Understanding the charts
We select objects in nature as cross stitch subjects. We use the object itself as the design rather than an abstract representation to the extent possible, so realism is another design goal. The object has to have intrinsic beauty and/or meaning so that viewing the completed project will take one into contemplation of life, the universe, and everything. These design goals result in a number of attributes that get expressed a bit differently in each stitching project. This section explains each attribute and the values it can have. We end up constructing a Degree of Difficulty table to help you decide which charts are for you.
 
Number of Colors
This attribute is a bit out of our control. Once we decide that an object is suitable for cross stitching, we find the view that best represents the beauty and meaning of the object. The visual features of the object pretty much dictate the number of colors. We measure this on a five-value Likert scale as follows:
  • few - the chart contains fewer than 21 colors
  • medium - the chart contains between 21 and 50 colors
  • many - the chart contains between 51 and 75 colors
  • Wow! -the chart contains between 76 and 100 colors
  • OMG! - the chart contains more than 100 colors
Not to worry, DMC has about 425 colors and they keep making more.
 
Number of Stitches
Some features of the object selected to be the basis of the design affect this attribute. Pattern and texture determine much of the design but so does the color composition of the object. The biggest issue in making a cross stitch design is resolution. The thread count and pattern dimensions dictate just how much detail of the object will be in the final stitched chart. More resolution means more detail, more complexity, more colors, and more enjoyment. We measure this on a five-value Likert scale as follows:
  • few - the chart contains fewer than 10,000 stitches
  • medium - the chart contains between 10,000 and 20,000 stitches
  • many - the chart contains between 20,001 and 30,000 stitches
  • Wow! - the chart contains between 30,001 and 50,000 stitches
  • OMG! - the chart contains more than 50,000 stitches
Yeah, right: 10,000 stitches means few? Well, natural objects are just complicated. You'll get over it the first time you show off the finished stitching. No worries.
 
Color Change Frequency
This is the attribute that causes the most problems. You already know the stitching technique to use if the colors are well separated into clumps. And some of our objects have this characteristic: the butterfly front (dorsal) side is often like this. But the back (ventral) side may be a complete maze of design and colors as expressed in the fish or a pussywillow blossom. Increasing resolution almost always results in more color changes in a row because more detail is visible. Quantifying this attribute is more subjective than the previous two but we won't discuss the math here. Picture a three by three section of the chart containing nine stitches. The question posed is: how many of the eight stitches on the outside of the square are the same color as the one stitch in the middle? We measure this on a five-value Likert scale as follows:
  • few - on average, a stitch is the same color as the eight stitches surrounding it
  • medium - on average, a stitch is mostly the same color as the eight stitches surrounding it
  • many - on average, a stitch may be the same color as the eight stitches surrounding it
  • Wow! - on average, a stitch is a different color from most of the eight stitches surrounding it
  • OMG! - on average, a stitch is surrounded by eight different colors
Well, in a mathematical sense, complexity on some scale might be indistinguishable from chaos but it certainly leads to beauty and contemplative moments. Stitch the chart and let your audience decide.
 
