Private Portrait Commission

It’s that time of year when many craft blogs are quiet- fulfilling orders, custom commissions and gift making puts the show and tell of blogging on the back burner. So I’m honoured today to have been given permission to share with you my most recent private commission along with some notes on it’s working process.

Embroidered Private Portrait commission

This is the largest portrait I’ve created so far as it features a couple (the wedding photo of my client’s parents). Main challenges of this piece were the soft focus 1980’s photography, meaning details were limited and I would have to improvise, and my ‘unknown’ subjects. With celebrity portraits reference pics are plentiful and everyone can tell immediately if  it look like them. Creating a portrait of someone you’ve never seen before is harder, especially when commissioned by someone who knows them infinitely better than you! So this commission was daunting.

curly-hair detail

Initially this piece got off to a false start which resulted in a re-do about 3 quarters of the way in, I’m glad it did though because the process taught me two things: to trust myself more and that communication is always a good thing.


My process for each portrait can vary, some are very sketchy at the transfer stage ( e.g. I don’t fill dark areas, or lines won’t be perfect) as I intend to finalise them at the stitching stage.  However my client was detail oriented and really loved my initial sketch of the photo, which I drew up for her to approve before stitching began. I should have realised she wanted the sketch replicated as is, without embellishment. Something to bear in mind for future commissions, with artwork formally agreed at the start.


Starting over also taught me I should trust myself: I hadn’t been brave enough to stitch the facial details first- but if I had we would have spotted problems sooner . The main reason for starting over was size. Embroidered lines take up more space than their pen or pencil counterparts, so images often need to be blown up to compensate, making the embroidery pattern big enough so you can still include all the details of the drawing when you stitch. I also mistakenly let the limitations of my printer fool me into thinking I’d made the image as big as I could. I was also afraid to alter too much of the composition or obscure too much of the background fabric that the client gave me.  When it became apparent a re-do would be needed (I can’t unpick details in these kinds of portraits due to the applique adhesive) I took the opportunity to recompose the image a little- moving unimportant details in order to blow up and focus on the faces. I had second guessed myself from the start and I should have known better.


The changes resulted in a piece I’m proud of and I hope the client and recipient will cherish. I feel very privileged to have been given this commission, and it’s an honour to have shared a little piece of Mr & Mrs Siu’s special day all these years later. My client was a joy to work with, understanding about scale and how long embroidery takes thus extending my deadline to allow for the re-do. I can only hope that my future clients will be as patient and kind as this one. Thanks Carmen!


12 thoughts on “Private Portrait Commission

  1. I. am. in. awestruck. wonder. This is definitely a piece you should be deeply proud to say, “I made that.” I’m so happy your client was pleased.

    Merry Christmas,

  2. I like your work and admire your patience!
    I really don’t know if I agree with the attitude of your client, at least not in all the aspects. Artwork is not a creation of prefab elements that you can put in, take away, add again, change like industrially made objects (let’s say like assambling a computer :p ), and that is exactly the risk a client should take, well, if looking for ‘art’…

    Art means a lot of decisions during the process of creation and the artist should be free to take them, as that gives ‘personality’ to your work. Many people want artists to do what they themselves have in mind (and are not able to create) or, worse, they want to see themselves in a portrait in such a way – for example, without the ‘uncomfortable details’ an artists is able to catch – that it can become a ‘photoshopped’ image (of their ego ;) ). I would say, just be ware of those clients and trust your own criteria, as you have a lot of talent.
    I hope this makes sense… :D

  3. That’s a really stunning piece of work. Congratulations on a finished product about which you are deservedly very proud.

    If you took photos of the failed start, it would be fascinating to see them. I think process is as interesting (or more) than product!

  4. I’m across the ocean, eagerly awaiting the arrival of this piece — it’s so great to have this blog post to tide me over during the wait! Bridgeen, I can’t thank you enough for your patience and your professionalism, not to mention your outstanding illustration and sketching skills.

    OMG Bridgeen, I’m sitting at the office and someone *just* handed me the package! Should I open it at work?

    …I just ran into my co-worker’s office and opened it there so that we could admire it. The thread is so fine (finer than the Totoro piece, I think?) and it’s so much more intricate in person! I really am so thrilled that we did this commission, and it was completely worth the wait<3

    And I appreciate Rosa de los Vientos's observations about artistic freedom when it comes to commissions. I agree that giving an artist free reign is highly important, but yes, I like to know what's going on and I was probably more protective here because this is a portrait that I am giving to someone else. But of course I wanted to work with you, Bridgeen, because I was awestruck by your works that I had seen online and I wanted your interpretation of the image. I think that in this particular case, I didn't realize that you painstakingly re-draw the image in pencil and refine the drawing right on the fabric rather than using a transfer method that just, well, transfers the printout! So when I approved the digital drawing, I thought that was the final-final sketch. But we live and learn!

    But it's your blog, Bridgeen, so if you want to vent about high-maintenance client issues, you should!:) I am sure that it's harder to get a sense of what people are like when you're just conversing through email. In re-reading everything above, I want to say thanks again — you are so professional and fun to work with, and I hadn't thought about it before, but I bet I would be hard-pressed to find someone else who would communicate with me as much and as thoroughly as you did. And while it might have been stressful at the time, I'm relieved to read about your side of the experience and that you are proud of the result too.

    I really couldn't be happier with this experience, so I hope I can find another awesome project in 2014. I'll send you a quick email too!

  5. Wow Carmen ! I can’t believe it arrived just as you were writing that, that’s amazing ! How serendipitous!
    I’m so pleased you are happy with it. And as I’ve said before don’t worry about the re-do. Yes, my heart sank initially, only because stitching takes so long! But I’d I learned a lot from it, and you can’t be expected to know my processes- I don’t think I’ve ever shared them anywhere before!
    The act of stitching is drawing for me, its the equivalent of inking a pencil sketch (to use a comics analogy.)
    Please don’t think you didn’t give me a chance to interpret the image, because you absolutely did- the sketch and the lightness we were aiming for was my take on the ‘soft focus’ after all.
    I’d be super happy to work with you again, that’s no lie. And I don’t think you realise how important this commission was to me- that fact that you’ve let me share it here has been a real honour. (It’s been getting a lot of love on twitter today)
    Give me a shout any time about working on another Carmen, and I’ll be there in a shot! b.x

  6. I have to admit that I clicked the “like” button upon seeing the image and before reading the full story. The outcome is wonderful. But to then see the effort you have gone to, the (fantastic!) original photo and the character that you have captured makes me want to click another button! Love! Well done. And this is a great post about your process, thanks for sharing :)

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