A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....
Software for Fun (and Profit)
Stitchcraft 2.32 October 7th, 1998
As opportunities permit I will review software packages that might be of particular interest to the readers of this column. This week offers just such an opportunity. We are going to look at a package designed especially for the Mac that generates needle craft charts for counted cross stitch aficionados. The program also lends itself to needlepoint, knitting, and latch hook. Counted cross stitch is a needle craft that has been practiced for centuries. It was brought to this country by the earliest settlers. For those unfamiliar with the craft, it consists of creating pictures on unmarked fabric that is designed especially for the craft. The fabric is usually created of uniform squares of varying sizes. Patterns indicate specific colors of floss through a series of symbols. The needlework artist follows the pattern to create the picture on the unmarked fabric. A detailed history of this craft is available on the net at [http://www.2busystitching.com].
Stitch Crafts 2.32 for Macintosh is published by Compucrafts on Lincoln Center, MA., and sells for $150. The author is David L. Natwig. System requirements: For black and white you must have a MacPlus or newer with at least 1 megabyte of memory. For color you must have a Mac II or newer including all 68K and Power PC models with at least 4 megabytes of memory. The program requires system 6.05 or later and is compatable with System 7 and MacOS 8. Note: if this doesnt mean anything to you just ask your grandchildren. I tested this program on a Macintosh Performa 560 with System 7.6.1 with no problems. This program has been available since August, 1992. The author informed us that an updated version is currently in development. The program comes on a single disk and is accompanied by a detailed users guide. After an exhaustive search I believe that this is the ONLY program of this type that is available for the Macintosh. The program offers two basic options. In the first you can create designs and charts from scratch. In the second you can create charts from pictures or photographs.
How to use it
I began experimenting with the program one evening after work and after a couple of hours I felt comfortable with all its basic components. The user manual is well written and easily understood by the average person. I only found one sentence that I did not immediately understand. The sentence, in the installation section, told me to create a new folder in the root window of my hard disk. A simpler direction might have told me to create a new folder on my desktop.
There are some nifty options with this program that are available no matter what you are trying to do. One is the choice of creating your patterns using symbols in black, using all colors, or using both symbols and colors. You can switch between these options with the click of your mouse. A second is the choice of view while you are creating. You can use normal, half size, or double size. Again, you can switch back and forth with the click of the mouse. The double size is more useful when creating from a photograph, but it would also be helpful for anyone with decreasing eyesight. The third nifty option is the silhouette. You can quickly get a perfect reproduction of your project to judge symmetry, color, and completeness. This selection is particularly helpful when using the photograph options. Background (working) graphs are automatically created but you have choices as to the style and color of the graphs.
Each project starts by requiring you to specify the thread count size and the size you want your finished project to be. However, you are not bound by these entries and you can completely change them at any time without compromising your designs. The fabric used for counted cross stitch is designated by the number of squares to the inch. A thread count of 10 would give you a large finished product with the subtleties of color changes readily visible. A thread count of 28 would give you a small finished product with the subtleties of color changes blended.
Option one with this program is a dream for creative people who can draw or visualize specific patterns or designs. You can choose up to 50 variations in color with each having a different symbol identifier. Color options are only limited by the number of colors available in DMC brand threads. The DMC colors are automatically referenced. You can create, change your mind, and create again. You can change the shape of the patterns available to you so that if one is hard to see, you can revise it. For instance, one of the standard designs is / and another is \. When I had these two close together I got confused so I changed one of them to a P in a matter of moments. You can not, however, add additional patterns. Fifty is the maximum. If you create a pattern that lends itself to backstitching you can add backstitching guidelines (in any color you choose) simply and easily. You can even pick a start point and an end point and the backstitching is automatically added for you.
