Cross Stitch Patterns from Fine Art by Scarlet Quince
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Scarlet Quince Ramblings

Cross stitch ... art ... life

What is antialiasing, and why should I care?
Thursday, February 27th, 2020

Antialiasing is a technique used to add greater realism to a digital image, or in our case, a cross stitch pattern, by smoothing jagged edges on curved lines and diagonals. This is done by by adding intermediate colors. For example, suppose you create a simple pattern of a black circle on white.

If you just use black and white, the pattern will look like this:

Antialiasing adds shades of gray to smooth out the jaggies. Now the pattern will look like this:

Much nicer!

Now when we are creating a pattern like this, we create it with a white background so that we get the antialiasing stitches, but then we take out all the white stitches, making them unstitched on the chart.  You’ll stitch light to dark gray stitches around the black area and it will make the black transition smoothly into the white fabric.  The pattern description will say “Background is not stitched.  White fabric recommended.”

What happens if you don’t use white fabric?  Suppose you had some gray fabric around, and decided to use it instead.  Now the lightest stitches, that are supposed to fade nicely into the white fabric, stick out, like this:

Not the end of the world, but not what was intended either.

A more likely case — what if you buy a pattern that we say was designed to be stitched on black, but you don’t want to stitch on black? (We know stitching is harder on black fabric but if the original background in the picture was black or dark, we might design the pattern that way — the version of Girl With a Pearl Earring where the background is not stitched, for example.) Here’s what a pattern of a medium gray circle designed to be stitched on black fabric might look like:

Notice that the antialiasing stitches are intermediate in color between the object and the fabric as before, but this time they’re darker shades of gray. Now, what if you stitch this on white fabric? It will look like this (and yes, these two pictures are identical except for the color of the background. Your perception of color is greatly affected by what it’s next to):

You might think that the dark border is kind of striking.  Here’s a picture from the gallery of Corbeille de Fleurs – Joseph Nigg.  This was the version of the pattern designed to be stitched on black, but the stitcher used white instead.  We think it looks pretty good!  You can see the dark border particularly around the yellow flowers on the left, but mostly it just makes the darker colors really pop.

If we start with an image that appears to be only two colors, such as Brer Rabbit – William Morris, antialiasing can increase the number of colors used in a confusing way. Here is the way the top left corner of Brer Rabbit looks in the fixed scale (larger) view:

It looks like it’s two colors, but the pattern description says there are 28 colors. So people either say “I would like to do the two-color version” or they say “Where is the picture of the 28-color version?” Here is a greatly enlarged piece of the apparently two-color, actually 28-color pattern:

All those extra colors smooth out the curves and make it look like the original print. (BTW, this kind of fabric print is made by starting with red fabric and then bleaching areas to make the design. So in the original, the red is the background, but we thought it would be more fun to stitch red on white fabric (plus white fabric is readily available and the exact shade of red is not). The pattern description does state that the white areas are not stitched, and this doesn’t seem to be a point of confusion.)

There are other two color patterns, notably Souls being Received into the Heavenly Paradise – Edward Burne-Jones, which uses 23 colors, but apparently people expect a black and white picture to have some gray, and no one has ever asked about it. It seems to be more of a leap to think that a red and white picture should have some pink.

OK, I’m rambling now.

What’s with all the blended colors?!
Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Many people tell us, “I like your patterns so much — now if they just didn’t use blended colors!” or “There are 450 DMC colors — why isn’t that enough for you?”

Here’s what happens if you replace the blends in a couple of our patterns with the closest solid colors. The pictures on the left are the actual patterns, with blended colors — the ones on the right are using solid colors only.

With blends
With solids only

With blends
With solids only

Why black-and-white is not black-and-white
Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

We’ve recently added a couple of charts for pictures in black-and-white (or more accurately, gray-scale). They appear to be black and white but they use upwards of 20 colors (black, white, and shades of gray). The Burne-Jones woodcut, “Souls being Received into the Heavenly Paradise”, in particular, doesn’t seem to have a lot of subtle shading (especially compared to “All is Vanity” which was a charcoal drawing), so the question arose, how would this look as blackwork (stitching entirely in black and leaving the white areas unstitched)?

Traditional blackwork deals mostly in silhouettes, geometric areas, or fancy fills. It’s not impossible to have a detailed representation of a face or a flower, but it has to be big enough so that the detail can really be spelled out. Our version of the woodcut cheats, in a way, by using shadings to suggest detail that isn’t really there.

Here is a section of our pattern in three versions: 2 colors (black and white only, left), 4 colors (black, white, light and dark gray, center), and the pattern we actually published (23 colors, right).

You can see that the 2-color version is very blocky, and some elements are completely missing (compare the stars in the upper right to the other versions). The 4-color version is much better, but curves are still blocky — look at the wall, and the angel’s wings. (Try getting back from the screen for comparing the pictures.) In the 23-color version, the curves are much smoother, and the girl’s hair suggests actual strands instead of just being a jumble of various shades. It’s hard to tell from this small sample, but the plants around the figures have a lot more detail in the 23-color version. In the 4-color version, the plants in many areas degenerate into gray patches and you can’t actually make out stems, leaves, etc.

But isn’t 23 colors overkill? If 4 isn’t quite enough for good detail, how about 6 or 8? Surprisingly, no 2 of the 23 colors are close to each other — that is, if you laid out all the colors, they would all be easy to tell apart. That’s an indication that all of the colors are important for the level of detail.

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