We forge on to Page 14:


Of these, #79, #80 and #84 appear on my skirt. The others are new, doodled up as I was working on this collection. And here’s the start of the promised tutorial on using GIMP to do exactly that. Please note that Elder Daughter noodled out this method, which we then confirmed that others were using as well. (There are few things as useful as a home-bred brain trust.)

How to Use GIMP for Line Unit Charting – Drawing Metaphors

For starters, let’s talk about drawing metaphors. Piece of paper and a crayon. Nice opaque paper. Nice (mostly) opaque crayon. That’s what many drawing programs feature, and what almost all of the stitch painting programs use. You draw something on the page, it’s there in one spot. It can be erased, rotated or moved, but it’s embedded on the page once it lands. Draw a cow next to a barn with an open door, and the cow stays there. It can’t be peeled off, razored out or slid over to stand in, on, or behind the barn without leaving a cow-shaped hole where it used to be (or taking a bit of the barn behind the cow along if you select and move the cow).

MS Powerpoint and other lower-end drawing packs go one better, by adding a cut-paper collage type element to the crayon metaphor, with things that can be placed on top of other things. But even these “pieces of paper” ride not as independent layers but as daughter elements on a single page. And the stitch charting programs mostly stick to the crayon or collage models, although they do enable selection by a discriminating feature – in their case usually stitch type or color. There’s always room for quibbling, but by and large, these programs all reside in a very flat world.

GIMP does not work like this.

GIMP like many other higher end graphics programs offers multiple opaque, semi-opaque or transparent layers. Sounds confusing, but it isn’t. Think of it like an old-fashioned animator working on a cartoon. Animators worked in layers, painted on multiple sheets of a transparent plastic like material. When finished, those layers were stacked up, and the viewer looked down through the entire stack, seeing through the transparent bits to the drawings on the layers below.

For an animator the lowest level would have been the background. In our farm scene, perhaps the green of the grass, darker green of the trees in the distance, and blue of the sky. Nice and solid. Then the animator would layer one or more transparent cells on top of the background. The next layer might be see through except for a painting of one big open-doored barn on it, and only the barn. There might be a third see through layer on top of that with a fence that sits in between the viewer and the barn. Now for a top layer, also transparent, and again with just one design element drawn on it. That one may have nothing on it except the cow.

The animator could move these cells around. She could slide the one with the cow over so that the cow could graze on either side of the barn. She could change the order of the layers. If the cow layer was on top, it looked like the cow was outside the fence (between the viewer and the fence). If the cow layer was between the barn and the fence, Bossie was safe in her paddock. And if the cow layer was behind the barn and the cell was positioned just right, our pet could peek out of the open barn door.

This is how GIMP works. It allows you to use multiple layers to isolate individual design elements, and to mask the layers below. Layers can be totally independent, or they can be ganged so that if one is moved, its pals move too, preserving the spatial relationship among them. They can be moved, reordered, rotated, flipped, hidden, or rendered more or less opaque. Instead of thinking flat, crayon and paper style, to use GIMP you need to think in onion-like layers.

To draft my patterns I used four layers:

  1. A plain white background
  2. A layer of evenly spaced dots (the background dot grid)
  3. A layer containing the line drawings that make up the designs
  4. A layer containing little white “donuts” – very small white halos aligned to the dot grid in layer 2.

The dot grid in Layer 2 established my layout – the grid spacing for my stitches. Layer 3 contained UNBROKEN lines, constrained to the established grid. Donut-bearing Layer 4 “eclipsed” the black lines, making them look like they were drawn as dashes. The hollow center of each donut let just one little dot of the underlying black line (or naked dot from way underneath in layer 2) show through.

Once my basic four layer “page” had been constructed, the only place I did actual drawing on was Layer #3. I never touched the background, the dots or the donuts again.

For the record, I suppose I could have condensed this into three layers, with the dot grid appearing ON my background, but it’s much easier to delete and replace a non-background layer, so I went with four. I never underestimate my potential to make a dumb mistake, so I always try to leave myself a graceful way to recover, just in case it becomes necessary.

That’s the basic logic. The why of what I did. More on how to use GIMP to set up a four layer grid-constrained pattern page, starting in the next post.

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One response

  1. […] and would meet my needs for designing blackwork and cross-stitch patterns. I was very lucky to find this tutorial (posted on the blog String-or-Nothing), which describes how to draw embroidery patterns through a […]

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