When I design a piece, I have a vision for the colors, the overall look, the flow of the piece. If it is a more contemporary design, I will choose bright and bold colors. If the piece has more of a classic kind of feel, I may choose more muted tones. There is a lot of thought that goes into designing, and even after a piece has been designed, much time can be spent pulling together the flosses and fabrics. All of this before the first stitch is even laid.
Years ago, I received some advice from a shop owner. She recommended that I always include a DMC alternate listing on my charts, if I chose to design with any other flosses and/or silks. She shared that many of her customers only stitched with DMC and to sell more charts, I really should include a conversion. At the time, it didn’t seem like such a large task. Prior to beginning designing, in my private stitching life, I would use recommended flosses on charts or make minor adjustments here and there. When I first started stitching, DMC was one of the only choices in floss. It has only been in the past 15 years or so that we have seen an explosion in the choices we have, from over-dyed flosses to linens, with little cottage industries popping up everywhere. So, I took her advice and from the very beginning, included a DMC conversion on my charts.
I soon realized this process of listing alternatives could take some time. To do a true conversion is actually a two-step process. The first step is to pull out the DMC color card (the one that includes real thread samples) and try to match color-for-color. I do my best in this regard but it can sometimes be very difficult (if not impossible) to choose the color which is the closest match. If I have used a variegated floss, I may choose two DMC colors which best represent the floss I originally used. The second step would be to then gather the DMC colors together as a whole and see how well they play with one another. Since it is difficult to get a color-for-color alternate for every thread used, the DMC colors which were chosen may not work well together. This means additional time in finding colors that do complement one another. After this, one may realize the fabric does not work for those particular colors. So perhaps the fabric choice has to be changed. By the time this process is over, it is soon obvious to see that by now, things have changed from the original design, creating a finished product that didn’t look at all like the product I had designed. As a designer, this was frustrating. I had envisioned the piece in a very clear way and I was taking my design and giving recommendations for changes which I personally did not like or perhaps did not even work.
All of this takes time, time which I do not have, so because of this, what I am doing is not a true conversion on my charts. All I am doing is simply listing the DMC matches, color-for-color, as best as I can. This means that perhaps the DMC matches will not work together as a whole and that perhaps the matches will not look good with my recommended fabric. If you choose to use the conversion, then whether or not the conversion actually “works” is for you, the stitcher, to decide. Perhaps after gathering all of the DMC colors and fabric together, you will need to make adjustments so that all of the threads go well together.
So, let’s use all the information you have just read in a real-life situation. I will use one of my recent releases, Lilacs, as an example.
Before beginning to stitch Lilacs, I knew I wanted a delicate look, so I opted to use a higher-count linen. When I use a higher-count linen, such as 40-count, it is natural for me to choose silks to work with. I admit I have a bias towards silks. I love the feel, I love the look. I pulled most of the colors from the silks I already had but could not find one of the purples I was envisioning in my head. I went to my LNS and searched through all the silks before finding the perfect choice, Wash Out Grape (The Thread Gatherer, Silk ‘N Colors). When I started matching my silks to the DMC card in an attempt at finding an alternate, I found there is absolutely no comparable DMC for Wash Out Grape. I stated this fact on my chart. I debated what to do but could not, in clear conscience, list a DMC match when there was none. So, on this particular chart, there are DMC alternates listed for all the colors except for Wash Out Grape. This may be frustrating to some of you but I had no other choice.
If you are stitching from a chart and choose to use the alternates, your finished product will probably not resemble the stitched model. In some cases, this can be a wonderful thing. I have seen carefully thought-out color conversions which are absolutely stunning, some more beautiful than the original colors used by the designer – this is what I call “artistic license.” But true color conversions take some thought. If you just use the alternates recommended on the chart, you most likely will not get the same results. Some over-dyed flosses match exactly with a DMC floss, others do not. Sometimes (as I found with Wash Out Grape) there is absolutely no match.
