Elsie’s Adoption Book (and How to Make Your Own Soft Book!)

Our soft photo albumHi friends!!! One of the pieces of “homework” we have had for our adoption is to create a soft photo album about our family and home to send to China for our daughter after we are matched. I will explain more about the adoption and personal aspects of that below, but first, let me teach you how to make a similar soft book!

These books are baby and toddler friendly and make great gifts. You can (of course!) customize yours to be about any subject you want! I worked with our friends at Canon USA to create this post, using my PIXMA iP8720 printer (as always) to customize our book with family images.

I decided to hand stitch my book because there is a certain crafty nostalgia that I associate with it. Even though it takes longer, I enjoy the process much more. But feel free to machine stitch yours to save time and/or create a more “professional” look.

Our soft photo book

1 2 3 41. First things first, buy the right iron-on transfers. This is the brand/type I use and recommend. I’ve tried some others that were not nearly as easy to use and good printable fabrics are a bit pricey. These transfers are made for inkjet printers, so you will need to print them at home. I mentioned above I use the PIXMA iP8720, which not only can handle large format prints, it’s great for smaller projects, too. You can also use a regular format printer for this project. The large format is not necessary; it’s just the printer I have at home.

2. Cut out images.

3. Iron the images onto white cotton fabric.

4. Peel off the backing after it has cooled.

55. Before you print, you need to horizontally flip all your images (so that they appear backwards). This is especially important if there are words of any kind of your image. If you don’t flip, your completed transfer will look backwards.

66. Here’s an example! I almost forgot, so I had to reprint it. Make sure all your words are flipped so that after you transfer they will be correct.

7 8 9 10

7. I printed all my images around 5″ x 5″ and left several inches of blank fabric around each image while ironing. Next, make a page template. You can see mine here. It’s nothing fancy. I just made this so that all my pages will be relatively the same size. Also, the bar to the left side is meant to show you where the spine will be sewn. You’ll lose a little bit of page there after it is sewn.

8. Between each two cotton pages is a piece of felt to add some bulk and to make sure they are not see through.

9. Stitch around three outside edges of each page (leave the part that goes to the spine bare). I did a combination of messy stitches and folded bias tape that I hand stitched on using embroidery thread.

10. Here are completed pages.

11 12 13 1411. Stitch the spine together.

12. Glue a strip of felt over the top and bottom of the pages to conceal the messy page ends.

13. Prepare your cover with any design you want. I tried a couple things that felt too cheesy, so I just did a simple panda face using child safe eyes and a nose.

14. Using fabric glue, glue both the front and back cover to the pages.

1515. Glue a spine around the edges and you are done!

And next, the personal stuff!

We are currently waiting to be matched with a child in China. So this book will be sent to that child after we are matched. You also get to send a letter. This is the first (and I think only) interaction you have with the child until you arrive to pick them up a couple months later, so it’s kind of a big deal.

Since we requested a younger child, our agency recommended a soft photo book instead of a paper photo album. All of the images in our book were suggested by our agency, and there are certain guidelines you have to follow. Our child will not be able to read yet, but the Chinese captions in the photo book are intended for her caretakers to read to her. Our agency provided us with these translations of simple photo captions. I will note what they all mean below.

As with many things in our process so far (and, from what I hear, parenting in general), this book is in some ways more for us than for her. It was therapeutic making it and it will feel good to be able to send a care package when the time comes. But I don’t literally think that a small child can get full comprehension of what is about to happen, who we are or what adoption means in general. But still, it is so special and exciting to be able to make it for her!

If we were adopting an older child, I would probably have put a lot more thought into the photos and words. But since we are not, I didn’t stress too much. I just followed the agency’s instructions and used photos we had taken from our other applications and from my Instagram pics.

The Larson's Adoption BookFor the cover, I had done an embroidery of her initials, but it wasn’t turning out cute. So I ripped it off and just added this simple little panda made of layered felt. I mainly chose a panda because I have noticed a LOT of panda toys and icons in the Chinese orphanage photos I have seen. So I decided to go with something she is probably familiar with!

The Larson's Adoption Book These say “mom” and “dad.”

The Larson's Adoption Book These say “Front Yard” and “We are so excited for you to come to your new home.”

The Larson's Adoption Book This says “backyard.”

The Larson's Adoption Book This says “Toys” and then “Your bedroom.”

The Larson's Adoption Book The caption under Jeremy says “Kitchen.”

