Makers Monday- How to Embroider Hair- Embroidery Portrait (Part 4)

Makers Monday by Holey Socks Art


Oiy vey! It’s Monday.  One long, crappy week down and now we are onto another, hopefully better, week.  Bring it on.

 Now part four has been a long time in the making. Please excuse me- between technical issues, a sudden passion for Bible reading (weird, I know- more on that another day), and other life dramas (near break-in, anyone?) it’s been a hell of a month.  With the delay you have hopefully caught up but not gotten bored and set down your project. Have you? Anyways… on to the tutorial.



So this week’s tutorial is an important one.

Next to the eyes,

embroidering your subject’s hair can make or break a portrait.

Whether you are going with a simple outline or a multicolored mane there are many key things you need to remember.


For most of my portrait projects I have typically filled in the entire expanse of hair.  It is simply a personal preference (and I’m a glutton for punishment).  I know that can be overwhelming for some.  Don’t be intimidated.  It’s super easy and gives you the opportunity to really let the thread speak.  Yes, it can be time consuming. Yes, it can surely clean out your thread collection depending on the size of a piece. However, it will lend a unique, posh, finished look to your portrait and is oddly meditative and relaxing. The hardest part is letting go of my anal-retentive perfectionista that lives somewhere inside of me and NOT replicate the hair exactly, but rather replicate the feel of the hair.  


But filling in the hair completely is not your only option.  A simple outline can be lots of fun.


 Here are some examples:


How to Embroider Hair-  A tutorial from Holey Socks Art


Some of my favorite tips:

* Have fun! This is a great opportunity to play with variegated floss or floss with sheen.  Outlining? Play with different stitches.  A plain backstitch isn’t your only option.

* Hair will look more natural if you work from the bottom upwards.  Think about how your hair falls.  The hair at the top of your head overlaps the hair at your nape.  Now, it’s not necessary for your threads to completely cover like true hair does, but I do feel (particularly with shorter hair such as mens cuts or facial hair) that it makes a visual difference to work from the bottom up.

How to Embroider Hair- a tutorial by Holey Socks Art


* Pay attention to large areas of color such as highlights, shading with curls or near the nape of the neck to get a more realistic effect; don’t get pulled into the minute color changes and small details.

* Watch your thread direction.  Keep it moving in the direction of natural hair.  Filling in color fields from left to right will read completely wrong if the portrait is of someone wearing their long hair down.  Also, if you are stitching someone with their hair up, such as a ponytail, straight up and down stitches will also look awkward.  You want to follow the curve of the head just as it does in the picture.


* Adjust your thread count. When embroidering hair the size of your portrait will dictate the number of strands of floss you choose to use.  However, using a greater number on an overlapping piece can add a fun topography-like visual difference.  This will add unique visual interest and realism to your portrait.



Eyebrows are hair too!

All the same principals apply to eyebrows.  I have yet to use more than one strand of floss to complete eyebrows on any portrait. Typically, I choose one strand of a single color that best matches the brows in the photo I am using.  To create areas of darkness I vary the density of my stitches (or the number of stitches in that area).  The most vital part to making eyebrows look real is to follow the path of the hairs.  Photo too small? Look at your own eyebrows.  With the exception of the front of the eyebrow (nearest your nose), your hair does NOT go straight up and down.  Nor is it completely vertical. Pay attention to these subtle details in this area and it will pay off big!

How to Embroider Hair- a tutorial by Holey Socks Art


Well, I hope that was helpful.  As always you can feel free to contact me with any questions, for clarification, or to share your progress! I love seeing your photos.

Our next tutorial will be in about 2 weeks time and we will look at some more complex stitches that can be used for clothing, backgrounds, or other fun detailing in your portraits.


Good Luck!!