Customising Cross Stitch Skin Tones
Updated: May 23
I had been designing cross stitch patterns for quite a few years before I attempted a person (well, actually it was a mermaid!) and encountered the need for skin tones.
I started out by selecting some pale peachy skin tones, tried a few options and found a combination I liked.
But I wasn't happy making the pattern available with only one skin tone and became curious to see what was available to guide the customisation of different cross stitch skin tone options.
I found a couple of really great articles so I thought I'd share these but the one thing I couldn't find was stitched examples of combinations, and I always like to see what it looks like in real life, so I'm going to share some samples I have done too.
You can jump to a specific section using these links;
You can also find all the information summarised in a PDF guide if you would like to save this as a handy reference.
This is a really comprehensive list covering fair, mid and deep skin tones with 3 shades of DMC thread given for each skin tone; a main skin colour, a highlight and a shadow.
There is also a similar skin tone guide for Anchor threads
This guide has been compiled from suggestions from a number of stitchers and gives options for light tones/highlights, midtones and dark tones/shadows.
It doesn't put these together in specific combinations so you would have to try some out to see what you liked.
I have taken the colours as per resource #1 above (for DMC threads) and provided stitched samples for these. Each column represents 5 shades that go together from light to dark for a particular skin tone.
- DMC 839 is used as the darkest colour for both the final columns.
- DMC 3773 (included in resource #1) has been discontinued and I have chosen 407 as a suitable alternative.
One thing I noticed here was that the very darkest brown shades were not included so I added some of these when completing real life stitched examples.
Step by step process for selecting skin colours
Step 1 - select shades
Look at how many shades are used for the skin section of your pattern and how those are used.
You will generally need to choose the same number of shades as the design uses, so if the design uses 2 shades (light and dark) then you will need 2 shades (light and dark) to substitute.
If the design uses 3 shades (light, mid, dark) then you will need 3 shades (light, mid, dark), and so on.
Then look at how the shades are used to decide on your main skin colour.
For example, I generally use 3 shades with the lightest shade being the main part of the skin stitches. So, you would want to first pick the shade that you want to use for the main part of the skin then add 2 darker shades for the mid and dark sections.
If your pattern has 3 shades but uses the mid shade for the largest part of the skin section, then pick that mid shade first, then add 1 shade lighter than this to use for the highlights and 1 shade darker to use for the shadows.
If your pattern has 2 or 4 shades, adapt this accordingly, but I recommend always picking the shade with the most number of stitches first and then adding the others.
Step 2 - test!
Once you have picked out some thread shade options, lay them next to each other to see if they look good together, and you could also lay them on the fabric you are using to make sure they will work with that too, although this should not often be an issue.
If you want to be really sure though, then I highly recommend stitching a small sample as it always looks different when stitched!
Step 3 - backstitch
Check the recommended colour for the backstitch and make sure you will be able to see the backstitch on top of the cross stitches! It can be tricky to see backstitch on top of the very darkest skin tones so you can try using white instead of black to make any facial features stand out more.
Balancing the shades
It can be quite difficult to get a good balance between having a slight difference between the shades used to make up a skin tone, but not such big jumps between shades that the contrast appears too high and the blend is not subtle enough.
Unfortunately we are limited to the shades available and sometimes there are quite big gaps in shades.
So here you could try 'tweeding' or blending 2 colours together to bridge the gap, so taking 1 strand of a light shade and 1 strand of a darker shade and combining those to give you a shade in-between the two.
Cheek (blush) swatches
I have also collated some swatches of DMC threads that I think would make good cheek/blush colours, although of course, this collection is likely not exhaustive!
For each of the colour combination stitched samples in the section below I tested several cheek colours and have included the one I liked best, but there are always other options that would work well so try some out and see what you like.
Colour combination stitched examples
This section will be expanded as I stitch more samples!
I have done my best to ensure the photography of these samples is as accurate as I can make it, but some screens may display colours differently so it's always best to test combinations yourself!
I hope this has helped with customising skin tones and please let me know if you need any further help (you can get in touch via the contact form) or if there is anything I could add to make this more useful.
Don't forget you can also grab the summary PDF guide as a handy reference!
Until next time... happy stitching!