It’s All in the Details

Oh, the details! Today I’m showing you some of the details that I glossed over in my last post about making fabric portraits. Belle, the French Bulldog is progressing nicely and today we’ll pick up at Step 5 .

Step 5

Here is the transparency that I traced from the posterized photo. I spent hours deciding on the values of the greys and blacks and the sequence that the pieces will be laid down.

IMG_2089The sequence is important because it satisfies one of the key design principles at play here: when one object overlaps another, it creates depth and perspective in an otherwise flat plane. In the case of fabric, pieces that are further away need to be a bit oversized to hide their raw edges under the closer piece. I mark the lines with tiny arrows to remind me to add an extra smidge of fabric to these edges when I cut them out. It makes for a very complicated looking map but it’s the detail that produces realism and that’s what I’m after in this portrait.

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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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Nahanni, meet Nahanni

In November I made a portrait of a curly-haired poodle named Nahanni. She’s a lovely dog with a beautiful calm temperament which made her fairly easy to photograph. Her eyes are two big pools of love that I managed to capture in the picture and the portrait. Today I had the pleasure of taking that portrait to Nahanni’s owners, as they fell in love with it and wanted to purchase it.

IMG_1884Nahanni seemed to understand the whole transaction as she stood in front of me and lifted her paw to shake hands. Well, maybe that’s stretching things a bit, but she did shake my hand a number of times…most likely wanting a cookie. Many thanks to Dave and Susan for being the first to buy one of my pet portraits.

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Canine Intruder

The latest doggie pet portrait is complete and I’ve named it Jackeroo. Our Jack Russell, Tashi, charged at Jackeroo when she first saw him on the design wall. It was hilarious to see her barking at the portrait (with a ball in her mouth of course!) while dancing around on her hind legs. There and then it was clear that I’d captured the spirit of this cute canine.

IMG_1980Jack Russells are bouncy and energetic so I chose to quilt all the curly cues on the patterned background and then I inserted a thin internal border of a black and white aboriginal print to set him off.

Tashi still thinks there’s an intruder in her house.

Jackeroo was inspired by a photo taken by Paige Kerr (

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Christmas Stockings going to the dogs

It didn’t take too much surfing the internet to find this great idea for making Christmas stockings out of old jeans. Thanks to Lynn at Nebraska Views for this terrific idea. I’ve made two of these for friends at the local dog park and I’ll probably make a few more. Sewing denim can be difficult due to its thickness but with a Superior titanium coated topstitch needle, my Bernina sewing machine dutifully stitched through many layers of denim without missing a beat. If you have some old jeans in the closet, you might want to check out Lynn’s tutorials and give these a try.


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The latest grad

Welcome Gilligan, the latest curly haired grad from the Pet Portrait class I taught at the Victoria Quilters Guild Fall Frolic in November. Your mom did a fantastic job of your portrait with all those curly locks and great eyes, nose & mouth that project your look of — please don’t leave me!


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Teacher, teacher…

Each spring and autumn my local guild, the Victoria Quilters’ Guild, holds an educational day where members have an opportunity to lead workshops at a very modest fee to the participants. It’s a great opportunity to try teaching and one I didn’t want to pass up. So, I took the plunge and taught a class of 11 students how to make a fabric pet portrait from a photo.  I had given them homework to prepare their pet photos and they all came to class armed and ready to bring their pets to life. They worked with dogged (and cat-ish) determination on their portraits.  Seeing all their beloved pets take shape in fabric was truly exciting.

Pet portrait


Here is the portrait of Pedro that Kelly made. Isn’t he cute? She did a great job selecting the fabric values and just check out that quilting!

I had a great time showing the students how to create their own pet portraits and I’m grateful to those who encouraged me and to those who came to my class.

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Next up… Nahanni the Poodle

Today I finished the poodle portrait and here she is! There were plenty of challenges in creating this fluffy black poodle, but it didn’t end there. When it came to making the internal border, I had to match up 4 different pieces of the checkered fabric and keep those tiny brown checkers all aligned. With a little perseverence  (ok…quite a bit of perseverence) it all worked out. Nahanni’s portrait is 18″ x 20″.



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A Dog with a Curly Hairdo

This week, in my ongoing quest to learn all I can about rendering pet photos in fabric, I tackled a standard poodle cross….in fabric, not on the turf at the park! Nahannie is a dog with a seriously curly coat and ears covered in silky strands of hair (..or is that fur?). Oh yes, her muzzle is also on the bushy side. To top that off, she is all black. Continue reading

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Another dog leaps off the design wall

It always feels great to finish a piece and so here it is….drumroll please…the black lab has come to life. The first version of this pup was done in brown . This time I wanted to try it in blacks and greys which is more representative of the actual dog, a midnight black lab. The background is navy blue/cream stripes and is quilted horizontally on the dark stripes. Continue reading

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