Sidenote: In all of our applications so far, we had to take dozens of photos (of ourselves, our home, etc.), but the dogs were never allowed in any photos. This is the first time the dogs were “invited” (haha), so we were happy! They’re part of the family, too! Oh and if you’re wondering why we didn’t include extended family, it’s because the agency said only to include people (and pets) who live in the home. It’s basically just supposed to be stuff she will see every day!

The Larson's Adoption Book This one says “pets” (Dolly and Suki were supposed to be on the same page, but I messed up—haha). And then the caption under us says “This is your family.”

The Larson's Adoption Book And this last image has two captions. “We love you” and “We look forward to meeting you.”

Sigh … so special. I’ve never had so many feelings finishing up a DIY before!

The Larson's Adoption Book Thanks so much for reading! If you have a little one in your life (or one coming), I highly recommend this project. I had so much fun working on it. xx – Elsie

Credits//Author and Photography: Elsie Larson. Opening photo by Amber Ulmer. 

  • So beautiful and inspiring Elsie. Thank you for sharing. I’ll try this on our own process, we are in the middle practically. We are willing to adopt a pair of sibblings. Pray for us so we can find and join with our babies.????????????????????

  • This is the cutest and most precious thing I have ever seen! I am so happy for you & I love this so much! I can’t wait to make one!

  • In case the link from my previous post doesn’t work, it’s the Sporkful episode called Your Mom’s Food Pt. 1: What Dumplings Can’t Fix about “how parents who adopt kids from other countries use food to connect their children to their birthplace” and more. 🙂

  • Cute project! I just listened to this episode of the Sporkful podcast & thought you might like to hear it https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-sporkful/id350709629?mt=2&i=1000390479064

  • Hey Elsie, I have found such a beautiful and easy Ideas on your blog. Thank you for these amazing Ideas. Keep going and Lots of love !!

  • What a beautiful post and what a lucky little girl she will be. The whole thing brought tears to my eyes and inspired me to do something for my little ones as keepsakes. Just lovely and good luck x

  • So sweet, Elsie!! My mom made me similar little picture books growing up (and as an adult!). I still have all of them and they always make me tear up flipping through. I know how much time my mom spent making those and I will your lil gal will appreciate your love and effort too! xo

  • Just sitting at my desk at work crying. This sweet little girl is so blessed. What a magical life you will give to her. ugh. CRYING.

  • Tearing up as I read “Your bedroom” and “This is your family”. What a beautiful project and keepsake for your girl! Love that the dogs get to be involved now too 🙂

  • I love seeing adoptive parents using the child’s culture to connect with the child and make them feel secure. This little booklet is adorable and something the child can hold onto forever! 🙂

    Nicolette | http://www.nicolette.co

  • This is so emotional to even see! What a beautiful project. I can tell how meaningful it was to you. I hope the rest of the process is peaceful and you are reading it to her yourself before long!

  • This is such an unbelievably sweet thing to do! It’s clear that so much thought, effort and time went into creating this, bless your heart.

  • This is seriously the sweetest thing! We love following your adoption story (the ups and downs of waiting) and we are excited to “meet” your little girl! We hope you get matched SOON! xo – Cat

  • Hey Elsie, I have followed you for years, ABM, has been a part of my life for a while now, but I have never felt so close to you as I do now, my husband and I are also in the process of adopting a baby, it is good when you know you are not the only one building something that feels so different and familiar at the same time. Thanks for your words. Big hug

  • So special, Elsie. The love and care you put into this for your daughter is incredibly heartwarming and beautiful. You’ve already heard this in a billion ways, a billion times, but I’ll go ahead and say it again…This dream child will live her dream life with you, Jeremy, Dolly and Sukie.
    I have this general life philosophy that feeling the essence of what you want now, even though we sometimes perceive that it’s *way far over there*, is SO important to loving the life we’re in. Enjoy the beauty and the love now and the alignment shifts into place for you, the path smoother. I appreciate that- though it can be super tough in the waiting- you understand the value of that way of living. And good things truly come from that…as I’m sure you’ve seen countless evidence of in your own life.
    Anyhow…I’m thrilled for you guys!
    ♥Such joy♥

  • This is the sweetest gift for your little girl. Some little baby is going to be insanely lucky to get such loving parents.

  • Oh Elsie. I met you at the first CKU in Utah about 15 years ago. You were so young and cute! I learned a lot from you that day. I still giggle when i think of you saying “I like arrows because the point to things.’ (yes…yes you did say that!) I have loved watching you to grow to who you are today! You are still young and cute, but even better! Many congratulations on the adoption.

