Monday, March 21, 2016

Cross Stitch Design 101 - Lesson 1

I promised some tips on the design process as part of my 20th Anniversary celebration. Not interested in designing? I hope you'll find the process interesting, and maybe you'll look at cross stitch designs with a different perspective when you've been "behind the scenes".

This class is just for FUN! No pop tests, no finals, no attendance-taking, not even any class projects, unless you're one of those over-achiever students (like I was in school) who wants to do some designing for extra credit. After 20 years, I just want to share a bit about my work with all of you. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and read on!

* I begin with an idea....duh. I may want to focus on a certain season, or maybe I have a phrase that speaks to me. If I'm looking for a new phrase, I usually Google something like "Halloween sayings" or "inspiration" and a zillion ideas pop up. Or an idea can begin with a motif I want to explore...maybe an elf, mermaid, or American flag. Another idea starter can be a theme I want to wedding, birth, get the "idea".

Often I'm inspired by something a stitcher has suggested. Maybe they've sent a phrase or a request for something specific. I keep files of these on my computer. I also get ideas from everything around me...things on Pinterest, trends in home decor, pop culture...all that.

* I decide which L*K format I will be designing for (sorry...dangling participle). If it's a small stand alone design, it's a Snippet (L*K products beginning with S). If my idea involves a series of "smalls" that relate to each other, there's a new Flip-it or Double Flip series headed your way (products beginning with F). If it's a larger design, or maybe a couple small designs with the same theme, I will market them together as a chartpak (products beginning with C). Then there are kits (K), and Boxer kits (B) many formats, so many designs. My goal is to provide a variety of products so everyone can choose what they like...different strokes for different folks. 

It may seem odd to decide which format I'm working in before I've even done a sketch. A design doesn't always end up in the format I originally intend. Sometimes I decide to include a bunch of embellishments and something that began as a Snippet ends up being marketed as a kit. I may decide that those little goodies are essential to the finished product, and I want everyone to have them. But I begin with a "vision" of how that design will be presented to you, and proceed with that in mind.

In the same manner, sometimes I do a new design, and everyone wants to see more of the same/similar thing. An example would be the A Little Love kit I designed several years. ago. I got lots of positive comments on the "Little" kit idea and requests for MORE, so now there are lots more "Little" kits...A Little Christmas, A Little Boo, A Little Wedding, A Little Baby, A Little Luck, A Little Beach, A Little Snow...and more (whew!) and more to come, I'm sure. Your response really is noted and appreciated.

The most recent example of an "unintended series" are our pocket/purse kits. I had so much fun with Merry Little Santa Kit (K84) in December 2015, I decided to do a series in 2016. To date, we've released Hello Spring (K86), and (hot off the press) Love Summer (K88). You can guess what's coming in a few months...a fall/Halloween pocket/purse kit...I'm looking forward to this one.

* Time for a pencil sketch! I keep a spiral notebook beside my computer and refer to it once a month...maybe...if it's not buried too deeply on my desk. In theory, it's a good place to store ideas that I will refer to later. Honestly, I forget about this notebook a lot, but sometimes it's really valuable. See scribbly notebook below.

I tend to make lists of related sayings/themes in this notebook (pic above). I know it's messy, but if you look closely you can see the original sketch I did for Gratitude Boxer (B51). The sketch is that little box in the middle of the page. Some pages have more drawings, some have more ideas/sayings.

If I'm tackling our annual Tiny Tidings holiday designs, I'm going to need 5 Christmas ideas/sayings. I always list/sketch more ideas than make it to the computer. I can flip back through the notebook the following year and those little leftovers may be just what I need.

I also may begin a new design on a scrap of paper or Post-it that lands in the trash. My sketches are getting rougher and rougher as the years go by. I used to do a nice, detailed sketch before I began graphing on my computer. Now...not so much. Just a quick idea and I'm off crazily clicking on the keyboard.

* On to the computer! I use a really old design program. It's 20 years old - the same age as L*K! So whenever anyone asks about it, I tell them to find something more current. It works for me, so I don't see a need to update/upgrade. L*K designs are quite simple, and my program already has tons of features that I don't access.

