Not content to have my children's actual faces upon which to gaze, or numerous photographs, I felt the need to create embroidered pillow portraits of them as well. They got a kick out of them as well so I decided it would make a nice gift for any family, and started making them for friends as well as selling them in my etsy shop. After making a few in probably the least efficient way possible, I discovered some shortcuts that make it surprisingly easy, and even eliminate the need for any great artistic talent. Anyone with basic sewing and embroidery skills & tools, as well as access to the internet and a printer, can make these! It helps to have a portrait artist's eye to make the portraits look just right, but I hope that, with the tips provided, you can make something you'll love even if you consider yourself lacking any talent in that area!
Here's what you'll need:
- The photograph you'd like to turn into an embroidered portrait, in jpeg form (preferably a high-resolution close-up of the face and neck, cropped to a square-ish shape) (Note on photo: ideal size is between 400kb and 1.5mb as anything smaller will result in not enough detail and anything larger will not upload)
- 1 fat quarter of fabric (I use Amy Butler's Full Moon Polka Dots)
(Note on fabric: Any solid or printed fabric you like will do for the border and back of the pillow. You might even like to combine a few. I, however, think too busy a print or prints takes focus away from the portrait, and recommend choosing something fairly simple with 2 colors at most.)
- Coordinating thread
- 1 7"x7" piece of white cotton quilting fabric (I use Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton Solid Fabric in Snow)
- Black embroidery floss (I use DMC 310 Black Six Strand Floss)
- Pillow stuffing (I use polyester fiberfill) -- about 8 oz. should be more than sufficient
- Computer with internet access & printer
- Access to a window that lets in some daylight
- Scotch tape or masking tape
- Regular pencil
- Embroidery hoop (6" diameter is ideal)
- Embroidery needle (I use a chenille needle)
- Embroidery scissors (I use Victorian Embroidery Scissors by Tool Tron)
- Fabric shears and ruler, or rotary cutter and self-healing mat, for cutting fabric
- Sewing machine
Here are the instructions:
Step 1: Turn your Photograph into an Embroidery Pattern Using a Free Online Tool
There are a number of websites that enable you to turn photographs into coloring pages, which are basically equivalent to embroidery patterns, and then print the results. My favorite is www.reallycolor.com, which is quite user-friendly. It makes it so easy and quick that even though I actually am a portrait artist, I now almost always use this method instead! The only time I don't is when the photograph for some reason (usually because the resolution isn't high enough or there isn't enough contrast) doesn't come out well this way. It really works well with most crisp photographs, though. All you do is as follows:
Go to www.reallycolor.com and click on "Get Started."
Click on "Upload Image" and select your photo.
Voila! Your photo is now a coloring page! You will probably want to tweak it, however, so that it includes just enough detail to show a good resemblance without looking too "marked up."
Using your mouse to scroll up and down, choose one of the 8 available versions of your coloring page. Err on the side of too much detail if none seems perfect, as you can still adjust it on the next page. Click "Continue" when you've made your choice.
On the next page you can make further adjustments by clicking on the "More Detail" and "Less Detail" buttons at the base of your image. Experiment until it is just right and then click "Continue."
On the next page you can experiment with thicker and thinner lines, and also use the editing tools on the right to make any touch-ups. For instance, I used the eraser to erase most of the shirt from my drawing. When you like what you see, click "Continue."
Now all you need to do is register at the free membership level and you'll be able to download your awesome, ready-to-go portrait embroidery pattern!
Step 2: Print and Transfer Your Portrait Embroidery Pattern
Now that your image is downloaded, you can print it in whatever way you normally print photos or images. If you use a photo printing program, choose the 5"x7" size or the 8"x10" size, depending on how much white space there is between your drawing and the edges of your image. You want the actual drawing to come pretty close (with about a 1/2" margin) to filling up a 6"x6" square. I like to insert the image into a Word Document because then I can easily adjust it to just the size I want. Then go ahead and print it! Can you believe what you created?!
Time to cut some of your white cotton fabric into a 7"x7" square.
This is the part where you'll need a window and some daylight -- unless you happen to have a lightbox, in which case by all means work through the night! Tape your printout to the window (or lightbox). Now tape your fabric square on top of it so that the picture is centered in the square.
The light should make the portrait easily visible, and therefore easily traced, through the fabric. Each part will become even more clearly visible as you press down on it to trace it.
It's best to start tracing at the top and move down; otherwise you might smudge the pencil marks you've already made.
