Makers Monday- How to Embroider Portraits- Embroidered Portraits (Part 1)

Makers Monday by Holey Socks Art
Embroidery. For most people it is synonymous with cross stitch and old ladies.
True. It had it’s hay day among nuns and blue hairs.
However, over the years it has begun to make a come back. Thanks to the handmade goods trend you can now see it everywhere.  It ranges from the traditional hand embroidered towels to new modern (and sometimes crass & comical) wall hangings.
What is embroidery? Is it the same as cross stitch? It’s confusing, I know.  Embroidery is just one of a number of kinds of needlework. The Purl Bee has a really great article about some of the various types HERE.
For most women I’ve meet, at least here in the midwest, embroidery (or some type of needlework) is something one learned when you were young.  Maybe it was something your mother enjoyed and taught you or you learned as part of 4H but never really kept up or did again once you hit your teen years.  Most of the women that I’ve met have experience only with cross stitch.
I originally learned to cross stitch, but found it too restrictive and regimented.  It’s just in the last year that I’ve discovered a true love of free style embroidery.  With a variety of stitches and other techniques there is so much you can do within a piece and always more to learn.  It’s also something that is easily do-able for people of all skill levels.
Hand Embroidered Portrait by Holey Socks Art
Self Portrait
Hand Embroidered Portrait by Holey Socks Art
Portrait of my Husband
Hand Embroidered Portrait by Holey Socks Art
Hand Embroidered Portrait by Holey Socks Art
In the last year I’ve really gotten into portrait work.  I love the freedom of making my own patterns and also creating something beautiful that will stand the test of time. I’ve had so many compliments lately and behind all of them lingers the phrase “I wish I could do that”.  Well, I’m here to tell you that you can.  Really.
Basically, what it boils down to is being able to follow a line. You don’t need to know how to draw.  Let me show you how.
Here’s what you need:
1. Embroidery Hoop- I prefer to mount my project in the hoop so I prefer wood hoops as my finished mounting piece, but often will do the work inside of my plastic hoop.  It seems to hold better.  I recommend a size 8-12 inch hoop.
2. Fabric- I use simple cotton.  Make sure to wash and iron your fabric before you start.  Solids or patterns, it’s all your preference.
3. Photo- I recommend doing a close up head and shoulders vs. a full or 3/4 body to start.  Working larger allows for larger stitches and less tiny detail. Portraits are surprisingly easier when you are working a bit larger. The smaller the subject, the more difficult it is to get enough detail to make it look realistic.
4. Supplies for your preferred transfer method.  See below.
There are a couple of different ways to transfer your photo. I prefer to work from a computer printed copy of the photo I wish to use on standard paper . This allows me to scale the photo to size and draw directly on it without ruining the original.  I tend to change it to black and white so I can easier see details and contrast lines I wish to trace.
If you’re worried about how it will look, I recommend you make a line drawing first. Wait! I know, no drawing. This is easy.  Using a light table (or a sunny window) you can trace the subjects from the paper printed photo onto a crisp sheet of white paper.  This will allow you to better envision what the final “line drawn” embroidered portrait will look like and make sure you have included enough lines for the drawing to maintain it’s personality and individualism.  This will also allow you to use a collage of photos should you want to use pieces from different photos or add members that were missing from the original photo.
Original photo
Final drawing for hoop.
I don’t transfer all lines, just those needed to make basic forms.
Most part of flowers and fine facial detail lines are added free hand.
Hand Embroidered Portrait by Holey Socks Art
Final Piece

Transferring Your Drawing:

1. Graphite paper- In this method you simply lay a piece of graphite paper on top of fabric (dark, shiny side against fabric), place your photo or drawing in top then trace.  Pros: Easy to Use.  Cons: Non-removable on fabric. Theoretically, I suppose you could potentially remove it by washing the entire fabric piece, but who wants to do this.

Hand Embroidered Portrait Tutorial by Holey Socks Art


Hand Embroidered Portrait Tutorial by Holey Socks Art
Portrait transferred using graphite paper.  A compilation of photos was used to get the subject “right”.
2. Fabric Markers- In this method you can use a projector to project the picture onto your fabric and trace the subject with the fabric marker (great for large projects).  With lighter fabrics it may be possible to use a light box. Pros: Disappears leaving no trace. Also has an eraser for correcting mistakes.  Cons: Disappears leaving no trace! Most say they last 2-14 days. That’s a pretty big gap. You will need to keep an eye on it and redraw areas as pen begins to fade. Requires a projector.  I like this one from Marvy Uchida.
*If you have a hard time seeing detail with projector you can outline paper photo with a fine black Sharpie.
Hand Embroidered Portrait Tutorial by Holey Socks Art
Portrait transferred with projector and fabric marker.  Final hoop will be 23 inches making this project too large to print and trace.
Source photo from my wedding day.
That’s what a 23 inch hoop looks like…  This will be the piece I show you throughout our tutorial over the next couple months.  I am using a vintage floral bedsheets for this project.
I suggest you stretch your fabric on your hoop before tracing.  This will ensure that you have a wrinkle free surface.  Also, stretching your fabric post-trace can lead to distortion.  Another helpful hint is that I actually place the fabric in the hoop “wrong” in order to facilitate tracing.  If you look at the hoop above you will notice that the fabric is flush with the base of the hoop and not covering it as usual. This allows you to place the fabric directly against a hard surface rather than having it suspended as it would normally be when traditionally stretched.  You can choose to leave it this way to work or switch it up once the subject is transferred.
There are other ways of transferring, but I find these to be the simplest for our purposes.
So find yourself you photo, hoop and fabric and lets make one together. 
Once you have your photo on your fabric make sure to remove it from the hoop so that your hoop doesn’t leave marks on your fabric.  This is something to get in the habit of EACH TIME YOU SET YOUR HOOP DOWN.
 I will show you the basic stitches I use to outline figures and fill in areas in our next tutorial.