Have you ever heard the expression “give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime?” That phrase is going to be the theme of this blog post.
That’s because there are close to 340 recognized dog breeds in the world! And that’s just purebreds. Nowadays you can combine pieces of dog breeds and generate new breeds: peek-a-poo, labradoodle, chi-york-a-spaniel. The list is never-ending and, frankly, overwhelming. It is close to impossible to generate a specific pattern for every dog breed, and every color variation of every dog breed.
The DIY Stitch People book and extras page includes over 40 dog breeds. That’s about 300 breeds short of being all-inclusive. That said, many dogs are the same basic shape and size. That’s why I want to teach you to design your own dog for your Stitch People portraits. And while I’m going to focus on dogs for this post, the same principles apply to cats, horses, and other beloved pets.
For example, a shiba inu, carolina dog, koolie, berger picard, hollandaise herder, and sulimov all originate from different continents. All of their coloring varies. And even their size varies within 10-20 lbs. (And, generally speaking, size variation actually doesn’t matter! More about that, later.) Most importantly – the various breed SHAPES are consistent. So, when looking at the available patterns, choose one that LOOKS most like your dog, even if the name of the breed doesn’t match your dog’s breed. Use that shape as the foundation for your dog pattern.
Another idea: using the patterns from the DIY Stitch People book, you can even mix-and-match body parts. I know how that sounds. Hear me out. Maybe use the body shape of one dog, the head of another, and the ears of another if you’re not finding a shape that’s just right. If nothing else, this is a good way to get your creativity flowing. Look for specific elements and match them as needed: ear shape, barrel chest or straight chest, leg height, etc.
First, remember that Stitch People portraits are cartoon-ified versions of real people and pets. Things aren’t going to be 100% true to size. If you’re seeking a true size, then a chihuahua or teacup poodle, for example, should only really be 1-3 stitches in size (the hands of Stitch People are really only 1 stitch, after all, and these little guys can fit into your hand in real life!)
But then it’d be impossible to really see the dog, or any detailing on them! So we exaggerate a little bit in our designs. Cool? Cool.
Now – generally speaking, variations in size don’t matter. Truly. Let me put it another way: if you have one dog, all that matters is that it looks “small,” “medium,” or “large” in comparison to the people in the portrait. If you have two dogs, all that matters is that they look “small,” “medium,” or “large” in comparison to the people in the portrait, AND in relation to the other dog in the portrait (if there is a size difference between them).
I PROMISE the recipient of your Stitch People portrait won’t be looking at it thinking “Oh darn. My Scruffy really comes up to my knee, and not the top of my leg like it shows in the portrait.” They’ll be saying “OH MY GOSH YOU PUT SCRUFFY IN THE PORTRAIT AND HE LOOKS PERFECT, LOOK AT HIS EARS AND HIS WHITE SPOTS AND HIS RED COLLAR OH MY GOSH!!!!!”
So what does that mean for you?
Let’s say you’ve chosen your dog shape but you feel it’s a little too big or small. Here’s how to fix it:
To add or remove HEIGHT:
I recommend adding or removing just one or two rows of height in the legs/feet first, and then the torso area if need be. This usually gives the most natural look when increasing or decreasing size, and one or two rows can make a big difference! If you feel the dog needs more height after adding two rows in the legs, then torso area, you can play with adding one row of height in the head/face. But more than one row of height usually distorts the face.
For ear length, add in the middle before altering the tops/bottoms/tips of the ears.
To add or remove WIDTH:
I recommend adding or removing just one or two columns of width first in the bottom/behind area and then in the stomach area. Removing more than two columns (without removing height, too) may make the pet look a bit too narrow, and adding more width (without adding height, too) may make the pet look a bit squatty.
For ear width, start in the middle before removing the angled edges/sides of ears.
Coloring & Fur Length
What will really make or break your dog design is nailing the coloring. Here are some tips and tricks you can use to get the coloring just right:
Match floss colors directly to a picture of your pet.
