Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

Needlework and Computers
Presented by Ann and Bill (Kaz) Caswell

We are honored to be presenting Ann's On-Line Class this month as well. Her credentials as needlework teacher and designer are superlative. Other endeavors in the field include serving as Shop Manager for the ANG from 1986 to 1991 and then as President of this presitigious organization from 1994 to 1996. Ann's educational background includes training in business school and majoring in research psychology. She has used these skills in various fields working as a crisis counsellor and as director of field operations for a legal investigations firm.

Ann was born in Cincinnati, Ohio but grew up in Georgia where she met Kaz. Kaz was born in Montclair, New Jersey but later lived in Atlanta, Georgia where he was a star football player in high school. He received his PH.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and subsequently served for 20 years in the US Air Force. After marriage to Kaz in 1962, Ann served in several elected and appointed positions as a military wife, with activities ranging from budget to hospitality.

Ann and Kaz have 2 children and 1 grandchild with their 2nd grandchild born on Sunday, August 30, 1998 . As avid fellow needleworkers and designers, they jointly share a strong interest in any artistic realm of endeavor. Both love music, especially jazz and classical. They also enjoy reading, particularly books on art. Kaz has garnished awards as a painter and is an accomplished but sporadic guitar player. Another keen common interest is developing needlework graphics on the computer. Together they have taught several classes on computer graphics geared specifically to needleworkers. This month they take the confusion and intimidation out of computer designing so you can start translating your own inspirations to the screen, from just a glimmer of an idea to a workable charted design. Join us for this exploration into "uncharted territory"!

Computers are becoming increasingly more useful and important to embroiderers. They may be used as tools in producing cross stitch charts, stitch diagrams, and digital needlepoint canvas. They may also be used to assist the designing process. However, no single computer program is meant to accomplish all these tasks.

Needlework Charting Programs

Cross stitch charts usually consist of a grid with color

or black and white symbols

The symbols in the squares depict the colors used for each cross stitch which in turn forms the design. There are programs that allow you to chart your own design using a set of symbols which you place in the squares within the grid lines. It is helpful if the program allows you to determine the grid size (stitches per inch) as well as the overall dimensions of the grid. The better programs allow you to generate a key which lists the symbols and converts the colors to DMC, Anchor, or other thread equivalents. Some of them will even calculate the number of stitches used in each color. Some of the needlework programs allow you to import a scanned image. This feature is very useful if you want to convert something you have drawn or photographed into a cross stitch chart. It is also helpful if you want to adapt your decorating fabric or wallpaper into a needlework design. Clip art, commercially created illustrations, may also be used as the basis for embroidery designs but be mindful of any copyright restrictions.

There are a number of software programs which do a good job of allowing you to chart a design for cross stitch but do not allow for imported images. Some of the cross stitch programs will allow you to move the symbols from within the squares to the intersections of the lines to depict the actual stitches on a fabric or canvas.

A few of these programs allow you to "draw" a limited number of stitches such as cross stitch, backstitch, Kloster blocks, eyelets, etc. There are many needlework programs on the market. Decide which features are important to the way you work and select accordingly. Click on the link below to see a web site which has done a thorough job of compiling information on computer software for needleworkers.

Needlework FAQ: Computer Software

Drawing Programs

Most needlework charting programs do not have the versatility to produce stitch diagrams, particularly detailed diagrams of complex stitches.

Most of these programs can only depict stitches with symbols in a manner very much like cross stitch charts. To produce stitch diagrams which represent complex stitches requires the use of a fully capable drawing program that permits the user to draw each individual stitch. While drawing each stitch is a fairly time consuming process, once a particular stitch has been drawn, it may be copied over and over, at minimal effort and time, as needed for the design. This is where the true benefit of using the computer is achieved. In general, it takes considerable effort to produce a diagram or document on the computer the first time. However, once the initial diagram has been drawn, it may be copied and modified with almost no additional effort to produce as many copies as necessary.

We use Canvas by Deneba Systems (available for Mac and Windows, http://www.deneba.com/) as our drawing program, but there are many drawing programs on the market. Features to look for in a drawing program are: layers; multiple undo; alignment tools; color and palette adjustment capabilities; text handling; and page layout capabilities. Most computer sales people do not understand the type of output needleworkers want so take some printed examples of the sort of stitch diagrams you wish to produce when shopping for software so you can show what you are interested in generating.


Scanners and color printers have come down in price dramatically in the last few years. Unfortunately, the learning curve required to utilize them effectively has not changed one iota! There are many companies that can turn a photograph into a cross stitch chart. It requires time and know-how to refine the scanned image into a workable chart with the appropriate number of colors.

Some of the companies will supply you with the color image scanned onto a grid which you must then decipher as to color numbers, shading, etc. Others will tweak the image into a recognizable reproduction with symbols and color coding. Decide what sort of chart you wish to work from and make inquiries as to what type of output to expect.

Digital Needlepoint Canvas

With the advances in computer imaging it is now possible to produce digital needlepoint canvases. New technology allows for close calibration and high quality, quick drying inks. A design can now be printed by computer directly on needlepoint canvas and the end result looks very much like a hand painted canvas. Close registration and detailed shading are now possible, and accuracy and speed are definite advantages over laborious copy-painting by hand.

Because the canvas is not precisely regular, it is still necessary to accomplish "stitch-painted" designs by hand (the intersections of the canvas threads are painted exactly as the stitches must be executed). Geometric motifs are an example of designs which usually require stitch-painting. Some canvases now combine the best of both approaches by having less complex areas painted by computer and selected areas stitch-painted by hand.

Computers will not magically design embroidery but they can be used very effectively to assist needleworkers in designing and charting. Digital imaging is another step in the progression of computer techniques utilized for needlework. It does not replace the original artists, merely frees more of their time for designing. The computer is a wonderful tool with many exciting possibilities. Now we just have to find that perfect time-management program so we can fit all this in, right? <grin>

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: No part of this feature story nor the included designs/charts can be reproduced or distributed in any form (including electronic) or used as a teaching tool without the prior written permission of the CARON Collection Ltd. or the featured designers. One time reproduction privileges provided to our web site visitors for and limited to personal use only.

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