The Method Behind My Madness

If you’ve been wondering how to transform a photo into an art quilt, today’s post is for you. I’m going to show you the first few steps in the method I use to make a pet portrait art quilt. Note, I’m using Picasa for all of my edits.

Step 1 

Tink originalThe first task is to crop your photo so you have a good subject.      I like the focus to be on the face so I include just a bit of the shoulders and remove the rest of the body from the photo.




Next, remove any colour from the photo using the black & white filter. This is my cropped B&W photo.

Before any more manipulation, I advise making a copy or two or three.


Step 2

The next step is to posterize the photo to reduce the number of shades to somewhere between 5 and 7. Posterizing removes detail from your photo. You will need to play around, simplifying the photo until you have sufficient detail without having to squint to see your subject.

Step 3

Now you’re ready to print your photo in the size you want your final portrait to be. I like to print my portrait to a .pdf file (this is an option in the print dialogue box). Then I open the pdf and use Adobe Reader for printing. This is a quick way to re-size and print a photo over 4 pages (or even 9 pages if you really want to go big!). After printing, I just trim off the white borders and tape the pages together…voila, I have a poster of my image.

Step 4

Now pull out your fine black Sharpie pen and draw around all the grey shapes in your poster. Consider simplifying the super wiggly lines because you’re going to be cutting these shapes out in fabric. Omitting tiny shapes or merging them into larger blobs is a-ok too. You won’t miss that level of detail and it will make the rest of the job a bit easier. You will have a line drawing, sort of like a paint-by-number pattern when you’re done.

Method Step 6Step 5

Now it’s time to add the numbers to your paint-by-numbers pattern. Scan it carefully and decide how many shades you have. Start numbering the lightest shade with 1, the next darkest with 2, and so on until you have reached your darkest shade and every shape has been assigned a number. Now cover the pattern with tracing paper or transparency, secure it with scotch tape and use your permanent Sharpie marker to trace all of your lines and numbers.  Here’s my version showing the fully prepared transparency. Note that this is your last chance to simplify some of those lines.

Step 6

Once the shapes are cut out of fabric, you will construct the portrait by laying down the pieces that are furthest away first. The next closest piece is then laid down and so on. It would be impossible to cut the shapes to perfectly butt together so instead, adjoining edges are overlapped. Take the time now to identify all the edges that will lie underneath the ones above and mark these with a small arrow. This will be your clue to ensure you add an extra 1/8” of fabric for overlapping.

There you have it! This is the workup that goes into making these pet portraits. I’ll add a future post describing how the fabric pieces are created and assembled.


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