Here's my big screen, filled with the Things Unseen Mystery Sampler and the accompanying bonus projects. In the lower left corner you can see the color palette. 

The most essential things in a design program for me are the colors and the ability to move stuff around. I did my original 25 or more designs on old-fashioned graph paper, with a pencil and busy eraser. Working on a computer is SO much easier for me. If I want to move a whole tree over one space, I can just lasso it and scoot it wherever I want. I can also copy and paste motifs when I want to repeat something. It's also a snap to try out different thread colors as well as background colors.

Clicking out a new design is an acquired skill and I'm still working on it. It sure is easier to sketch curvy shapes on paper, than to create them with a series of little boxes on the computer. Just saying...there is a small amount of skill and practice involved. Clearly it helps to be "artistic".

Speaking of "artistic", before I began L*K, I worked in advertising. Back in the day, I did newspaper paste-ups. Those of you of a certain age will know what I am talking about. My younger readers will have no idea - read and learn. We manually cut and pasted (literally with hot wax) the type onto a page for newspaper reproduction. I went from paste-ups to illustrating for retail newspaper ads. I specialized in fashion, but when I worked for a discount store I drew, blenders, rifles, cameras...anything that we didn't have manufacturer's art for. And whatever I did the day before greeted me when I opened the local paper the following morning. Here are a couple (vintage) ads I drew above. I found a huge stash of these beautifully tall, thin people when we recently moved.

Needless to say, I was working only in black and white - the 2 colors that often permanently stained my clothing those days. Adjusting to designing in color was HUGE for me, but ultimately so much more fun.

Hope this has been interesting!!
(If this is the most boring blog post you've ever read, you probably haven't made it to this point anyway.)

If you have questions or comments, please let me know!

I'll do another post soon with the next steps in the design process...hope to see you in class again for Lesson 2. 

Class dismissed...go stitch!


  1. Love it--and I always loved those fashion ads. They were my favorite part of the newspaper.

  2. loved ready about your creative process, look forward to lesson 2

  3. Loved reading this! Cant wait for the next bit. =) ty!

  4. What fun to hear about the design process! Thanks for sharing with us.

  5. Thanks for sharing. It's interesting to see the process that goes into your patterns. They are lots of fun to stitch.

  6. Love your patterns, working on some Tidy Tiding ornaments for Christmas 2016. Also love the samplers with the "hidden words" KEEP DESIGNING!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Wonderful story and thanks for sharing with us!

  8. Thanks, Linda! It's so fun getting the inside scoop on the process.

  9. Love all your designs! Thanks for sharing your talent with us!! ��

  10. Interesting. I can see how it helps to be somewhat artistic. Off to stitch!

  11. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to the next class. :)

  12. Thank you for the insight! I love hearing about the creative process and I love your work. You have inspired me to look into charting software. Thank you! :-)

  13. Thank you for the insight into the designing process. I find it amazing that you can still use a computer program from 20 years ago to design! Having said this, is there a program that you would recommend that one can download/purchase today? Thank you again from JK in Honolulu P.S. Love your designs. . .

  14. This was SO interesting! I'm perfectly happy with my older version of Microsoft Office, so I completely understand your sticking with your older design program. I started stitching in the 70s when 1/4 and 3/4 stitches were so often used. I hated them!!!!! But your designs are charming, funny, sentimental, beautiful and inspiring, and your talent is appreciated and loved by so many of us. Thank you, thank you!

  15. Thank you! I love the 1st lesson...and can't wait for the second one :)
    Greetings from Italy

  16. I grabbed a cup of coffee and read your post. SO interesting and can't wait to read next the part of your designing process. I know there are many design programs out there, but could you recommend one?

  17. Thank you for this information! I would like to know if you can suggest a program for the home user who would like to design small sayings and motifs for their home. Thank you!

  18. Hello, Linda! I want to know what is program you use in your pattern creation?
    Thanks for sharing... your creations and life! :)
    Big hug