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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pictures on Quilts

I'm about to undertake a type of quilting I've never done before - making a person's face out of fabric and quilting it.

I'm starting small, with a photo of my beloved departed Mommy. The piece shoud finish around ten to twelve inches square, and if it turns out as lovely as it does in my imagination, I will frame it and hang it up. And make some more, to give to my dad and brother and my daughter.

Lots of people are following the fad of putting photos on quilts using the "fabric" that can go through an inkjet printer. I don't know if it's just the particular types I've tried, but I find that this fabric is very stiff and looks seriously out of place in a quilt. And it's prohibitively expensive - one couldn't, for example, make an entire quilt out of the stuff, it would cost gigabucks. And feel stiff all over, instead of in a few places!

I saw one technique for using fabric to make realistic images on Sewing with Nancy about three years ago. It seems very complicated the way that guest described it, but since I'm a graphic artist in my day job, I realized very quickly this was the kind of thing Photoshop was great at.

The technique she described, as best I remember it, goes like this:

Pick your photo and scan it, but scan it in black-and-white. This was intended to identify the COLOR DENSITY of areas of the photo. As you know from your quilting experience, the density (or richness) of the color is one tool for determining contrast. And it's easier for us to see difference in density if we're looking at a black-and-white sample, because most people aren't graphic artists and have difficulty seeing color density among all the choices of colors in front of us. (Also, most people don't have Photoshop lying around on their computers!)

Okay, we have our black-and-white image. Next step is to "posterize" the picture in the computer. That means telling the computer to simplify this image, make it out of only, say, 16 different densities of black, instead of millions.

Now, I believe the guest on the show was using a quilting software for this, but I could be mistaken. But most software that comes with a scanner or a digital camera will have this function somewhere - you just have to poke around a bit to find it. The good thing is, this is working on a scanned image, so you can't hurt the original! If you're really obsessive, you can make a copy of the scan, so in case your poking does something you can't "undo" to the scan, you have another copy to start over on!

I think the guest posterized her photo at 8 densities. For faces, I think you may want to do between 12 or 16.

Now comes the fun part. (By "fun", I mean "complicated".)

She then had the computer turn the image into squares. In the version of Photoshop I have, that would be the Mosaic filter. Then she got her computer to number each section according to density. Yes, this is exactly like a paint-by-number canvas. I haven't found a way to get Photoshop to do this, which is why I think she was using specialized software.

Okay, what you end up with is a picture made up of 8 different densities of black (or 12 or 16), which, if you look at it from a distance, looks like your photo.

Then you print out the pattern that has the numbers on it, and now you go to select your fabrics.

Okay, now we're into color here. She lays her fat quarters down and moves them around in relation to each other from lightest to darkest. She stressed that this takes time. She suggested you take your line of fabrics and make a black-and-white photocopy of them, or scan them as black-and-white, to assist you in figuring out the density. Then it becomes a simple matter of matching the densities of the color fabric to the numbers in your photo, and you're ready to piece.

Well, "simple" may not be the word...

Now, my geek husband watched me working on this, went away, and came back with the same photo of my Mom, in color, in blocks, that looked amazing. Seems the NEW photoshop version has a filter called...

... wait for it...


Sigh. It's almost too easy!

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