How to Turn a Photo of Your Pet into a Thread Painting

comments (5) February 28th, 2009     

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JenniferStern Jennifer Stern, contributor
Love it! 16 users recommend
When you work on the outline detail, black might be too much, so try a really dark shade of the color palette youre working with instead.
Use a Sharpie marker to fill in some of the bald spots so your embroidery doesnt get too thick!
Be careful using the Sharpie marker around the edges—the color can bleed into the background fabric (like it did here). To fix this problem, Im going to thead-paint the entire background white and put the embroidery in a small oval frame to hang on the wall.
When you work on the outline detail, black might be too much, so try a really dark shade of the color palette youre working with instead.

When you work on the outline detail, black might be too much, so try a really dark shade of the color palette you're working with instead.

Photo: Jen Stern
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Here's a cool way to machine-embroider a picture of your pet without an embroidery machine. Drop the feed dogs on your sewing machine, attach your free-motion quilting foot, and you're ready to go! I took a picture of Emma and traced the outline and features from the photo onto a piece of white Kona cotton using a light box. Then I picked a range of embroidery thread colors to work with. Unlike some kinds of free-motion embroidery, thread painting is very forgiving if you make a mistake—all you have to do is cover up the boo-boo with a lighter or darker color depending on your design and try again. I had some trouble getting the eyes to look right, so I "painted over" the darker detail with a light honey color so I could work on the outline again...I'm pretty happy with them now! Another trick is to use Sharpie markers to color in any areas that show too much of the background fabric; that way, your embroidery won't get too heavy from trying to fill in every speck of fabric.

What you'll need:

  • A photo of your pet
  • Light box
  • Lightweight white fabric, such as Kona cotton
  • A pencil
  • A nice range of embroidery thread colors to stitch with
  • Thin cotton batting
  • White bobbin thread
  • A frame to put your painting in when you're done

Print a copy of your photo on plain paper, then trace the outline and details of the photo onto a piece of white fabric. (I used a sharp pencil to trace with.) You don't have to trace every little detail, just get all the major shapes and areas of shading.

Use a light box to transfer the design to fabric
If you don't have a light box, tape a copy of the photo to a window. Tape the fabric over it. The natural light coming through the window works just like a light box!

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posted in: thread, pet, photo

Comments (5)

Nackmine writes: This is so beautiful!!!!
I can see expression in your Dog's face. It is unbelievable.
I hope I can do half as well.
You have inspired me!
Thanks Angie
Posted: 4:50 pm on May 12th
BLANCHED writes: That was fantastic,really cool idea. And all the other comments and suggestions were great too.Lovely work.
Posted: 9:13 am on November 24th
SuzanandChelsea writes: I have been wanting to start free motion embroidery, your dog project inspired me. I like the idea of coloring the design first. Very well done.

Posted: 9:57 am on May 30th
JenniferStern writes: Have you ever tried Holoshimmer thread from's a great alternative to traditional metallic thread. It's actually a sliver of holographic material that is more durable (breaks much less than metallic threads). Bonus Tip--if you're having problems with your metallic threads, use a vertical spool pin with a metallic needle and a little Sewers' Aid on the spool if you have any tension or breakage problems.
Posted: 9:46 am on February 28th
SewDanish writes: Free motion machine embroidery is SO much fun. It is so liberating :-) This is a great project, with a beautiful result. The colors are truely blended, which is the key to a great result. I like using the "top stitch" needles either #90 or 100 as the larger eye will accomedate metallic threads with out breaking it.
Scandinavian Textile Art, Unique Handmade Supplies

Posted: 2:52 am on February 28th
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