I always start a portrait quilt from a photo. I usually manipulate my photo with Picasa – cropping, increasing the contrast if necessary, changing it to black and white (to ensure I have enough value differences), and ‘posterizing’ it to reduce the number of values and to create distinct edges for each of the values.
Please note that the Picasa application is no longer available for download. I will continue to use Picasa to edit my photos as long as I can, because I’m familiar with how it works and I like the results. There are many other photo-editing programs available, and most have similar effects – although they may have different names for the effects. For example, in Picasa the black and white effect is named B&W; in other software programs it may be called gray-scale.
Once I’m happy with my edited photo, I print it on 8.5 x 11 paper and draw in any necessary lines or details with pen. I outline each value with a Sharpie marker pen. The marker pen shows on the back of the paper which gives me a mirror image to use for tracing onto the fusible web.
Then I take it to a FedEx/Kinkos Copy Centre and enlarge it to the actual size of the quilt. Many of my pet portrait quilts are about 16 x 18 inches. The full-size copy of the front is used as a master pattern when positioning the fabrics to ensure correct placement. The full-size copy of the back, which is the mirror image of the design, is used to trace the elements onto fusible web.
- select a photo with good contrast – strong light and dark values.
- make a copy of your original photo before doing any editing. That way, if you need to start over with your editing, you can go back to the original photo.
- every photo has different qualities and will require different effects at different settings. Experiment with the settings as I describe them below. If you aren’t getting the results you want, try doing them in a different order, or try some of the other effects. Save each version, so you can refer to it later if you like. Start again with a new copy of your original.
- continue adjusting your photo until you have a good range of values – light, medium and dark.
- try using the Pencil Sketch effect to get a line drawing, which can be used as an additional reference.
Preparing the photo:
- start with a copy of your original photo.
- crop the photo to the desired size. Consider zooming in for a close-up.
- convert the photo to black and white –
- use the Fill Light, Highlights and/or Shadows effects to increase the contrast, if required
- use the Posterize effect to reduce the number of values or colors and to create distinct borders for each value or color
- once you have an edited photo you are happy with, save it, then print it. I generally print on letter size paper at this point, and enlarge later if required.
- trace the lines between the different values or colors using a Sharpie ultra-fine or similar marker pen. These will be your cutting lines for your fabrics.
- the marker pen lines should show through on the wrong side of the paper. If some of the lines are incomplete, draw them on the wrong side, to create a mirror image of your line drawing.
- use a copier to enlarge the printed photo with marker lines to the full size of the quilt. This is the right side of the design, which you can use as a master pattern to pin your fabrics to ensure correct placement.
- use a copier to enlarge the back side of the design to the full size of the quilt. This is the mirror image of the design, which you can use to trace the elements onto fusible web.
Examples of pet portraits:
(click on photos to enlarge)
For Courtenay the Airedale Terrier, I used Picasa to crop the original photo, then used the ‘posterize’ effect to reduce the number of colors. (I didn’t use the B&W effect on this one.) I printed the posterized image and outlined the colors with a Sharpie marker pen. The marker pen lines showed through well on the back of the paper. I took the posterized image to FedEx/Kinkos and enlarged the front and back to the actual size of the quilt.
I also used the ‘pencil sketch’ effect to get a good look at the direction of the fur, which was very helpful when thread-sketching the fur. I didn’t enlarge this – just printed it on letter-size paper to use as a reference.
For the Border Collie quilt, I experimented with the Heat Map effect to get some wild color options, but ultimately decided to use realistic colors and just used the Posterize effect.
Examples of people portraits:
- people portraits are more difficult than pet portraits
- value is more important than color
- skin tones are more challenging than unrealistic colors
- people portraits look best at approximately life-size (8 to 10 inches from the top of the head to the chin)
- if your head(s) will be much smaller than 8 inches, consider eliminating the facial features as they will be too tiny to cut the fabric pieces
Here is an example of a portrait quilt without facial features. It’s a portrait of me and my three sisters. It was for my mother and needed to be fairly small. The faces are only 3 to 4 inches high, and there was no way I wanted to try making eyes or mouths that small. But the shape of each face and body language makes it easy to identify each sister.
Here is another portrait quilt without facial features. The starting photo was quite blurry and the faces were small. Because the photo was out of focus, the Posterize effect just didn’t work. However, the Pencil Sketch effect worked very well.
I hope this tutorial on creating a portrait pattern from a photo is useful to other quilters. If it all just sounds too complicated, but you still want a quilted portrait of your pet, yourself or a loved one, you may want to check out my Etsy shop for other portraits I’ve made and consider requesting a custom portrait for yourself.