Designing Fabric Portaits/quilts Using Photoshop





Introduction: Designing Fabric Portaits/quilts Using Photoshop

About: I am married and retired. Since 1990 my main artform was quilting, but in the past three years I discovered gourd art and that has become my new love. Besides quilting and gourd art, I play mountain dulcim...

I saw some quilts that looked like photographs and was fascinated with the concept. I did some searching online as well as purchased a book and ended up combining ideas for my own use. I decided to document the steps I used for a small wall hanging so other could see how easy it actually is.
This is the original photo

Step 1: Crop the Photo

I used the cropping tool to get the composition I like.

Step 2: Filter/cutout

Here I clicked on Filter/cutout and this is the first rendition

Step 3: Move the Edges Slider

Moving the edges slider all the way to the left defines the shapes.

Step 4: Move the Levels Slider

moving the levels all the way to the right gives a very stylized picture. this can work, but I still prefer poster edges as shown in following pictures.

Step 5: Filter/poster Edges

This is the first result you get when you click on filter/poster edges

Step 6: Move Edge Slider

Remove the poster edges by moving edge levers all the way to the left.

Step 7: Posterize Level 1

Posterization level 1

Step 8: Poster Level 2

level 2

Step 9: Close-up of Level 4

Here is closeup of level 4. It has too many levels and would be difficult to use as a pattern.

Step 10: Level 3

Level 3 has well defined shapes and colors.

Step 11: Settling on the Look

and this is the one I liked best...level 3.. If you go any higher, you get too much detail. For my wall hanging, I used layers to simplify the background people.

Step 12: View Separation of Colors and Shapes

Here you can see the separation of colors and shapes. print this out and refine shapes by hand to make the actual pattern.

Step 13: The Quilt Portrait

At this point you dig through your fabric stash and try to match the colors as closely as possible. For this project, I used iron on fusible to fuse the pieces to the background, then use a narrow satin/zigzag stitch in matching thread to seal the edges. On other ones, I have used needle turn applique.

This is the finished piece. I'm sorry I don't have photos of the steps I went through picking the fabrics and the assembly process, but I had already finished before I decided to make the tutorial. I hope to add one soon of a horse quilt block I did.

You can check here for the way I assembled a horse applique block: fabric portrait of a horse quilt block:

join our quilter's chat group and learn about all kinds of quilting:



    • BBQ Showdown Challenge

      BBQ Showdown Challenge
    • Stick It! Contest

      Stick It! Contest
    • Backpack Challenge

      Backpack Challenge

    9 Discussions

    I'd like to demonstrate this technique to my quilt guild. How much of a seam allowance did you use? Once you started the piece how long until it was finished?

    5 replies

    The seam allowance varies depending on technique, but usually between 1/8" and 1/16". It also depends on whether you're doing needle turn or machine applique. Some folks like a wider satin stitch, some prefer as narrow as possible. Another thing would be if you are turning under the edge before machine stitching or using fusible and going over the raw edge. The photoshop part can take just a few minutes if you like the early results, but if you really start fiddling it can take a couple hours. I didn't work straight through on this project, so I'm not sure how long it took, but I had the wall hanging of the little girl finished in about 2 weeks. I believe I finished the horse in about 2 days, working all day and into the evening. I hope this helps, feel free to ask if you need more info.

    Attached is the picture I want to do in fabric. I probably need more definition in the face for contrast. I plan to turn under the edge before machine stitching. Now, once I make the pattern, number the pieces and fuse in place what kind of stitches should I use? Invisible thread? I don't want the face to look like Frankenstein.

    Rico fabric photo.JPG

    OK, it looks like you used the 'find edges' If you used layers and still have the original pic, you can reduce the opacity of this layer and see a little more of the colors and features.
    Since you'll be turning under the edges, invisible thread is ok or you can try to match the color of each fabric. I would use either a very narrow zigzag with slightly longer length, zig on applique piece, zag on background, or do same thing with a blind stitch. Some say the blind stitch is less noticeable.
    Just take it slow, especially around corners and curves. I often turn the wheel by hand doing one stitch at a time in tricky areas.
    I haven't tried it yet, but some like to use very tiny dots of Elmer's school glue to hold the folded edge in place. make sure it's School Glue as it washes out. This is basically what is in the Roxanne glue bottle.
    Adorable pic, BTW.

    OK, I'll hold my breath while doing this. This is the original picture. I know babies don't have much definition (contrast) in their skin tone. I have the Roxanne glue and it works well.

    rico 1yr.jpg

    sorry i didn't respond earlier, but had a busy day. i played around with the photo some and here are my results. First, I increased the contrast, then duplicated the layer and changed the new layer to multiply and reduced its opacity to about 50% and merged both layers. I then made 2 more duplicates of the new picture. On one layer, I used photo edges filter. I forgot which level, but think it was in in the mid range, and reduced opacity to 56%. Then I clicked on the eye icon to close that layer whilr I owrked on the next one. Next on the second duplicate, I chose cutout filter at about level 5 or 6 and reduced opacity to 49%, then clicked on the previous layer for the finished pic. I hope this helps.


    That's awesome! Really cool job, the last picture looks really nice after the process of changing it. Is this possible on a PC?

    2 replies

    Yes, any computer will work. Photoshop is made for windows and mac. Other graphics programs can be used as well. Some people take the photo to a copy shop and have them copy it in lower resolution to break down the shapes. One quilt artist traces the shapes directly from original photo, but I didn't do very well with that.