Recommended Stitching Technique
Some of our charts can be worked using the traditional cross stitching technique you already know: put the stitches in by column or row and change thread at each color change in the chart. Others have major areas where the traditional technique works great. All of our charts contain some areas where stitching with the traditional technique seems impossible. It's the Color Change Frequency attribute that causes the problem. The Impressonists developed the pointillism technique to take advantage of the brain's ability to merge colors into texture, depth, and detail information. We do it with cross stitch as well. Those Wow! and OMG! sections are able to produce the shimmer of mother of pearl and the complexity of an autumn oak leaf precisely because of pointillism, particularly at the higher resolution of 28 stitches per inch.
Pointillism example Pointillism requires a different approach to cross stitch: select the unstitched color having the most stitches, find all stitches of that color in the chart and stitch them. The image left shows the completed first color (2,063 out of 34,087 or 6%) and partial second color for the Micropterus dolomieui or smallmouth bass (I can't pronounce that one, either). Note the broad distribution of stitches, so much so that even though there are seldom five stitches together, one can make out the rough outline of the fish. The appearance of the front is not the issue with cross-stitchers. The back is the problem. The next image shows what the back looks like. As
one would expect because the stitches are widespread, there are threads running between clumps of stitches. This is under the control of the stitcher. One can decide to jump to any stitch that is within a certain number of stitches from the last stitch placed. This one has a limit of about 10 stitches on 28-count cloth, so roughly 3/8" of thread
pointillism example shows between clumps of stitches. Even so, the thread was cut several times to start new sections. One can get carried away with the length between clumps of stitches and end up with a back looking like ragged shag carpet. It makes for faster stitching but will cause you problems when fitting into a matte and frame. So set a distance rule that makes you comfortable and go to it.
There are other things to learn from these images. All of the first color was stitched before starting the second color. The second color will generally fill out areas missed by the first color. Subsequent colors will be adjacent to previous
colors rather than in some blank portion of the design. At some point, usually at about 75% of the stitch count total, a color will fill in scattered holes of 10-15 stitches and one can revert to a more traditional technique for the rest of the chart.
A caution: don't get caught up trying to figure out the path that will connect the most stitches with the shortest length of thread! This mathematical puzzle is called the Travelling Salesman Problem and, after several centuries of the greatest mathematical minds trying to develop a reliable algorithm using a variety of methods, remains unresolved. But should you figure it out, FedEx or UPS will love to hear from you.
Another thing to notice is the placement of red thread (not floss, or use your favorite Sulky mylar thread in a contrasting color, or Coats & Clark sewing monofilament) dividing up the fabric into rectangles. Each rectangle represents one page of the chart. The "dashes" are ten stitches long and so match the grid on the chart pages. This allows one to use absolute position referencing to find the correct spot on the fabric and is very important for the first few colors in the pointillism technique. There is a detailed description of this process in Transfer the chart grid to the fabric. For the chart pictured, when the colors having more than 1,000 stitches each are completed (in this case, ten colors), 45% of the chart is filled. From here on, relative position referencing will be more than adequate to determine a stitches' proper location on the fabric.
One may also stitch the ten-stitch grid lines as follows. Start at the upper left corner of the chart (coordinate 0/0). To stitch the first vertical 10-stitch grid line, count ten stitches to the right then seven stitches down (coordinate 10/7). Tie off the monofilament and insert the needle from the back into that hole. Now slipstitch six squares long on the fabric top and four squares long on the fabric back to the bottom line of the chart. Repeat, making ten-stitch wide "columns" across the chart. For the horizontal lines, insert the needle from the back into the hole ten stitches down and seven to the right of the upper left corner of the chart (coordinate 7/10). Do the same slipstitch as above. The result will be a grid where the monofilaments cross on the top of the fabric making it easy to see the corners of the 10x10 squares. It's extra work at the beginning but now you never have to count higher than ten to find the absolute position of any stitch on the chart. Way cool!
 
Degree of Difficulty Table

Chart
Number
of Colors
Number
of Stitches
Color
Change
Frequency
Number
of Charts
Number of
Pages per
Chart
Design
Cloth Count
Stitching Technique
Bubo scandiacus or snowy owl, eyes
many
few
medium
1
1
18
Traditional
Buzz Aldrin's Footprint on Earth's Moon
many
Wow!
many
1
8
28
Pointillism
Cottus leiopomus or Wood River sculpin
OMG!
medium
many
1
8
28
Pointillism
Danaus plexippus or Monarch
few-medium
medium
few
2
6
18
Traditional
Darwin's Tree of Life
few
few
few
1
2
28
Traditional
Haliaeetus leucocephalus or bald eagle, soaring
Wow!
many
medium-many
1
10
28
Pointillism
Haliaeetus leucocephalus or bald eagle, fishing
OMG!
many
medium-many
1
15
28
Pointillism
Micropterus dolomieu or smallmouth bass, male
OMG!
Wow!
OMG!
1
15
28
Pointillism
Nymphalis antiopa or Mourning Cloak
few
medium
few
3
6
18
Traditional
Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi or Westslope cutthroat trout, male (18 count version)
OMG!
medium
Wow!
1
6
18
Pointillism
Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi or Westslope cutthroat trout, male (28 count version)
OMG!
many
Wow!
1
15
28
Pointillism
Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi or rainbow trout, male
OMG!
many
Wow!
1
12
28
Pointillism
Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri or Yellowstone cutthroat, large spotted morphotype, male
OMG!
many
Wow!
1
15
28
Pointillism
Papilio rutulus or Western Tiger Swallowtail
few
few
few
2
4
18
Traditional
Periodic Table
few
many
few
1
28
28
Traditional
Quercus sp. or oak species leaves
many
few
many
1
6
18
Pointillism
Salix discolor or pussywillow
OMG!
few
Wow!
1
5
28
Pointillism
Salvelinus fontinalis or Eastern brook trout, female
OMG!
many
OMG!
1
12
28
Pointillism
Twin Primes 1 to 625
few
few
few
1
1
18
Traditional