Pretty Poison Hemlock (How I Drew Up My First Real Pattern)

I recently just went on maternity leave, which although nice for all the rest I am getting, is boring as hell.  I am so bored I keep losing days!  So in an attempt to ward off this terrible boredom that I’m sure will be cured once the baby pops, I started a PDF pattern shop.   I wanted to talk about how I created the patterns and what tools I used to do it, in case someone else wanted to give making their own patterns a shot!

I knew I wanted to do something pretty and floral, but there are so many plants around, I didn’t have any idea where to head.  I’ve always loved poisonous plants, so I started there.  I borrowed a book called Wicked Plants, by Amy Stewart (isbn 9781565126831) and read it cover to cover, noting down the names of any plants I liked the sound of, looking them up in Google images in order to get a better idea of what they looked like.  A few stuck out to me for their interesting physical characteristics or their apparent innocent-ness.

Poison Hemlock is adorable; cute little bunches of tiny white flowers, tidy bright green leaves, and the name even sounds dignified, if you leave out the poison part!  I knew I had to simply the design if I wanted to stitch it up.  I could have reduced all the blooms to french knots and concentrated on the plant as a whole, but I liked the five little uneven petals and wanted to feature them.

I drew inspiration from my many books on basic crewelwork, simplifying the plant down to it’s very basic parts: one example of the leaves, two of the circular bloom bundles.  I sketched out what I wanted, played with it for a little bit, then scanned it in.

My husband previously helped me with a couple patterns by translating them from sketch to vector design in Inkscape.  This time, I wanted to do it all myself.  He gave me a quick crash course in drawing lots of different vector lines and off I went.  Every once in a while I would yell something along the line of “David!  My lines keep going funny, come and show me what I’m doing wrong!” and he would helpfully show me a setting I had ticked on or off or whatever.  When he wasn’t there, Google became my husband, with excellent searches such as “Inkscape how to make this thing always be that line thickness!” which helped.  Because Inkscape is open source, there is a great community of forum users who have already helped noobs like me.  I managed to get all my questions answered in no time at all.

The key to working with Inkscape is layers.  You want to put your sketch on the bottom layer, and then in a new layer with a reduced opacity (so you can see your sketch lines through it) you can start drawing.  When you’re done tracing everything and you’re happy with where your lines have ended up, just delete/hide your sketch layer, pump up the opacity on your trace back up to 100% and bam!  You have a pattern.

The great thing about vectors is that you can change the size at will and it will stay nice.  So I could have stitched my design teeny tiny without losing any of the crispness in the lines.

After printing it out and tracing it out with chacopaper, it came together very quickly.  There are five shades of “white” in the flowers, although I can really only identify four of them when all is said and done (oh well!) and there are five different shades of green in the leaves, stems and centers of the flowers. I love how the flowers aren’t all the same shape, which was achieved by actually tracing my sketch instead of tracing one flower and cutting and pasting.  Having some flowers be a bit more messy and wind tossed makes the piece interesting to look at and adds naturalness to the piece.

If you decide to either stitch up my Poison Hemlock pattern or to design your own pattern using Inkscape, I would love to see it!  Leave a comment or shoot me an email!

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