‘Tis the season for family gatherings! For many, the holidays are a time for celebrating families both old and new. And with the entire family together, what better time to look through old family albums and learn more about your family’s history. While flipping through one of her family’s vintage photo albums, Spoonflower designer and maker Shalae Tippets went on a hunt to learn all about her family’s rich past, which eventually lead her to the creation of a vintage family photo garland! Printed on Linen Cotton Canvas, this fat quarter project will be just the decor your family gathering needs! See how Shalae digitized her family photos and get ready to make your very own family photo garland this holiday season (or for any other celebration!)
Shalae: My love for family history started as a young girl and has only increased over the years as I learned more about the stories of my ancestors. As I started my own family it became very important to me to help my own children know and love their ancestors like I did. Studies have shown that children have a greater resiliency and identity when they know the stories of their own past and were better able to cope with challenges. They also have a greater appreciation for the sacrifices that were made so they could enjoy the opportunities they have now.
This desire has led me over the years to combine my creative artistic talents and my love of family history together by creating games, books, stories, and activities that my six children could enjoy.
Recently I have explored using Spoonflower to create custom family gifts to also share with my kids and extended family. The first one I created was some custom tea towels of a family recipe from an ancestor. I typed up the recipe and included the real handwritten card if I had it. I then tried to replicate some aspect of the recipe through decorative items or food. The final design element was pictures of the ancestor.
It was my first time printing on the Linen Cotton Canvas and when my first towel arrived in the mail I was so excited about how beautiful it looked. I have been addicted ever since and can’t stop making them! It almost feels like each towel is a memorial to my grandmothers who have sacrificed so much and cooked hundreds of meals over the years to feed their families. I have enjoyed it so much that I decided to do custom orders through my Etsy shop for others.
It feels like Christmas every time I receive a Spoonflower package with another beautiful towel in memory of someone’s beloved grandmother. I had a customer send me a picture of her mom holding hers up on Christmas morning crying. That is such a rewarding feeling, knowing you get to be a part of connecting them with their past and their loved ones.
That is one reason why I wanted to share this family heirloom garland project with you. It will help you showcase your loved ones who have gone before and hopefully be the means for many questions and conversations about them.
Family Photo Garland Materials
Part 1: Digitizing Your Family Photos
Where do you find family pictures? If you don’t have any I’m sure you might know a relative who does. My grandmother was the family historian, and one of the best memories I have is going to her house for two solid days with my mother and aunt to scan all of her photos, documents and stories she had. It worked out so well because she could identify the people so we could label them and learn the stories about the photo. We labeled over 1000 images in those few days. What a gold mine. It was so fun to see her get excited about what we could now do with digitized images, but she was also so happy to know that someone in her family cared and wanted them. I am so grateful I acted on that little push inside to just go and do it. She died unexpectedly a year later.
You probably have someone just like her in your family. Offer to help them digitize their pictures. Scanners are portable and easy to take and set up with a laptop. Also, have your family member tell you about the members in the pictures. Here are some good suggestions for scanning.
If you don’t have access to a scanner you can find ones available for public use at your local copy shop, sometimes libraries, colleges, and local family history centers. There are many affordable ones as well to purchase if you know you would use it regularly.
I also use Family Search to find images of ancestors. It is the largest database of family history information, and it’s free to sign up for an account. I use this a lot to share the digital images I have with family members, and other relatives can share theirs with me!
1. Open Pixlr Editor. Be sure to select the Pixlr Editor button rather than Pixlr X! The steps in this tutorial can also be done in Adobe Photoshop if you are familiar with this program.
2. You will then be given a prompt to open up your images. Select “open image” on your computer and locate the garland template you saved from the materials list above.
3. Go to File > Open Image. Find the ancestor photo you want on your garland and click open. It will open your photo up in a new window on top of the garland.
4. Using the square marquee tool select the part of the photo you want to use. Hit ctrl+c (pc) / command+c (mac) to copy your image. Click on the garland file. Hit ctrl+v (pc) / command+v (mac) to paste the image onto your garland. It will then paste the photo in the middle of your template.