The same is to be said for conversions between fabrics. If you do not use the recommended fabric, you will not get the same results. Again, this can be perfectly okay and in some cases, you may find a more suitable fabric or one that is more pleasing to your eye.
And, in the case of over-dyed flosses and fabrics, dye lots vary greatly so the floss I used in my model may be very different from the (same color) floss you use when stitching your piece. You may have two flosses which *say* they are the same color when in reality, they are very different. I pulled three examples to prove my point. These were quickly photographed in the shade outside but it’s still obvious to see the differences in color.
Then there are the actual physical differences between threads such as silks and cottons. Sheen, coverage and texture are three differences which come to my mind.
To further illustrate this point, try comparing a red Crayola crayon with a red Rose Art crayon. Not only are they not the same red, they color differently. And even that red Crayola will color differently, depending on whether you are coloring on regular paper, cardboard, glossy paper or newspaper. I could take my crayons and color a picture. Someone may admire my color choices and wish to recreate it but they may use different crayons or paper or even another medium, such as markers or colored pencils. Therefore, our end results will not be the same.
I realize a DMC conversion is useful for some of you, as you choose to use DMC and DMC only, from the perspective of personal taste and/or budget considerations. But I just do not have the time to do a true conversion. I am designing what I love, using the flosses and fabrics that I love, and if that does not correlate to what you love, that is perfectly fine. It’s a big stitching world out there and there are lots of designers and lots of stitchers and what makes our stitching world such a beautiful place is all the diversity we find within. Some of us are DMC only stitchers. Some of us are Aida only stitchers. Some prefer silks, some prefer over-dyed flosses. Some prefer linens, some prefer 28-count, some prefer 40-count, some are comfortable using any medium. In a world of such variety, it is difficult if not downright impossible to please everyone from a designing perspective. This does not mean I do not hold customer service highly – I do. But in this area, the area of DMC alternates, I fully realize some people may be unhappy with my choices. And again, that’s okay – we are all free to make whatever choices we wish in our world of stitching.
One more word regarding the pictures on charts…
I have invested in a very good camera. So when taking photographs of a stitched model, I can take a picture that is more true-to-color, by adjusting settings, lighting, etc. You will see that picture on my website. I do my best to make the photograph an almost exact match to the model. However, the actual chart is another matter. It’s in the printing process that the colors in a photograph can be corrupted. I have invested in a very good printer. As difficult as it is to take a photograph that matches the stitched model, it is even more difficult to keep the photograph true through the printing process, especially when printing to paper or card stock. You can have the best printer in the entire world and still find it difficult to get a true replication of the stitched model. I have heard countless times how the “picture on the chart looks different than the flosses/fabric do in real life”. That can be true. Again, it is an extremely difficult process.
Many of us have small cottage businesses, working out of our homes and printing everything ourselves. However, even those designers who have been in business for years and can afford to use professional printing services still have the same problems. Recently, I proved this for myself out of curiosity. I took several charts I already own from several very well-known designers, who use professional printing services and perhaps even professional photography services. I compared the picture on the chart with the recommended fabric and floss (in very good lighting) and there were differences between the colors from the chart to the real life materials. I pulled the suggested DMC alternates and could tell some adjustments would have to be made in order to make them all coordinate together. I am not sharing this as a criticism at all. It’s difficult for all of us, no matter how much money we spend in the photographing/printing.
Take heart. Conversions and changing colors are not as difficult as you think. There are so many resources available to help you. Get yourself a DMC color card (the ones with the actual floss samples inside are the best). You will use it much more than you think. Deb at Stitches ‘N Things has made several conversion charts which are so helpful. She has added another one here. And I found some more, here and here. As stitchers, we are so fortunate to have all the many internet resources which are available to us. It makes conversions and comparisons that much easier.
Thank you for reading my thoughts on this topic. I would love to hear your thoughts as well.