  • This is adorable! I have a quick question – you said you originally had done “an embroidery of her initials” ….have you been matched with a child? That would be so exciting!

  • So much feels reading this post. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. ❤

  • This is adorable! Much luck to you all! You’re such a cute family. 🙂

  • I was definitely crying by the end of this post. Elsie – this is amazing and I know the book will be cherished forever. It’s beautiful just like you and your husband’s soul.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us! Will be sending all of the positive vibes and prayers for you and your little family to be. <3

  • That is really adorable! I can imagine how happy it will make them!

  • What a beautiful adoption book! And how wonderful will it be to have your little one treasure this as he or she grows up! So beautiful. And heartfelt. I love watching my little girl play with the things I either bought or made specifically for HER. This is going to be wonderful. Prayers for you guys throughout this process!

  • Hi Elsie–
    How beautiful! My husband and I are considering adoption but it seems so scary! Do you have any tips for someone just beginning this process? Thank you.

    • Hi Madelyn,
      My biggest tip when considering adoption is to take your time and make your big decision together. Sometimes it takes time for couples to get on the same page and choosing which route to go is a big choice that requires a lot of honesty and courage. But I truly believe that the best time to jump in is after both people are 100% ready!

  • I have to echo the sentiments above. This is very thoughtful and it also made me tear up. You have lucky kid coming your way. I will be making one of these for my baby asap. Thank you for sharing.

  • Your little girl will be so blessed. She is so wanted and so loved already. You and Jeremy have such large hearts.

  • Phew – getting a little misty-eyed over here. What a very special moment in a very special process. Wishing you lots of joy when you finally get to meet your little girl.

  • Oh, this is such a nice idea for a newborn gift! I’m always looking for some cute presents like this as I’m a mother myself for a year now and friends giving birth are EVERYWHERE atm ?
    I wish you lots of strength and patience for the ongoing waiting process of the adoption. I’ve been following your adoption story for a while now (I used to live in China for a while). I’ve never thought about it myself before reading about your process, but it is so worth considering -even if you are able to become pregnant. I have so much respect for you doing this and I hope things will have a happy “ending” (which will actually be the beginning ?) VERY soon! Love from Berlin, Sandra

  • Elsie, this is so wonderful! What a beautiful project for a special time and special little girl. I dare anyone not to cry a little (happy tears) while reading this post!!

  • This is fantastic idea and creativity. It looks awesome pictures you shared.

  • Oh Elsie, this is so special, I wish you all the luck to find the perfect baby girl that will be your daughter 🙂

  • This is so adorable. I love the idea of a soft book.

    I’m Chinese but you probably know more Chinese than me now. Haha!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • This book is such a cute and beautiful idea, for both yourself and the child! I’m still so excited for you guys!

  • Aww this almost made me tear up! What an awesome photo book. She’s gonna be a lucky girl! 🙂

  • This is so beautiful Elsie! I might attempt this project for our baby that’s due in December. It’s such a precious idea! I’ve been so excited for you and can’t wait to see pictures of you with your little girl in your arms! Much love to you and I hope that your wait isn’t much longer!

  • This is such an incredibly beautiful gesture! We would love to foster/adopt some day and I will file this away until then! In the meantime, I think I’m going to be making some of these as baby shower gifts!

  • Hi Els,

    I got happy tears when i read “our child will…”

    This is so special. I’m excited for you to send it to her, and then for your daughter to bring it home with her <3

    Love LA

    • Oh I just saw your comment that it might not come back. But still, maybe you’ll see a connection when she recognizes things. xo

  • This is incredible and so sweet, thank you for sharing your story and the project!

  • What’s the point of having Chinese in the child’s book? You can’t speak or write it and neither will she be able to if you’re getting a baby.

    • It says in the post it’s so her caregiver can read it aloud to her in the interim while the adoption is finalized.

    • Let me kindly point out that before Elsie’s daughter comes to the us that those caring for her will be more likely than not able to read it to her, and that Chinese is what her daughter understands right now, as she could be close to a year old or more, not just an infant with no language concepts.

      Also, it’s very important for many adoptive families to remember their child’s heritage and incorporate some of it where they can.

      Hope that helps.

  • Such a perfect little book, made me reminisce about my own family’s making of these kind of books! I’m the oldest of five and three of my youngest sisters are adopted from China ( two with special needs ) They are such blessings and bring joy to my life everyday. I love hearing about your adoption process and you’re going to be such a wonderful Mama

    Plus, we did get the books back so here’s hoping you do too!


