By:     Deborah Lyn Stanley

Like many quilt artists, I have appreciated that there is benefit from working in a series but I have come up short when choosing my subject and getting started. Once I began using my watercolor paintings as reference materials, I was off and running.  These paintings were done in portrait workshops with live models.  By using my own drawings and paintings I have a solid base to work from, and I find that I am inspired again by my subjects to render a portrait in a slightly different way.

I began this series of black and white value studies to expand my awareness of value in my art work. This article presents my simple method to create your own art piece and it may open the door for creating your own series as well.  Enjoy!

Aspiring Writer final  Guy with Hat Final  Confidence final

Each art quilt is a very workable size of approximately 11-12” wide by 12-14” high. The path for this project involves: compiling black, white & gray fabrics from your stash to play with, and selecting a drawing or photo reference for design, pattern and layout.

  • First, select black, white & gray fabrics from your stash.
  • Select a drawing or photo reference for your piece.

As I mentioned, I use my watercolor paintings most often as my reference source but I use photos of my family as well. You probably have a collection of your own photos that will work well for this project.  If not, select a copyright free image for your reference.  Chose a picture that inspires you and enlarge it on a copier in black & white.  Enlarge it to fit nicely in a 12” X 12” or 11” X 14” sized piece leaving room around the portrait for the background setting.  Use tracing paper to make a line drawing of the photocopy.

Tip: As an alternate, you might consider magnifying your portrait presentation.  By this I mean, minimizing the background with an extreme close up of the portrait.

  • Fabric selection

Choose fabrics for a general layout of the portrait piece.
Select either a black or white background that sets the base for your portrait, this will become the “wallpaper” background. The background becomes “wallpaper’ once you have machine quilted it to add character.

Next, choose a contrasting black or white for hair. Consider using a shiny black for parts of the hair. If you have chosen a primarily white print for hair, you will need to have black areas at the hair-line to offset the facial features. This can be done by cutting approximately ¼” wide fabric strips with gentle curves after fusible material has been applied to the fabric piece.  Position at the hairline and fuse in place.

Use a primarily white print for the face, ears and neck areas. I often use the back side of a white print for this as it works very well.  The facial features are drawn and painted – I will cover that in detail later.

Choose some gray tones for use in the hair and clothing areas of the collar and shoulder. Consider using a lighter gray for a shirt collar if that is part of your image.

Tip: I keep my black, white and gray fabrics in a basket and pull from it to create these pieces.  In any case, keep your fabrics handy as you may elect to change out one or two as you create your piece.

  • Pattern development

Overlay the enlarged and traced image with freezer paper. Trace again and cut out the portrait: hair as one piece, face & neck as one piece, the collar & shoulder areas as one or two pieces.  Apply these pattern pieces to your various fabric choices, attach fusing material to the back of each fabric piece and cut out.  Follow the manufacturer’s directions regarding heating or just finger pressing the fusible to the fabric at this stage.  Cut a little extra edge of fabric for the face & neck piece, approximately ¼” to slip behind the hair and clothing.  This is a raw applique method with machine stitching.

  • Initial steps to begin the piece

Sandwich the backing, batting and background fabrics together. Set the portrait pieces in the desired position on the background.  When you have the layout as you want it fuse it in place with a hot iron.

Straight or blanket stitch around the perimeter of the portrait; this stitching also becomes part of the quilting.

  • Painting the Facial Features

You are now ready to paint the face. I first use a very dry brush with minimal textile acrylic paint on it or Tsukineko ink on a foam applicator to shade in the shadows of the face.  Whether you use paint or ink, rub the brush or applicator on a scrap of muslin until you have just a hint of color.  Begin to paint (or rub in) the shadows as you consider the planes of the face that form the curvature of the forehead, recesses around the eyes, cheek line, ears and neckline.  Study your source photo for shadow areas.  I keep my iron ready to heat set any bleeding of the paint should it occur and to confine it to the area I have selected.  Once you are happy with this layer, heat set it with an iron on the temperature designated for your fabric.

Look over your piece and paint a second pass to further develop the shadows and facial shapes. Remember to keep the highlight areas light or white.  Using white textile paint or white ink is an option if your fabric selection is dark in color or if you want to add to your highlights.  When satisfied, heat set your piece.

Tip:  If you choose to use tulle netting as part of the background of your piece, always use a muslin protective cloth when heat setting or pressing your piece to avoid melting parts of the netting.  If melting occurs, it can be patched with another piece of netting by lightly gluing it in place then stitching down when quilting.

Gibson Girl final

When cool from heat setting, transfer notations for facial features with an erasable pen, such as a Frixion gel pen. Make small cuts in the freezer paper pattern for the eyes, brows, nose, mouth and ears to mark guide lines.  If a Frixion pen is used, the temporary markings will disappear when a hot iron is applied after drawing the features.  Ironing through a muslin piece on top, or ironing from the back works well.  If you use a blue wash-away pen or graphite pencil, ironing will make the temporary marks permanent.

Using your transferred notations, permanently draw in the facial features of eyes, brows, lashes, nose, mouth and ears with a Pentel Gel Roller for Fabric or permanent marker such as a Sharpie. A light touch works well.  You can always darken with another application.

  • Final step – machine quilting the piece

I have chosen a rather linear pattern for background free motion stitching on several of my pieces. I like a background with a subtle look that helps point attention to the portrait rather than pulling attention away from the portrait.  Scrolls and gentle curves also work well on the background.  Have fun experimenting!  Use tracing paper to audition a design by sketching the design on the paper then laying it over your piece.

To quilt the portrait itself, I prefer to quilt the hair with curves to depict the flow of the hair; straight stitch around the hairline, ear, jaw and neckline; and quilt the clothing or hat in whatever way it seems to call for. I detail stitch the eyelashes, corners of the nose and corners of the mouth for definition.  I prefer not to stitch the contours of the face.

Trim and bind as desired to finish your piece.  My favorite binding technique is to use facings.

Selection of cotton fabrics
Primarily black – black & white prints
Primarily white – black & white prints
Range of grays
Backing fabric
Gray tulle – Optional

Tip: Scraps of silk, organza, batiks, ribbon or yarn can be used on the background “wallpaper” or for hair.

  • Batting of your choice. I use 100% cotton or cotton & bamboo 50/50
  • Typical sewing supplies: scissors, pins,
  •  sewing machine with free motion foot
  • Your own drawing, an image from your photo collection, or a copyright free image
  • Seam-a-Seam Lite or Wonder Under for fusing
  • Freezer paper for pattern making
  • Tracing paper to trace your image for pattern making
  • Textile Paints: Jacquard textile paints, and Tsukineko all-purpose fabric inks
  • Pentel Gel Roller for Fabric for permanent markings