Learn How to Embroider Your First Day of School Photos

SEP 10, 2019 updated May 14, 2021
Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog

For many families, the first day of school isn’t complete without the flash of a camera capturing the iconic first day of school photo. But what do you do with all those photos you take year after year? Spoonflower designer Katie Kortman asked herself the same question and knew there had to be a way to creatively display her children’s back-to-school photos. Get ready to see how easy it is to turn your family photos into wall-art worthy pictures with simple embroidery and a fat quarter of Linen Cotton Canvas!

Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog

Katie: So, your kids are back in school and you’ve taken some cute photos to prove that they’re officially a grade older. Now what do you do with those adorable photos besides posting them on social media for all your friends and family to adore? Well, today we’ve got another fun way to preserve those memories: embroidery!

While I am no expert in embroidery, I do know how to use a needle and thread, and that’s all you need to make some fun back-to-school artwork for your photo wall. I am going to give you some tips today on how to do this with your family’s photos (even if your children are animals).

First day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog
First day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog
First day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog
First day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog

How to Embroider Back-to-School Photos

Materials

  • First day of school photo printed on fat quarter of Linen Cotton Canvas
  • 8″ Embroidery hoop*
  • Embroidery floss
  • Fabric scissors

*Choose your embroidery hoop size based off of your photo fabric size. For a 12″ piece of fabric we used an 8″ hoop.

Say Cheese!

1. To start, take your photos —or maybe you’ve already celebrated the first day of school and have your photo ready! I recommend good lighting (not full sun/shadows) and similar backgrounds if you want them to coordinate. Other ideas would be to have them posed with something that represents their personality or interests, or in a favorite place. I chose photos with no context, but there are many ways you could capture your cute children.

Use Katie’s tutorial to embroider wedding pictures or vintage family photos!


Choose your Fabric

First day of school picture printed on Linen Cotton Canvas and Petal Signature Cotton | Spoonflower Blog
The photo on the left is printed on Linen Cotton Canvas and the photo on the right is printed on Petal Signature Cotton.

2. I printed my photos on both Petal Signature Cotton™ and Linen Cotton Canvas as a test and preferred the thickness of the linen for embroidery.  

Format Your Photos for Embroidery

3. Now let’s talk about the printing and formatting. If you have a program like Photoshop, you can put all of your photos on one canvas that’s the size of a yard at 150 dpi—Petal Signature Cotton is 42” wide and Linen Cotton Canvas Ultra fabric is 54”. Depending on the size of your photos, you may wish to order each one individually on a fat quarter of Linen Cotton Canvas (27″ x 18″). My photos ranged from 10″-12″ wide and each one was ordered centered on a fat quarter.

View Spoonflower’s fabric widths per yard.

Or, if you size your designs so they go evenly into 6, you could print all the photos of your children on one yard of Petal Signature Cotton with Fill-A-Yard®.

First day of school pictures printed on Fill-A-Yard® | Spoonflower Blog
Using the Fill-A-Yard® 6″ cheater quilt template, Katie can easily place her photos on one yard of Petal Signature Cotton.
  1. Save each photo so its dimensions are divisible by 6. For this example, my photos are each saved at 12″ x 12″.
  2. Upload each photo separately and then make a collection of all your portraits.
  3. Choose the 6″ Cheater Quilt template Petal Signature Cotton.
  4. Select the first portrait on the right side and then select the cheater quilt blocks on the template until you see a full face on the quilt.
  5. Repeat for all of your portraits. You’ll notice I left the surrounding blocks unprinted to have a little selvage but you could also fill with other photos or Marketplace designs.

How to Embroider Your Photos

Embroidered first day of school photo  | Spoonflower Blog

4. Once you have your printed portraits,  it’s time to embroider! I have FOUR kids which means I had four photos and just two weeks to complete it so I stuck with simple embroidery. I would love to do more elaborate designs in the future, but that will be for a smaller project, or one that I don’t have to do four times. 

When I was planning out what to do on each photo, I first looked for what embroidery floss colors I wanted to use and created color palettes that coordinated with each kid’s outfit. 

Embroidery stitches | Spoonflower blog

To start, I looked up some tutorials on types of stitches and how to do them.  I found this site to be very helpful and the video below from Sublime Stitching is great for beginners.

Most of my stitches were pretty straight-forward, but I had so much trouble with those darn french knots. Someone told me about “colonial knots” which look similar but are WAY easier in my opinion, so I used those when creating the dots in my toddler’s portrait pictured below.

For Isa, I stitched a crown on his photo because he is named after the king of the country we lived in when he was born.

Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog

Like in Luca’s photo below, I did a little embroidery on the actual image of each kid, but mostly I stitched to fill in the background.

Last, I stitched the grade or age (for my toddler) on the bottom of each hoop so we would remember what year it was taken. 

Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog
Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog

When all were complete,  I trimmed the fabric and secured it to the hoop (I used a tape, but you could also just glue it down!). You could paint or stain the hoops first if you don’t like the natural pine wood look (I did!). I bought brass plate hangers on amazon in size 10-14 inches, and then secured one to the back of each hoop. I hung them from tacks (I love using tacks because I don’t have to go find a hammer and nail in the garage!) in my studio on my favorite washi tape wall.

The idea for this project actually came from portraits my children made last summer with my neighbor during our co-taught art camp. My friend Lisa had been inspired by Victoria Villasana, a contemporary artist who uses photography and embroidery in her work. Our kids embroidered or glued yarn (for the younger kids) to their pictures after learning about Victoria. 

Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog
Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog


It’s fun to have those photos from a year ago next to the current ones, and see the difference a year makes! I suspect this will become a family tradition and I might even employ the kids to help make theirs again next year. It’s a good lesson in patience, dexterity and creativity.

Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog


Embroidered first day of school picture | Spoonflower Blog
Katie’s first-day-of-school embroidered photos make a splash on her sewing room wall.

Looking for even more embroidery projects? Join embroidery artist Robert Mahar as he shares how to turn your embroidery art into a patch and personalize a map with embroidery.


About the Guest Author

Katie Kortman is a sewist, artist, and self-proclaimed dancing queen. Over the years she has sold her artwork in galleries, worked as a display artist for Anthropologie, taught high school art, had a handmade accessories company called Blue-Eyed Freckle, and mothered her four children.

Katie enjoys combining her passions into one by using her artwork to design fabric on Spoonflower, that she can then sew up into clothing (and DANCE). She blogs at katiekortman.com and over on Instagram you can find her @katiekortmanart where she dances around in her handmade wardrobe.

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