Knitting a Picture – Photos to Color Charts Part 1

What We Are Talking About:

As knitters, we are compelled to be visual artists and big picture thinkers.  We look at a pattern or a yarn, and have a vision of what the finished object must look like, how it must fit, who it will be for, how much effort it will take, if the design elements match our taste or the taste of the intended recipient, and so on.  These are all thing that happen without thinking.  We look at a pattern, and either it is worth knitting or not.

For me, deciding on a new project is usually the result of serendipity; an alignment of the stars which leads me to have the pattern, the yarn, the needles and the time on my hands all at once.     But occasionally I like to be proactive, creating a little of serendipity of my own.

So I make my own color charts, and I thought you might like to know how to do it too.

This is the first of several tutorials, introducing basic skills needed to transform any digital image to a color chart worthy of knitting, crochet, cross stitch, or what have you.  We’ll start with a very basic black and white image, and progress to more complicated color images with shading and shaping.

You Will Need the Following:

  • A high quality digital photo copy of the image you want to chart (don’t use the original in case something happens and the original is accidentally erased or permanently altered), preferably one that is very simple with two colors, similar to my example.  For multicolored photos click here.  For photos with complicated shading, try here or here.
  • GIMP photo editing software – in theory another photo editor will work as well, but the instructions below are GIMP specific.  For those of you who don’t have GIMP, it is free photo editing software, Mac and Windows compatible, and very, very powerful (read tricky to use).  For those of you who are already thoroughly familiar with Gimp’s capabilities and are confident about what they are doing, I applaud you.  Also, you may find this post a little easy.
  • The ability to take a screen shot of just part of your computer screen (I use the Preview.app on my Mac)
  • A printer
  • Foreknowledge of the size chart you want and in what gauge you will be knitting.  Note: if you use a small gauge with a large chart size, the resulting knit design will turn out better than if you use a large gauge with a small chart size.  

Some Introductory Explanation:

I chose a very high contrast image with only two colors.  When I knit this, I will choose yarn in either black and white like the image shown, or two other equally opposite colors like yellow and purple, orange and blue, dark red and ivory, and so on.  The bigger the contrast between the colors, the more visible the pattern will be.

Because this image only has two colors, I do not need to increase the contrast, change the hues, or any of the other normal photo editing steps.  All I need to do is add a grid over the image.  Once the grid is over the image, any square with more black than white in it becomes a black knit stitch, and any square with more white than black becomes a white knit stitch.

The Instructions –

1. Read ALL of these instructions first.  Do not attempt to work along with the instructions.  Some prep work is mentioned in the middle because that is where it contextually made sense to put it.

2. Open the GIMP program on your computer.  To download GIMP and for help using it visit this site

3.In the top header bar, click File > Open Image, and select the image you want to convert to a color chart.  The image should pop up in the editing window.

4. At the bottom of the image window next to the zoom display is a tab showing what measurement system the window is using to show the size of the image.  Change the tab to show inches and the zoom to read 100%

5. In the top header bar, click Image > Scale Image and a new window should open

6.  Change the width to the number of inches desired, and press the enter key on the keyboard.  The height should change automatically.  Make sure that the resulting size chart matches the desired size by looking at the editing window and making sure the edges of the image line up with the desired inch measurement.

Note: If you are having trouble viewing the image now, click View > Zoom > Fit Image in Window, and you should be able to see the whole image once again.

7. In the top header bar, click View > Show Grid, and a grid should appear on top of your image

8. In the top header bar, Click Image > Configure Grid and a new window will open.  Under appearance in the window, change the foreground color to white and the line style to solid.

9. Under spacing in the Configure Grid window, you will need to enter numbers which reflect the gauge of your knitting project.  Most projects give the gauge in four inch increments, for example: 29 sts = 4″, 32 rows = 4″.  To convert our example measurement for use in GIMP, we need to dust off some third grade fractions.

First, divide the number of stitches by the gauge swatch measurement, and the number of rows by the gauge swatch measurement.  Using our example measurements:

29 sts ÷ 4 inches = 7.25 sts per inch

32 rows ÷ 4 inches = 8 rows per inch

Second, divide one by the new stitch number, and one by the new rows numbers.

1 inch ÷ 7.25 sts = 1 stitch 0.138 inches wide

1 inch ÷ 8 rows = 1 stitch 0.125 inches tall

Enter the resulting decimals into the width and height fields in the Configure Grid window.  Tip: If one field insists on changing with the other, try clicking the little link icon in the bracket beneath the width and height fields.  When the link looks ‘broken’, try re-entering the decimals. 

Click the OK button in the bottom left hand corner of the Configure Grid window.

10. Nearly Finished!  Because GIMP won’t export the image with the grid, now is the time to pull out your screen shot skills and put them to use.  Take a screen shot of the image inside the editing window and save it in a printable format somewhere on your computer you can find it, e.g. a .pdf on your desktop.

11.  Find your newly created .pdf and print it.  That’s it.  Your chart is done.  Each square is equal to one stitch.  If some of the lines are difficult to see, use a ruler to go back over the lines with a pencil.

 The next tutorial will deal with turning abstract color images into a chart.

Happy Knitting!

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