Hold up floss colors from your embroidery floss collection to find the color(s) that best match your dog. (Tip: avoid holding colors directly to your computer screen. The back-lighting of the screen, and blue tint to screens will skew what the color truly is. If comparing floss colors to a computer screen, hold the floss off to the side of your computer screen so it’s not backlit.)
Mix colors together.
A golden retriever isn’t just “yellow.” She’ll likely be a mixture of tan, ivory white, and maybe even some light, ginger browns. What about a boxer dog that has brindle brown fur – a marbled light and dark brown look? The best way to get a true color, realistic look for your dog is to find the top three colors that make up your pet and use those for the majority of the fur – stitch using one thread of three colors combined together.
Mix color sections together.
What if your golden retriever’s body is primarily a mixture of tan, ivory, and ginger, but it’s legs are more light-tan and white, and it’s face is more of an all-over tan? Then stitch that! Combine three colors for the body, combine two colors for the legs, and use only one color for the face. It can be a little time consuming to swap out your floss for just one or two stitches, but it’s so worth it!!
Use some extra stitches.
Using a combination of back-stitches, and large, loose French knots, or small, tight French knots, your dog can have all the correct markings: spots, freckles, wrinkles, whiskers, etc. Feel free to stitch “outside the lines” to get these little details just right and put them exactly where they need to be (meaning, feel free to make stitches that don’t use the specific holes of the Aida fabric.) Need help with changing up your French knots? Watch the tutorial video, here.
This tip goes for spots on dalmatians (tight, small French knots) to the wrinkles that define an English bulldog’s face or a basset hound’s jowls (back stitches using 1 thread of floss.)
You can even stitch fur that looks curly! Stitch varying sizes of French knots ON TOP of the existing cross stitches you’ve completed for the body of a dog. This works well for curly-haired breeds like a poodle, or an airedale terrier.
Eye & Nose Placement
The final step to getting your dog portrait just right is to nail the eye and nose placement. Look closely at your pet’s face and think about where the eyes and nose are. Are the eyes very far apart? Are they straight ahead? Are they large eyes or small eyes? Are the eyes round and open or squinty? Is the nose large? Does it sit low or high on the face?
A chihuahua and a pug both have open, round eyes that sit wide on the face. But a chihuahua’s nose is larger and sits lower on the face, and a pug’s nose is smaller and sits higher on the face.
A larger dog with a long snout will have a large nose (maybe requiring a full X stitch, beyond just a French knot!) and it will look best to stitch that nose further down to covey the depth of the snout.
A small terrier or yorkie will have small features – little eyes and nose about the same size, in a very perfect little triangle in the center of the face.
See how the size and placement of the eyes and nose have a big impact:
Tip: For black eyes on black fur, here are a couple ideas to make them show up better.
- Use black, glitter (“light effects”) floss. Then, the eyes are black (as they should be) but will catch the light when displayed to pop against the non-glitter black floss.
- Combine one black thread with one white thread to stitch the eyes. It adds just enough white in there to make the eyes stand out. Be careful, though, because sometimes the eyes can look a bit wander-y.
- Use dark gray floss. It’s just enough difference to see the eyes better on black floss/fur, but still alludes to the dark eyes the dog actually has.
- It’s a bit tricky but worth it: Stitch the dog’s eyes using two threads of black floss – French knots. THEN switch your floss. Thread your needle with one thread of white floss and begin a French knot in the same place as the black, eye French knots. Before pulling the white floss tight, loop it around the existing black French knot. This will give the eye a subtle, thin white outline to help the black eyes stand out from the black fur. Don’t move too quickly on this one! Patience is key, but it looks great when it’s done!
Using the tips and tricks mentioned above, I’m confident anyone can customize any dog breed they need. Start with something SIMILAR and then tweak it, and make little changes as needed, being sure to include all the little details that make your dog YOUR dog.
Good luck, dog lovers!