5. You can now close the photo file you just opened. Leaving only your template open, with the new photo pasted on top. You will most likely need to adjust the size of your image. Go to Edit > Free Transform.
6. You will then see little square handles at the corners of your photo. To adjust the photo hold down the shift key and drag the corners with your mouse. If you do not hold the shift/option key it will distort your photos. Once you have it about the size of the garland shape click on the image to move it over and above the garland template. Adjust it as needed in order to be slightly bigger than the garland size. You will also want to remember that the top section of your picture will be covered with the bias tape or fabric, so make sure you don’t have any heads in the area that will be sewn over.
7. It is also a good idea to start saving your project in case you accidentally close it, or need to come back and work on it at a later date. Go to File > Save. It will bring up a save box. It is very important that you select the layered pixlr image file option, so that it will save all your layers. If you don’t select this image it will merge them all together and you won’t be able to make any changes to the file.
8. You will now repeat all of the previous steps to place images over every garland piece. Make sure none of the pictures are overlapping each other.
If you are having trouble selecting an image to move or resize it, make sure you have it selected in the layers panel on the right and that the arrow move tool is selected in the tools palette to the left.
9. Once you have placed all your photos, it’s time to trim the photos to the shape of the garland. You now need to scroll down through your layers palette until you see the icon of the garland pattern. While holding down the ctrl (pc)/shift (mac) key click on the image of the garland pattern in the layers palette. You should see the shape of the garland pattern selected over top of your photos.
10. Go to Edit > Invert selection. This will flip your selection so it will now select anything outside of the garland shapes.
11. You will now trim each photo while the shape of the garland is selected. Select each layer that has a photo on it in the layers panel. While it is selected hit the delete button. This will cut the photo to the shape of the garland as shown. Do this for every photo.
12. Next, save your final garland image to upload to Spoonflower. Go to File > Save. Make sure you select the png option for highest quality. Select Save.
This template was designed to be printed on a fat quarter of Linen Cotton Canvas. I felt like the quality and brightness of printing on this type of fabric was the best for crispness as well as being durable. Also because it is slightly bigger in printing area, it gave me extra space for a couple more family members! An added bonus.
13. You will now go to the Spoonflower website. Login to your account and upload a new design. Be sure to select fat quarter and the Linen Cotton Canvas option in the dropdown menus. You might see a slight repeat on the far right side. That is ok. You’ll be cutting it off later.
Order yourself a fat quarter and try to wait patiently until it arrives.
Pro tip: If you’d like an extra long garland or want to make multiple garlands as gifts, order one yard of fabric to repeat your first set of images three additional times.
Part 2: Sewing Your Family Photo Garland
1. Once your pattern arrives, cut out all the garland pieces. If you are not making a reversible garland, use one of the garland pieces as a pattern to cut out 10 back pieces from your fabric of choice. Pin the right sides of a front and back piece together.
2. Using matching thread, stitch around the sides and curved edge, leaving the top open for turning. Carefully clip the curved edges of the garland piece (pictured above) and then turn rightside out.
3. Iron each piece flat and smooth along the edges, before going back and doing a top stitch seam along the edges for a finished look.
4. After you have all your garland pieces stitched together, it’s time to attach the bias tape for hanging. Starting in the middle, lay them out on your bias tape, evenly spacing them so that you have enough bias tape at the end to have ties for hanging. Once you have them arranged the way you would like, place each piece inside the folded bias tape and pin.
5. Sew along the open edge of the bias tape attaching each garland piece to your hanging strip. Fold the ends of the bias strip inside and sew along edges to create a finished look.
You are now ready to hang your garland, and show off your family!
Looking for even more ways to celebrate your family’s history this holiday season? Try out these two additional family heirloom projects!
About the Guest Author
Along with her love for family history, Shalae Tippetts is a former art teacher who could never narrow her love down to one medium. She now mostly draws, watercolors and uses Photoshop and Illustrator as her creative outlets while being a full-time mother and homeschooling her children. She especially loves it when she can involve her kids in her creative pursuits which you can follow on her blog, shops and Instagram @satippetts.