Or: How to convert pixel images into cross stitch.
I made a series of pixellated cross stitch pieces some time ago and the question block earrings are my favorites. Converting images into cross stitch patterns is not terribly difficult, though it takes some planning depending on the complexity of the image. Pixel graphics are a great place to start. The heavy lifting has already been done for you!
First, find an image that you like.
Googling “8-bit characters” can get you started if you’re unsure what to make. Do you like the Question Blocks? Here is a great graphic to base your piece from. (If you’re lucky/lazy, you might actually find an already created pattern for your images. People convert pixellated graphics into perler bead pieces, needlepoints, quilts…the possibilities are endless.)
Make your pattern!
Let’s look at a cross stitch piece in more detail. Each stitch in a cross stitch is an X (or a cross! hence the name). You can also see that the X is just as wide as it is tall – it’s a square, with the corners of the X corresponding to a corners of the square. Since pixels are squares, an 8-bit picture is essentially a pre-made cross stitch pattern, minus the grid lines. Converting it into a pattern is as simple as drawing those lines on yourself – either by hand or on the computer.
You might think it’s tricky to determine the stitch count when your image has flat open spaces — for example, the broad yellow background of the question mark block. Just start with what you know. Find all the horizontal and vertical lines in the image where there is a change in color — aka, an obvious border between pixels. The, extend those lines across the whole picture. This should give you a good sense of the size of one pixel and you can fill in the rest of the lines. You can see that by extending lines from all the flat surfaces of my Question Block picture, I have all the grid lines I need except for one.
Gather your supplies.
There are materials specifically designed for cross stitch – they have grids and holes for the stitches. Traditionally, cross stitch is done on fabric but if you’re planning to make earrings, an ornament, a pin, etc, I would highly recommend using plastic canvas. This way, you won’t have to worry about your material fraying and it will have some structure. Don’t go for the needlepoint canvas with the large square holes. Find some cross stitch canvas which typically has smaller, circular holes.
You will also need embroidery thread (obviously) – feel free to be creative on the colors here. No need to stick to the original. If your favorite color is red, make a fiery colored design.
Finally, get your hands on need a blunt needle (not a sharp embroidery needle). Cross stitch canvas/fabric already is covered in pre-made holes, so you don’t need a sharp point to pierce your own.
I won’t go over the mechanics of cross stitching here. There are plenty of tutorials on the web! A quick note – although it’s tempting to cut your canvas down to the “correct” finished size before you start stitching, I would recommend against that. A tiny piece is much harder to hold. Plus, you run the risk of cutting it too small and then having to start over.
Trim the canvas, leaving a border around all the stitches. Leaving a border of canvas will ensure your stitches stay in place. I generally leave the back uncovered because I think the reverse side makes a cool pattern. If you don’t like that look, you can glue a layer of felt or other material on the back to hide the stitches. Apply the glue lightly so that it does not seep out the other side. Attach your hardware, and you’re good to go!