DIY Embroidered Photo Ornament

The holiday season has somehow unlocked my creativity (hooray!) and I've had so many random project ideas lately. This particular idea struck me when I received our family Christmas cards in the mail. The photo of the twins was just too cute to only have on a card -- I really wanted to use it to make an ornament to commemorate this adorable phase in their lives.

I used my elementary embroidery skills to create a couple different versions of this DIY stitched photo ornament, and they turned out well enough that I wanted to share the process with you.

If you have elementary sewing skills and a little bit of patience, you can do this. I took a 2-hour embroidery class last year (shout-out to our awesome teachers Nerd & Brawler and our host, Flea Style) which taught me the basics but obviously isn't long enough to get any serious skills. So I mean it when I say you do not need to be an embroidery specialist to make this ornament. 

- fabric
- scissors
- embroidery hoop
- embroidery needle
- embroidery floss
- photo (preferably printed on matte/linen cardstock or fabric)
- Mod Podge or fabric glue

Since I decided to do this project on a whim, I used products I already had around the house. I just made a felt board for the kids (tutorial coming soon!) so I had an abundance of felt in my fabric scraps. It actually worked really well, I think it made the hoop feel a little more wintry and cozy.

The first step is to cut your fabric to fit your hoop, making sure to leave excess around the edges. It may get loose as you work on your hoop, so you want to have some excess to be able to pull it tighter as you go. The tighter the fabric, the smoother the finish. You don't want it to pucker as you pull your stitches through the fabric.

Our family Christmas cards were printed by Vistaprint on their linen finish paper. I think the finish of the paper is a big part of why it worked well. I don't think a glossy photo would look as cohesive with fabric and thread. I cut mine out using a heart cookie cutter, but I think a circle would be just as cute.

I glued my image to the felt with Mod Podge, but I'm sure fabric glue would work too. 

You thread the embroidery floss just like a regular needle and thread, looping it around and tying a knot on the end. If you want your floss to be thinner and more precise, you can separate out each piece of thread within the floss to get a thinner line for embroidering. 

From there, it's just a matter of creating the look your want with your floss. I tried several different techniques and none were very precise because I'm just not a precise person. I love that embroidery is forgiving. If you mess up, you can just cut your thread, remove it and start over. 

I poked my needle from the back of my hoop and then back through the front, over and over again. 

If you want to learn specific stitches, there are a ton of resources on the web. Here's an Instructable called Embroidery 101 that explains it better than I ever could! But I'm impatient and I'm the type of artist who just wings it, so this is me just winging it with absolutely no technique. Real embroidery artists, please try not to judge!

Real embroidery artists take pride in how neat the "hoop butt" is, so this is the perfect way to show you that I'm a fraud. Look at that mess!

But really, I shared that with you to show that when I'm done with a certain color, I just tie a knot in the back of the hoop and cut the floss. It's just like hand-sewing something. I've only hand-stitched a few things in my life, and it was only the ribbons for my pointe shoes back in my ballerina days. 

I like the look of framing your photo with your embroidery pattern. I found it pretty easy to poke holes in my cardstock with my needle, but you don't want to get too close to the edge of your paper or it will rip and the stitch won't hold.

To finish your hoop, you can fold the excess fabric behind your hoop and secure it with hot glue. If you would to make it look more polished, you can cover your hoop butt with a circle of fabric to give the backside a clean appearance. I skipped that step. :)

Once I worked on the heart pattern, I tried another style as well. This family portrait is the photo from the other side of our Christmas card. (Thank you to my amazing photographer friend Allison at Silver Bear Creative for capturing the twins so well at such a squirmy age of life.) Again, I cut it out, glued it on and embroidered around it. I loved this version as well, although it was a little more tricky because the photo border is more intricate.

I was having so much fun that ended up doing three different ornaments. It's a relaxing hobby for a football-watching couch potato like me. But now I am officially stitched out!

I hope these ornaments spark some ideas for you this holiday season. Who knows, maybe you'll find a new hobby to enjoy during your next Netflix binge!

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