Well, I recently had a rather perplexing experience.
Whilst doing an internet search I found another website (won't say which one) which also had a pattern for one of my SQ wishlist pieces, and when I looked at their pattern the detail seemed to be much clearer than that on the SQ pattern. I thought to myself, this can't be possible and the whole thing threw me into quite a conundrum.
I usually judge quality of detail by stitch count and the number of colours used, but this other pattern had both a higher stitch count and used nearly 60 more colours than the SQ pattern. As you can imagine, with my loyalities to SQ, I was in quite a state of disbelief and was highly suspicious of the whole thing.
BUT, despite the significantly higher degree of detail shown in the photo along with the higher stitch and colour count, I couldn't help but prefer the SQ design overall. The colours were richer, in fact almost an entirely different shade, while the other pattern seemed washed out in comparison and was missing some of the border design. I thought, how can these two patterns be such dramatically different shades? In one we would think it were in broad daylight, and in the other at dusk!
Well, I was quite flummoxed and couldn't think where to turn my head. So I went investigating. I discovered that this pattern was not the only one this other site shared with SQ, and in all the patterns which existed on both sites the difference was the same- more colours, higher stich count, much greater detail in the photo, but sort of washed out and colourless (and also much more expensive!).
Then I stumbled upon the finished works gallery that many of these sorts of websites have and saw undeniably that the finished works did not look ANYTHING like the photos of those patterns posted on the site. I looked closer at their 'real' photos ("what you see is what you get") and saw that they were in fact not photos of the stiched pieces at all, but rather the computer image of the artwork before they convert it into a pattern! No wonder the detail was so sharp!
Well, that made up my mind for good- higher stitch count or no, more colours or no, at least with SQ we KNOW what we're getting because somebody has stitched it before us and we see their work. And that is priceless!!
So, the long and the short of it is that, Meredith, you still have the best patterns on all the Internet!!