Tiny Portraits, EPP Style

Hi Everyone!

We have beautiful cacti flowers in our sunroom at the moment.

Here (at last!) is the promised post on portraits that will fit inside a 2 inch (or 5 cm) square, adapted for EPP from a workshop I had with the textile artist Saima Kaur. These portraits really have more to do with embroidery, appliqué and paint than EPP, but I have wrapped them around a paper template or piece of iron-on stabiliser, EPP style, and always stretch my idea of what constitutes EPP a little further than most people!

Tools Needed:

  • A tightly woven piece of white or off-white piece of cotton about 20 x 24 inches or 50 x 60 cm – or solid coloured cotton if that’s what you prefer.
  • A ruler
  • A glue stick
  • A piece of paper and pencil to doodle on and work out your designs
  • Fabric paint and small brushes, or water soluble coloured pencils.
  • Tracing paper and pencil, or a water soluble fabric pen, to transfer your designs or draw them directly onto the fabric
  • Up to a dozen 2″ square EPP paper pieces to use as templates
  • Some iron-on fusible webbing (optional)
  • A hand embroidery needle and some sharp scissors
  • Some stranded embroidery cotton in up to four contrasting colours of your choice. Use just one or two strands of embroidery thread. An embroidery hoop is useful (but not necessary) to keep your work flat and to prevent puckering while you sew.

How To Begin

Use the soluble fabric pen to mark out a grid with 9 to 12 squares, each one measuring 4″ or x 4″ or 10cm x 10cm, on your cotton fabric.

Draw smaller squares (5cm x 5cm / 2″ x 2″) inside each of these larger squares. You will create your designs inside this smaller area. You could place a 2″ EPP template inside each larger square and draw around it if you like, to save measuring it out.

Here is part of my grid showing the designs that went wrong or I didn’t like. I forgot to photograph it before I had finished and started cutting it up. It is a good idea to iron your fabric before you begin, which I did but it became crumpled with use. Don’t iron it once it has soluble marker lines on it, or you may not be able to remove them.

Create Your Designs

Now try doodling nine to twelve designs on a piece of paper. Here are some almost finished pieces to show you how some of mine turned out. Try a few profiles with different eyes and noses and hair styles.

Here is simple profile. Faces are fun to do

Introduce movement, or around play with scale.

I cut out a scrap of fabric for a dress and went around the edge with stem stitch here

Add background pattens, more colours, small details to suggest context and so on. You don’t have to do a face.

I tried using different coloured threads here and adding more detail.

Look over your doodled designs and choose a few of your favourite ones to transfer into the smaller squares in the grid marked on your fabric. Draw them on directly with water soluble fabric marker, as I did in the photo below, or use tracing paper or dressmaker’s carbon paper to make the transfer. Then put one of the designs into a small hoop, if you prefer to use a hoop, or just begin sewing one section at a time. Don’t cut out anything until you have finished sewing all the ones you want to do.

Doodled armchair cat

Embellish Your Designs

Explore a variety of ways of stitching and presenting your pictures. Add patterns or shapes to backgrounds,

I tried adding a mini border and using Inktense pencils for colour but spritzing the water-soluble pen marks caused the colour to run.

Experiment with a variety of stitches to outline and embellish. Outline or fill in small areas with paint or stitches, sew on scraps of fabric for clothing and dream up interesting hair styles. All these help to add interest, movement and texture.

I used needle weaving to create a cushion for my armchair cat

When you have sewn and embellished as many designs as you want to do, cut each one out along the outer lines of the grid, so that you have your 2 inch square with a border all the way around it. Fit your 2″ EPP paper piece behind and wrap each fabric border around it, folding them to the back. You can secure these temporarily using pins, or a small stitch from corner to corner without sewing through the template, until you are ready to press them. Or turn them over straight away and press the fabric from the back to create sharp creases at the sides and nice crisp corners.

If you prefer, you can remove the paper piece once the turned border is firmly folded and creased to the back, and replace the template with a 2 inch square of iron-on fusible stabiliser. I used medium weight Vilene H250 iron-on interfacing. The decision to do one or other of these may depend on how you want to use your designs.

To Frame or Not to Frame

If you want to frame your designs, the stabiliser protects the threads, prevents fraying when borders are much reduced in size, is thinner where fabric bulk could be a problem and makes the back look tidier in frames where the back of the stitching is visible. The paper template will hold your design firm but may not fit all tiny frames. However, it will be needed you want to use your designs in a larger patchwork/ EPP project. In each case you now need to trim away some of surrounding fabric to about a half inch border, perhaps less if it is going in a frame.

A square of iron-on fusible stabiliser has been stuck onto the back of the design in place of a paper template
These two faces were sewn onto a loose weave dish cloth fabric and backed with iron-on stabiliser

The frames I have used are Indian brass frames from a company called Nkuku. They are sweet but rather expensive. Other, less chunky ones, are available on Amazon and also come in other shapes like hexagons, which would be fitting for an EPP design. Those are a little less expensive but I am not sure of the quality. All of these frames have glass on both sides, so your stitching is visible from the back.

The photo showing the back of the design, below left, shows fusible web added AFTER stitching with the fabric border wrapped over it. The one, below right, shows the fusible web added BEFORE stitching, to stabilise the very thin fabric I used on that occasion. The stabiliser allowed me to cut the borders away completely. If you hate your stitching showing at the back, it should be possible to add an iron on stabiliser, cut away the borders and glue on a separate back using some thin fabric. Choose the fabric carefully though, as it could show through to the front.

Using Your Designs for Patchwork

Each of your designs could be basted onto the paper template instead and treated as regular EPP patchwork squares for a larger project. You could create a small wall hanging or runner with these sewn designs interspersed with solid white squares. Perhaps they could suggest a narrative?

“Here’s Looking at You, Kid”

What I have learned from this experiment:

  • Using pale cloth with dark stitching means threads show through from the back, so cut away all stray threads, or better still, use paler threads or coloured cloth
  • If you spritz soluble pen with water after you have added paint, the paint will run. If you do it before, you lose your design! Tracing a design would be better if you plan to use paint. Or embroider it all first, spritz with water, let it dry, then add paint.
  • Although my frames are 2″ (5 cm) square, the size inside the frame is only 1 3/4″ (4 1/2 cm) square. So fit your design to the measurement of the glass, not the outside frame.
  • Allow enough space around your design for it to be cut smaller. If you embroider right up to the edge you can’t do that.
  • Iron-on stabiliser is worth using for so many reasons, if you want to put your design in a frame.

Today’s post was intended to be a short post!! as I seem to have less and less time for sewing and posting at the moment. There is so much to do, that I am going to have to take a short break over the summer to manage our house sale and subsequent move which seems to be dragging on. If I do get any sewing done, I will post mini updates but I know that I am unlikely to pick up a needle over the next month at least.

I had to cut off her pigtail because there was no way it would fit in the frame!

Back before too long I hope. Wishing you all a happy, sunny, summer….

2 thoughts on “Tiny Portraits, EPP Style

  1. Well, first, the flower! Outrageously beautiful. And the tiny portraits are so great…I’ll look forward to more on how you use them. In the meantime, “here’s lookin’ at you, kid!”
    Molly in Oregon


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