This curly hair was a challenge as there were so many lines so I decided not to trace every single line of every curl. I thought it wouldn't make much difference in terms of creating a resemblance or making the portrait realistic. But don't worry, you can just trace every line if you feel too unsure to make choices like that!
The eyes aren't as difficult as you might think. Just trace the lines as you see them and color in the parts (such as areas of the pupils) that are black.
The mouth can be a little tricky. I find it looks best to draw the inner line of the lips completely and the outer line only partially, where it looks darkest in the image generated by the computer. As for the teeth, tongue, etc., it looks best to outline the teeth clearly and then fill in the rest of the space between the inner lips as if it were black. This usually simplifies how it appears in the computer-generated image, and usually improves upon it.
If you see a broken line that you think should be filled in, go ahead and do it. For instance, in my computer-generated image, there was a gap in the outline of the bottom of the face between the chin and the jawline. I thought it looked better to connect it. Again, making such decisions to add or subtract here and there rather than simply trace what you see is entirely optional and you will have a great result even if you don't.
Finally, take the fabric -- still attached to the printout -- off the window and place it on another (non-translucent) surface so you can see clearly what you've traced without seeing through to what's underneath on the paper. It's important to leave the fabric attached to the printout so that in case you see that you've omitted something you can easily tape it back up to the window and trace what you missed.
When you're satisfied, remove the tape, separate the fabric from the printout, and place the fabric in your hoop. You're ready to start stitching!
Step 3: Embroider your Pattern
I used a basic back stitch, following the lines and curves as drawn. It's easy when you're drawing the clothes but gets a little trickier when you get to the features. To get the lines just right it can help to separate the strands of the embroidery floss and use only 3 or 4 for the finer details. Before you know it you've created a masterpiece!
Step 4: Sew & Stuff your Pillow
All you need is 1 fat quarter of fabric. I recommend one of these cute Amy Butler Full Moon Polka Dots prints. The camel on pink, ivory on cherry, and tangerine on cream are great for little girl portraits and the lime on cream and blue on grey are great for boys... if you're into gender-color-stereotyping for baby gifts (as I am!).
Cut one 13"x13" piece and four 10"x4" pieces. If you cut them according to the rough diagram at left, you'll end up with two 4"x10" pieces with the pattern going horizontally and two with it going vertically, which will work out perfectly when you sew your pillow.
Start by pressing your portrait square so you can no longer see where the hoop was. Next, take one of your 4"x10" pieces and pin it along the long side to the right-hand side of your portrait square, with "right" sides of the fabrics (portrait square and 4"x10" fabric piece) facing each other. The tops should meet and the bottom of the 4"x10" piece should extend a few inches below the bottom of the portrait square.
Now sew the pieces together with a 1/2" seam allowance, starting where the tops meet and ending 1/2" above the bottom of the portrait square. Press the seam flat.
Follow the same procedure with another of the 4"x10" pieces, this time pinning and sewing the long side to the bottom edge of the portrait square. Begin sewing, with a 1/2" seam allowance, where the short side of the 4"x10" piece meets the right-hand edge of the portrait square. Be sure to pull back the 4"x10" piece you have already sewn so that you do not sew over it.
Press this seam flat as well.
Replace the piece you sewed first so that it overlaps the piece you just sewed and so that right sides of the fabrics are again facing each other. Sew the rest of the first piece to the second piece so that the seam continues all the way down to the bottom of the first piece. Press this part of the seam flat.
Topstitch, as close to the seam edge as possible, from top to bottom of the first piece you sewed.
Follow the same procedures (i.e. those indicated in the four pictures & instructions above) with each of the two remaining 4"x10" pieces, continuing to move clockwise around the portrait square until the portrait is surrounded by overlapping pieces. The front of your pillow is now complete!
Place the 13"x13" fabric square on top of this completed front so that the right sides of the fabric are facing each other. Sew all the way around these larger squares with a 1/2" seam allowance, leaving a 3" or 4" gap along the bottom. Trim the seams and the corners.
Turn your pillow right-side-out through the gap and stuff it with your pillow stuffing, being sure to fill in the corners. Now sew the gap closed by hand, using an invisible (aka hidden) stitch if you're patient or a simple whip stitch if not.
And you're done! Please let me know how it turned out, and add any photos to my flickr group! Also, please let me know if anything needs clarification. Thanks & hope you create something you love!
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