Option 2 allows you to create a pattern from a photograph or other type of existing picture. There are a number of internet sites that allow you to download pictures free. To use personal photos you must have access to a scanner so that the pictures may be scanned and copied or downloaded to your computer. In my area the local copy outlets will scan your photo (or photos if more than one can fit on an 8-1/2 by 11 page), for around $10.00. If you take in a disk your scanned pages will be loaded on your disk. The scanned photo will most likely come to your machine as a jpeg document. A very important step is to determine which program you use to open your photo. The reason is related to the way a scanned picture is copied. Every nuisance of color is recorded in a scan. The simple grade school photo that I used to test this option actually contained hundreds of shades. You will need to have a program that will allow you to open the picture and reduce the number of shades.
One program you may use is Photoshop. If you have Photoshop or if the person scanning your photo has Photoshop you may use this program to open your document. Photoshop will allow you to crop the photo, remove backgrounds, and minimize the number of shades that will be used in your final product. I asked for 50 shades. You do not have to remove backgrounds or extraneous objects, but keep in mind that the maximum number of shades you have is 50. If you tie up 5 or 10 on backgrounds then you have that many fewer to make your primary object as realistic as possible. But there is a catch. Photoshop retails for around $500 and, in my opinion, is not particularly user friendly for the novice user because it is a powerful program designed for much more complicated projects. I had to rely on the Photoshop user to crop and minimize the colors.
The second option is to use a program available to you as a download from the internet. The program I recommend is called GraphicConverter and a new version, 3.4, is hot off the press. To get GraphicConverter 3.4 go to [http://www.download.com]. This handy site allows you to search for shareware and then download it. It will automatically open to programs available for the Mac. There is a search box and you can type in GraphicConverter and hit find. The program will bring up the site and tell you how to download it. Once it is on your desk top you can click on it and it will, at your direction, automatically load in the proper place on your hard drive. This program has all the options necessary for Stitchcraft and it is easy to use. It comes complete with detailed directions. The cost is $35.00 which you are asked to send to the creator
Once you are happy with the photo you wish to copy, you open Stitchcraft, indicate the size of your fabric and finished project. A graph will appear. You can choose to change the paper size (under File) so that the paper runs landscape if you have a wide or narrow picture. Then open Edit and note at the bottom there is an option called Capture. Click on that, instruct the program as to the cut-off level of shades, and sit back and wait. You may have to wait quite a while, depending on the complexity of your picture and/or the power of your computer. When the copying is complete the image will show up on the grid with colors and symbols available Then abracadabra, you have a chart complete with color guidelines. Just print it out and you are ready to stitch. Because you are using a Macintosh you can select scaling for printing. If the half-size option is too small (whatever option you have on your screen is the size your pattern will print), and normal is too large, you can choose something in-between by scaling the page size down from 100%. With a little experimenting you can get exactly what you want. Ah, the beauty of a Macintosh.
If you do not have access to a program that will minimize the colors in your picture you can still create a chart using just the Stitchcraft program. It is complicated to do, but if anyone finds them self in this situation I will be happy to tell you how I did it while testing this program.
I titled this article Software for Fun (and Profit) because there are a number of sites advertised on the net that will take your photos and create patterns for you for a fee ranging from $20 to $50 a picture. If you find that you have real skill at this you may choose to try it as well. In Austin, where I live, I have not found any one locally who advertises this service nor was the local stitchery shop able to identify anyone. However, I recommend that you have a powerful and fast computer if you take on this kind of challenge.
Overall I give this program an A. It has obviously been created to meet the specific needs of the graph designer and the options that accompany it are extremely user friendly. It was easy to load and use the first time and the manual is thorough and easy to read. If there is any complaint it is the necessity of using another program to prepare the photo for graphing. However, it may be this limitation that keeps the cost at a reasonable level. I certainly recommend it to anyone interested in creating their own graphs.
One extra note of interest. While researching this subject on the net I came across a site that offers a unique free feature. The site is called Celtic Alphabet and can be found at [http://www.ils.ie/celtic/]. The site is located in County Mayo, Ireland and offers you the chance to create a pattern using celtic style alphabet for any short phrase or combination of words. You simply type in your words and the site formats them into a design which you can then quickly print out. This is an interesting site and I suggest that you visit it if you are interested in cross stitch.
Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping. To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.
Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color,
covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.
Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.