose the DMC 447/CXC option which limits the threads to exclude those new colors.
Always ensure you have the correct palette selected (you can change it at any time during the conversion).
Size & Color Count
The most fundamental settings for the conversion is the size of the chart and the number of colors you want to limit it to use. Increasing the size and color count will always make it look better, but keep in mind that the bigger it is and the more thread colors it contains, the longer it will take to stitch so avoid the temptation to just slide both up to the maximum.
You rarely need to set both of them to high values to get the best results and to some degree, they are both different ways of controlling the quality that just work in different ways.
If you are planning on creating a chart to fit a particular picture frame or piece of fabric you can use the estimated size of the completed chart to target the size you want. Just check the thread-count for the fabric you will use and adjust the size until it matches.
The app won’t allow you to make a pattern larger than the source image as it would only degrade quality to do so. It will automatically resize the image to be smaller to fit the size you want and making sure you have a high quality original image will allow this to be done in a way that still creates a great pattern.
Once you have an image uploaded you will see a table on the right hand side, showing the estimated size of the finished stitched area using various fabric counts. When purchasing your fabric you will need to add at least 2-3 inches to each of these dimensions to give you a boarder around your stitching to allow for framing and finishing. If you would like help calculating your fabric requirements we have a handy fabric calculator to help with this.
We also show the canvas size if you’re going to create a Diamond Painting version.
Thread List and Count
Also on the right hand side once you have an image uploaded you will see a list of all the colors being used in the chart based on the current settings. As you adjust any of the settings to improve your chart this list will update and change.
You can sort this list by either thread code or count by clicking on the heading of each column. If you click count it will sort the list by the number of stitches of a particular color highest to lowest. If you click code it sorts numerically by DMC code lowest to highest.
This list is useful to see if you have the color count set too high. If you sort by count and scroll down the list to see the colors with the fewest stitches, if you have 20 colors with only one or two stitches used you could probably safely reduce the number of colors used in the chart. Be aware though this is not a hard and fast rule, you have to consider the image that you are charting, for example the image below will mostly be whites, greys and browns but there will be some stitches of blue needed for the eyes as these are a feature of the image so you don’t want to lose these details.
Once you add your chart to your cart this locks the colors and symbols for that particular chart at those settings. If you then decide you need to make more changes you will need to click the “Clear Image” button and then re-upload the image, this maintains the settings you were at at the point you added the cart to your cart, it will also reactivate the cart button.
If you click the “Reset” button this resets all the settings to the default settings and you will need to start from scratch.
Pattern Viewer and Zooming
At any time while you are charting you can zoom in on the image to see the full detail of the chart right down to the symbols being used which can be useful to see the complexity.
To zoom if you are on a touch screen use the pinch screen gesture to zoom in and out or if on a desktop computer you can hold down the shift key and scroll using your mouse. You can swipe / scroll around to see different parts of the chart.
Note that as we continually update the application to improve it, we can’t guarantee that the exact same results will be generated each time so while it may be tempting to use the online version to stitch from, please don’t as the chart and the symbols could change! Purchasing a pattern locks all the details so you can safely complete a piece and re-download the exact same pattern any time you need in future (as well as having a PDF version to keep).
Our system produces PDF cross-stitch patterns that are clear and easy to follow but we allow you to see the full detail of the pattern before you purchase so you can buy with complete confidence.
Dithering can make a huge difference to the quality of the results - it allows for smoother transitions between colors without the sharp border or banding when they change, often apparent in lower-quality charts where there are smooth color gradients in the original image. Dithering (sometimes called ‘confetti’) is where two or more colors are interspersed and when viewed from a distance gives the appearance of colors that aren’t really there - maybe because the number of colors have been limited or threads are just not available in those exact colors.
The advanced settings adds options for the dither threshold (how different colors have to be to be dithered) and strength. Instead of trying to explain them, just try altering them and see the effect they have. Most dithering options work best with a threshold of 85 or more (30 for Riemersma).
The two dithering options often that tend to work best for cross-stitching are Atkinson and Riemersma. Riemersma tends to give better results on skin tones which a lot of charting software on the market struggle with, although Riemersma tends to make for a more complex chart.
For a more detailed explanation of the science behind dithering check out our previous article Size, Color, Sharpening & Dithering for Custom Cross-Stitch Chart Design
Close up of original charting without dithering.
Close up of image with dithering applied.
You can see between the two images above that just making some slight adjustments to the settings greatly improves the quality of the finished chart. The colors are smoother and less patchy, giving a more consistent result and there is less banding on the image.
The main thing to do is experiment with the various options. We have set the initial default options to the settings that often work well with a lot of images but every image is different and will need tweaking to get the best results so play with the various options.
Whenever you start with a new image ensure you click the Reset button which puts all the settings back to the default options which are usually a good starting point.
Things to Lookout For
Some other ways to improve the charting …
The sharpening option is very useful for enhancing detail but be careful not to over-sharpen an image as it will end up looking distorted and a bit cartoonish. It can make for a nice effect on certain images but it is something to be aware of.
See example below which has been over sharpened, the dogs nose now looks like it has been heavily outlined at the top and does not look as natural.
Lack of / Too much contrast
Contrast is the range of light to dark in the image - blacks should be black and whites should be white, if either is more of a grey color there may not be enough contrast and you can use the slider to adjust it (both up and down).
If you increase the contrast too much you will end up with spots of the image that are blown out and you lose detail. See the circled areas in the image below, the color of the dog is distorted and appears bright white.
Brightness option can be used if picture too dark or light, you can adust the image to correct to an acceptable level.
Saturation / Warmth
Saturation is the intensity of color so if you want a chart with more vivid or dramatic colors increase the saturation. Warmth changes the color balance, images taken late in the day or under tungsten light tend to be more orange so if you want to correct this you can reduce the warmth. Conversely if an image looks too cold or blue looking you can increase the warmth.
Greyscale and Sepia
Greyscale is a way of converting your images to black and white while sepia is useful for giving any image an antique feel. These are good options if your original image is not the best quality and it also reduces the number on color used dramatically.
Good luck with your charting we are always available to help if you need it, just send us a message through our facebook pages linked below.