What Is Dithering Cross Stitch? And How Do You Do It?

When it comes to cross stitch, it’s rare to get bogged down in fancy words that only a graphic designer would know. But there is one notable exception; dithering.
A rarely spoken about tool of every cross stitcher, dithering is a technique that can elevate any cross stitch to true master status. But despite that, most cross stitchers don’t know what this really is (if they’ve even heard about it!)
So today, we talk about what dithering is, how you can apply it to patterns and cross stitch, and how to avoid patterns without it!

Cross Stitch Pattern with and without dithering example (Source: Thread-bare.com)

 

What Exactly Is Dithering?

We’ll start simply; a definition.
 

Dithering
[di-the-ring]

verb
  1. An intentionally applied form of noise used to prevent patterns such as color banding in images.

 
OK, that might sound complicated, but dithering is essentially a way to ensure we don’t get blocks of color hitting each other, and there is a nice blend between them!
In situations such as a sky, a sea, or even a large block of color that would normally variate slightly (such as wood), dithering is the technique you apply to make sure the image actually looks like what it should, and not just a series of blocks.
 
If any of you are thinking “That sounds familiar”, well you’re not wrong! Dithering adds confetti stitches! That’s what we would call TERRIBLE dithering, but that’s what bad patterns are trying to do…

How To Make A Pattern with Good Dithering

So now you know what dithering is, let’s start by talking about how to add it. First up are those ways a designer can add dithering to their pattern.

Add Colors

Firstly, add color.
This one is actually a very hard line to walk down. By adding more color, you’ll get a more realistic image, but in turn, there will be more colors, and there will be more confetti. Therefore, we need to make sure we add color carefully. A good example of this is the below comparison from My-Cross-Stitch-Software, which show that just adding 30 more colors doesn’t necessarily make a better image. A simple palette, with dithering, makes a great pattern (but more on the programs to use in a second).

Cross Stitch Pattern Dithering (Source: my-cross-stitch-software.com)

So be careful what colors you add.

Use A Great Cross Stitch Program

Put simply; use good cross stitch pattern software, and yes, this is one of those situations when you should pay for a pattern maker.
 
Those terrible patterns I was speaking about before used a low-quality pattern maker to pump out as many patterns as possible as cheaply as possible. With low-quality pattern makers, come low-quality patterns.
 
Now, you do have a choice here. Many of the big cross stitch pattern generators have good dithering, but some are better than others. Our personal favorite is Thread-Bare, who not only have some of the best dithering around but also offer multiple types! In fact, so many that they offered a blog on their dithering options.
These are all a simple click away and you can quickly speed through them to find the best dithering technique to work on your image.

How To Add Dithering To An Existing Pattern

Next up we talk about how to add dithering to a pattern that you already own. Maybe you brought a sub-standard pattern, maybe you just want to try it out, or maybe the preview looks like it could do with some work. Well, you’re in luck!

How To Dither With A Double Eye Needle

We start with a great little tool that can help no end! A double eye needle is (funny enough) a needle with two eyes. We wrote about them a few years back, and they are our go-to tool for blending and dithering.
 
Take 3-10 lines of color on either side of the two you’re trying to match up, and use both threads. One thread goes through one eye, and one thread goes through the other. Then stitch as normal.
A double eye needle will lay one color next to the other so that when you’re finished, the two colors will look to blend together.

Gold Double Eye Tapestry Needles (Source: grovesltd.co.uk)

What’s great about this technique is that you can use it without having to add any additional colors!

How To Dither With Blending Threads

But what if you don’t have a double eye needle?
Well, then we look at adding colors.
 
A great color chart will include all their colors in groups from dark to light. In this situation, we’re hoping that the two colors you have, are in the same color group. Then, simply find the middle color and stitch a few rows with that!
But let’s be honest, in most cases, they aren’t in the same color group, so instead, we need to learn how to use a color card. Find the two colors you have, and then the middle ground again. This works, but it’s slightly more work!

How To Avoid Patterns Without Dithering

But, let’s be honest, as a stitcher, you don’t really want to have to fix the pattern, right? Well, look at the pattern and try to avoid bad quality ones.
Dithering is, without a doubt, a sign of a quality cross stitch pattern.
 
We believe in making sure you buy a quality cross stitch pattern, but for those who haven’t read the post, make sure your pattern listing has:
– A stitched example
– High color counts (if its a complicated image)
– A reasonable price (not just super low)
– If it’s from a trusted source (many places like Etsy are hotbeds of copyright)
 
Hopefully, you’ve learned a few things about dithering today! If you’ve tried dithering before, please give us a shout, we’d love to hear your method, and see how well it turned out!
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Simon Green

    Thanks for the recommendation & links! (Thread-Bare). One of my favourite facts about dithering is where it originated from – apparently, some of the measuring instruments used during WWII were more accurate when they were in planes than when they were in the test lab, because the noise input caused by constant vibration from the engines negated any mechanical friction and so gave smoother readings. The dithering commonly used in pattern making is “error diffusion” dithering but there is an older, simpler type called “ordered” dithering which isn’t viewed as being as good purely from an image processing perspective, but does offer some potential advantages for cross-stitchers and may be a good compromise where the confetti becomes a little easier and less annoying because it tends to be arranged into more repeating patterns. We’re just experimenting with adding it as an option and it’s looking quite promising. An added benefit is that it’s computationally faster to do, because it can be done on a GPU which can handle thousands of pixels at once independently, instead of each having to be processed sequentially with a CPU.

    1. LordLibidan

      No, thank you! Thread-Bare is hands down the best at dithering!
      Also, that’s a cool bit of info! Not sure how I feel about cross stitch programs being improved by war, but that’s still a cool bit of info!
      Kind of reminds me of survival bias tests in WWII too.

  2. Susan

    Why do you have to use a 2-eyed needle? I’ve just always used a standard needle with “one: strand of each color!

    1. LordLibidan

      Oh, you don’t HAVE to! It just makes things easier and the two threads lay on top of each other nicer with the double eye needle!

      1. Susan B Farmer

        Thanks! I thought there might be some magic I didn’t know about. Might be easier than a laying tool?

      2. LordLibidan

        I would try it for sure! I personally hate using a laying tool (takes too long!)

  3. Arlette cheramie

    Love your work. Love your site. Most of all love the interesting and unique information you share about the craft of cross stitching. Thank you.