Stitched Silhouette

There's nothing like a little vintage nostalgia every once in awhile. Embroidery is an age-old art, and as much as we here at Urban Threads love to take it into the great new age and beyond, sometimes a little old-school whimsy is just what we need.

This week, let’s celebrate ourselves a little in an old-fashioned way … with a hand-stitched silhouette! To make your silhouette, you'll need:

  • Fabric

  • Embroidery hoop

  • Embroidery floss (for heaven's sake, not metallic!)

  • Transfer paper

  • Profile shot of yourself or someone ya love

  • Cool old-looking frame

  • Cameo design

  • Tape

First, let’s start with your photo. You'll need a nice portfolio shot of yourself. I pulled my hair back because with it down my profile is just a bunch of curls. If works best if you can get a friend to take a photo of you, but if like me, you're alone in your studio, you can take it yourself. You shoulder will look a little funny, but we can correct this when we trace it.

Hmm, I'm not sure if this is really my good side, but now’s not the time to get vain. Onward!

Now, how big you make this embroidery will depend on how big your photo frame is. Mine was for a 5 x 7 image, so we need to make sure everything fits. First get your hand embroidery cameo design (ignoring the design in the middle) in a size that’s just smaller than your frame. Then size your profile shot just a bit smaller than your cameo. You can see my photo printed out pretty small.

There are a couple of ways of getting your silhouette. One is to take your printout, and tape it up on a window. Place another paper on top of your photo and carefully trace over it. Another way is to do it digitally – take your photo and use a select tool to capture your outline.

Here's my final silhouette. You can see I fixed my shoulders so it looks more like I was facing totally front, instead of that weird myspace angle with funny shoulders.

So, now we need to transfer all our designs onto our fabric. Make sure your fabric is nice and smooth, and tape it down into a table or hard surface. Place a piece of transfer paper on top, followed by your cameo design, also taped down. (Trust me, you don't want anything moving around while you do this.)

Once your cameo is traced on, carefully put your silhouette in place, and trace that on as well. Remember, you're basically going to re-draw your silhouette three times, once to trace the photo, once to place it in your fabric, and lastly, with your threads. Through these three incarnations, your profile is bound to change a bit, so try to be as exact as you can with each tracing or the problem will just compound itself. No need to turn yourself into frankenface.

Time to start stitching! Hoop your design up nice and tight.

Now, there are lots of different ways you can stitch your silhouette, but I thought this would be a perfect time to do some hardcore satin stitch. I'm going to go back and forth with a nice long satin to make my profile shape. (Just a note, if your store is out of regular black thread, save yourself a headache and DON'T get metallic black. Not that I'm implying anything...)

Generally, you can go back and forth all the way up your design and you'll never need to break the line of your stitch, but a few places, like maybe your chin or a ponytail, might need a gap. It's probably at the same level of a stitch but needs some negative space in between. Just sink your stitch and come back up where needed. Just don't miss these spots! It's a lot harder to go back later and fill them in.

Keep stitchin' away until your silhouette is filled in. Take care to try and keep your stitches level, so you don't start tilting up or down. Once your head is all stitched up (wow, that might sound weird out of context) you can start on your cameo design. I used a simple backstitch to outline my cameo shapes.

Ta da. Your stitchy silhouette! Now we just need to frame it all cool and old-school style.

Carefully un-hoop your fabric, and if needed, give it a good ironing, especially to remove the hoop marks. Now, to keep your beautiful stitches nice and unwrinkled in your frame (because you might have noticed all that satin stitching has bunched your fabric just a little bit) we're going to stretch it over a piece of cardboard to keep it taut.

Open up the back of your frame, and measure your opening. Often, your frame comes with a little “sample” photo that's just the right size. Measure and cut a piece of tagboard or cardboard that's just a tiny bit smaller than the frame opening.

Take your pretty stitches, center it on your tagboard, and pull the edges tight at the back, taping them in place. Take a peek and make sure it all looks good at the front. You might need to tug a little less or more to make it look nice and clean. Pull and tape all four sides in, place it into your frame, and put the back piece back on.

Your cameo is complete! It looks so cool and classically vintage. Make a set of you and your special someone to hang up in your home, or make it as a wonderfully personal gift for a friend! It's beautiful, vintage, and handmade, perfect for that person who loves a little old style glamour, or for some wonderfully retro home decor!

These silhouette portraits seem like they've been around pretty much forever, and they're a great start for all kinds of crafty projects. Design Sponge features a guide to making classic paper cutouts (which look really neat "floated" in a glass frame). Threadbanger uses a similar technique to make trendy wall decals. Mrs. Blandings doesn't sew, but she had silhouettes of her boys stitched onto cool custom pillows. And if you're looking for inspiration to further dress up your own cameo, you just can't miss Anya Kase's project on Craftster -- an old Disneyland silhouette, steampunked up with embroidery, coffee staining, lace, flowers, and gears!

Want a printer-friendly PDF of this page? You got it, bud.
Suggested designs for this tutorial: 
Cameo Mori_image
Cameo Mori $1.00
2 Available Sizes:
Machine Embroidery: 4.29"w x 5.51"h | 2.76"w x 3.54"h | Hand Embroidery