  • Oh wow, so very sweet! I was crying a little while reading this. Thank you for sharing your story, I can hardly wait to meet your precious little one! The book is just lovely, I hope you get it back so she can treasure it always.

  • Well that is just so sweet…made me cry. I’m glad you finally had a to do that was fun and not more paperwork!

    It’ll be the right baby and the right time! Hang in there!

  • Now I’m crying… This is and will become such a beautiful memory.

  • I remember making the photo book…. yours is so sweet, congrats on the little one, prepare for China to get under your skin, you will always want to go back…. hope you keep us updated!

  • This is so beautiful! I am tearing up as I read this and think about you being so close to meeting your daughter. I was adopted from Korea as a toddler and my mom made a similar photo book for me about my new family and my new home; it is one of my most prized possessions to this day! I am eagerly following along on your adoption journey and sending so much love! ?

  • This made me tear up, from the second I read “These say “mom” and “dad.”” This is so special.

  • So precious! Will the book come back home with and the one? Our dossier to referral process went super fast, so we quickly printed photos and wrote captions. It all went in a cheesy album from the photo printer. Our baby’s birth mom was still helping to care for her, so she was the one blessed by the pictures of us. We did not get the album back. Next time we adopt, Lord willing, I can take the time for a treasure like this!!! 🙂 Therapitic indeed!

    • Our agency said not to expect it back, but some people get them back. If I had more time I would make one to keep, but I think the photos are enough for us to remember it by if it doesn’t come home. No biggie. 🙂

  • I love this so much…what a wonderful introduction to her forever mama and baba! In your free time (ha!) you might want to make another one as we didn’t get either of the girl’s albums back, your daughter will surely treasure this <3

    • Ugh… I hope we get it back, but if not I’ll just put photos in the box I guess. It really took like 4 days to sew. haha!

  • Omg so sweet. I seriously cried. So happy for you guys and excited to see your sweet girl when she comes home ❤️

  • I love this! I’m going to make one for my son with photos of his family that live far away so their faces are familiar to him.

  • You two have created the most beautiful home for your little one! Can’t wait til your family is complete! Rooting for you guys! Lots of ❤️

  • It’s heartbreakingly beautiful to think of you and Jeremy as “Mom” and “Dad” already, even though you haven’t met the little one yet. I have so appreciated your openness and honesty throughout the adoption process. I love this DIY and now plan to make a book for my baby that includes extended family she doesn’t see often so she has an adorable way to learn their names. Loved this post!

  • I don’t think a DIY has ever made me cry before! This is so beautiful, Elsie. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. This little girl is clearly already loved SO much. She’s lucky to have you both. xoxo

  • Oh my goodness this is so precious!! I am pregnant with our first and due in December and HAVE to make one of these! <3 <3

    • Yay!!! Send me pics on IG if you make one. I would love to see!

  • This left me teary. ❤️ My Mama heart is empathizing so hard with yours as you wait for your sweet girl. This is such a great keepsake. Excited for you.

  • This is the sweetest thing ever. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

    I guess the couple years of chinese school came in handy for something! It was fun recalling some of the words I learned years ago.

    I’m so glad one sweet little girl will be calling you guys “Ma Ma and Ba Ba” very soon, and knows from the very start she is loved and wanted!

  • literally crying. such love. your little girl is so lucky to be coming to such a special home.

  • Just silently cried while reading the entire post. <3 <3 <3! You and Jeremy will be fantastic parents!

  • I’ve been thinking of making a book like this for my son’s first birthday! But I don’t have a printer- any suggestions for an alternative?
    Looking forward to good news / hearing more about the adoption ❤️

    • Hi Meria,
      These types of iron on paper only work in ink jet printers, so if you don’t have one at home I would recommend trying to find a friend who has one you can borrow. The printers are copy stores are laser and won’t work.

  • Oh, Elsie! I’m in tears! Your daughter is so blessed. I can’t wait for you and Jeremy to meet her xo

  • Honestly just cried throughout this whole thing. So beautiful and happy for you guys!

  • ??? I can’t stop swooning! What a precious photo book! Your little girl will be so lucky to have you both!

  • Oh Elsie this is so sweet!! I teared up a little bit! This would be really cute to make for our two boys (1&5) just for a fun keepsake:) so excited for you guys!

    • Thank you Andrea!
      If you make your own books I would LOVE to see them!
      xx. Elsie

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