I've been thinking a lot lately about counted cross stitch. This is the medium I cut my design teeth in, and over the last week or so I've had contact with my old work mates, which led to a bit of nostalgia. Nowadays, I don't have any computer software to design cross stitch on, although it can be done quite easily just with graph paper and some coloured pencils, that's how my first few designs back in 1994 were completed. But it's slow doing it that way, the design software we had was a revelation and sped the whole process up and opened up creativity, here's one of mine, and another, and another, there are many more I would not even admit too!
Back then, I worked on a PC, and there were 2 main design packages used within the industry. Stitchcraft, which is what we used and Ilsoft which, it seemed at the time, the rest of the world was using, although I don't know why because I personally found Stitchcraft to be the much better system. It just seemed to make more sense as a design program.
But these are both PC based. I now work on a Mac. It seems there is a bit of a shortage of design software for counted cross stitch which is Mac compatible. Now, I know you can use Photoshop to simulate cross stitch, basically scanning an image and altering the resolution so each pixel is one stitch and adding a grid, but I want to design from scratch rather than digitalise an existing design. Finally I did find some Mac based software and spent a day fiddling around with demo versions, so here are my reviews of three...
STITCHES by Quixpace, €49.99 (£44.45/$71). Nice layout, reminiscent of Photoshop as it has navigation boxes on the left, layers, magic wand tool etc. You need to watch the videos on the website to understand what the toolboxes at the top of the screen do. Does all the basics, symbolised chart, gives a rough guide to how much thread would be needed. It did seem to work best when scanning in a photo and turning it into a cross stitch design. The image can then be easily edited (colours, size of chart, aida count etc) although I could not find how to add backstitch, and it did not seem to cater for half stitches, french knots or any additional embellishment. Also only had DMC thread colours, I am an Anchor girl. In short, great for converting photos or any other image you want into cross stitch, but limited if designing from scratch. Didn't do everything I would need it to do as a designer.
Next up is STITCHPAINTER by Cochenille $85 (£53) for the standard version, and $165 (£103) for the gold version. This does more, and I would advise to go down the gold version route as that has additional plug-ins which offer most of the adaptability (eg, beadwork, tapestry design, DMC shade numbers, although again, it's just DMC, no Anchor). Each plug-in costs in the region of $25 (£15), so price wise, it does add up, and as the plug-ins are not part of the demo version, what I could try out was limited. The cross stitch design element is limited as again, I couldn't find how to add any backstitch, but this program does cater for knitting, crochet, long stitch, hardanger and as mentioned above, tapestry and bead weaving, so is a very versatile pattern design system. It claims to do weaving too, although looking at the example, and given I have a BA Honours Degree in Weaving (showing off moment), what I saw didn't particularly resemble weaving as I know it. In summary, I found it intriguing and would have liked to have tried it out more than the demo allowed.
Finally, MACSTITCH by Ursa Software, $60 (£33). Out of the three I tried, this was the most similar to the Stitchcraft program I am used to.
And look, it even simulates cross stitch on screen. This was very user friendly, the toolboxes across the top gave the ability to add half stitches, quarter stitches, backstitch (and adjust the thickness of the backstitch), even french knots and beads. You can import an image and convert that straight to cross stitch or you can import it as an onion skin. Now what is an onion skin? I love this bit, it's just another word for adding layers (as in Photoshop), basically so you can place an image under the grid to use as a guide when designing. This is exactly how I used to work at Coats and exactly what I would be looking for in a cross stitch design system. It also caters for other threads and not just DMC, including Anchor (yay!), Appletons Wool, and Madeira. It symbolises a chart and exports in a variety of formats, in short, it does most of what I'd be after as a designer.
If you're a Mac user and in the market for some cross stitch design software, I'd still say try the demo versions of all of these. Different people need and want different things, what I've written here is just my own opinion, but I have been around the block and back when it comes to counted cross stitch.
...Macstitch gets my vote.