Best ways to turn a favourite PHOTO into an EMBROIDERY work

Do you wish to turn a photograph into an embroidery - here is how to get the photo suitable to be embroidered and tips on embroidering it.

All of us have a photo to which we have a little partiality. It may be that of your grandmother or that of a beautiful flower which you took as a fledgling photographer or your baby smiling. What if you could turn it into a work of art with your embroidery skills. It is  easy enough to do that and very very rewarding.

First of all decide on the photo you wish to embroider. It should have enough details and broad outlines. Not too complicated if you are doing it for the first time. Do not make it a very big image , as you might get overwhelmed and discouraged. Do not choose others’ photographs without their permission. Do not use copyrighted images. All these are just commonsense, which I am simply reiterating to make sure that you remember

A beautiful recreation by Jaine Hollis-Watson

photo to embroidery

Method 1 Manually trace the design

This is a tracing technique that uses a lightbox kind of method . Keep the photograph on a very thin glass.  Keep a thin white paper on the glass – the kind you give kids to scribble on ; not the printer variety. You need to go outside where there is much sunlight – now you will be able to trace the outline of your photograph on your sheet with a pencil. Trace all the lines you can see. You can use a carbon sheet to transfer these to the fabric of your choice 

Method 2 Use a computer program to get the design

You need to convert the photo into a line drawing that can be stitched. There are many options that turn your  photographs into a line drawing with broad outlines. Photoshop is one option.

Other similar options include sites like;;

My favourite is the online platform It is free

How to use to turn the photo into a broad outline

Step 1

Go to . Upload the photo onto befunky photoeditor

turn photo to embroidery

Step 2

Choose the effects tool on the left handside interface

There are many premium options in befunky which are the best ( you have to pay extra for using them)  but the free options work as well. 

turn photo to embroidery

You can use the free effects like Stenciler and or Line Artopia to make the photo stitchable as shown in the picture below

Increase the brightness of the photo to make the outlines more detailed.Save to your computer.

Take a printout of this work.

how to turn a photo to embroidery

Now trace the design onto the fabric . For this you need a tracing paper, carbon sheet and a tracing wheel.

  • Keep the photo/printout  you have on a work table
  • Place the tracing paper on top of the photo
  • Make the outline of the photo with a pencil
  • Remove the tracing paper
  • Keep it on top of the fabric where you want the embroidery to be. Keep the carbon sheet in between the tracing paper and the fabric, ink side down on the fabric
  • Use a tracing wheel to run over the design. Or a sharp tool so that a faint outline is made on the fabric

You can use other methods of tracing the design on to the fabric – checkout the post on the 9 embroidery transfer methods for more details

Method 3 Transfer the photo using an iron-on transfer sheet

There are many methods to copy a photo as it is to the fabric. Check out this post 6 ways to transfer photos to fabric for more details on these methods.Read on for the easy transfer sheet method.

transfer photos to fabric

This is a method which is very easy if you have the iron on peel off transfer sheets. This is a special paper with  which you can transfer designs onto fabric . 

On one side of the iron-on transfer sheet is paper backing which can be peeled off and on one side you can print the design.

Steps on how to do transfer the photo with iron on transfer sheets 

Step 1 –Select the photo.

Step 2 – Print the photo on the transfer sheets

Keep the iron on transfer sheet on your inkjet printer

Related post – Checkout the post on fabric Inkjet printing

You need a mirror image for this method to work. Flip the image to  reverse / mirror image on the computer or on the inkjet printer settings

Change the printer settings to heavy paper

Print the design on the transfer sheet. 

Cut out the design from the transfer sheet with a narrow margin all around

Step 3 – Heat press design onto fabric

Place the transfer paper on the fabric face down (printed surface down on the fabric)

You have to iron it onto the fabric meant for embroidery

Run a medium hot iron over the back of the paper for 25 seconds.Keep on moving the iron without stopping at any one place. 

The image is transferred by heat to the fabric.After the design has cooled off (after about 2-3 minutes) peel off the paper backing from the transfer sheet very very carefully (without tearing)

Now you have a photo imprinted on the fabric. You can now embroider directly on top of th design. I would wash this fabric before embroidering. I don’t want (probable) inkbleed to destroy many hours of loving labour.

How to embroider the photo

You can use needle painting method or free motion embroidery or an embroidery sewing machine to stitch the photo and turn into an embroidered artwork.

Select a medium weight even weave fabric  for embroidering your master piece. You also need a suitable stabilizer. Medium weight even weave fabric as well as medium weight iron-on tear-away stabilizers works the best for doing the stitching on your sewing machine whether as free motion embroidery or your embroidery machine.

Iron the stabilizer to the back of fabric before embroidering .If you have to use light weight fabric use a heavy water soluble stabilizer.

Ensure that you have hooped the fabric with the stabilizer, with proper tension without any wrinkles or folds.

Do the embroidery with subtle shading referring to the original photo and with dense closely packed stitches

Check out the posts on Background embroidery stitches, filling stitches , needle painting,other hand embroidery stitches for some hand embroidery stitches you can use to embroider these pictures.

Hand embroidering the design from a photo

Using a dark shade use an outline stitch to work the hard edges in your design. Back stitch is best for this .

Then following the contours of the design fill the inside portions.

You can use a long and short stitch or split stitch as filling stitches.

A shading effect can be given inside by combining shades of similar colours. You will need several shades of the same colour to get a shaded effect which will make your work look like the original photo or something closer.

Related posts :

beginners embroidery

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

11 thoughts on “Best ways to turn a favourite PHOTO into an EMBROIDERY work”

  1. THIS is what I’ve been looking for!
    Your method 2 – BeFunky website is absolutely perfect! I’ve been searching and searching for an app or website I can use to that will do what I’m looking for and BeFunky is it!

  2. I want to buy an embroidery machine that will copy my photos digitally to cloth/ tee shirt ,or blanket. I need to know which one is best.

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