Dog Photo Portrait Quilt Tutorial

I’ve made several of these custom dog portraits for friends and family as small wall quilts or pillows (not one of our own Sparky – yet!) I  find these to be very well received gifts (who doesn’t love their favorite pet?)  For me, these are  fun, fast and pretty easy to make. This post is a tutorial on how I create these from photos.

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I’m going to show you how I made Sophie – our next dog neighbor…

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I start with a favorite photo of the dog – one that clearly shows the personality of the pup. Make sure the photo shows detail in the eyes and contrast and detail in the fur.

Start with a clear, full frame head shot.  Make sure you can see details in the eyes and fur.

Next, let’s pick fabrics…

Pick out fabrics that have a clear dark, medium light variation.  In this case, I wanted fabrics that matched the actual color of the dog.  Batiks or subtle mixing fabrics are great to use for this, but you can also stick to solids.

In this case, I tried to pick fabrics that closely matched the color of the dog in the photo. For a more contemporary look, you can make it look pop art and go for saturated blues, reds, greens or whatever. I like using fabrics with some texture or pattern in them to add interest – batiks or mixer fabrics work great.

Enlarge the photo to at least 8×10, or take it to Kinko’s to enlarge further. Play with the contrast so that you can get a few versions of a clear dark, medium, light outlines of the image. If you have Photoshop, use the “posterize” feature to create clear contrast. For this, I needed a dark version for the “big” pieces, and a light version to help show the detail in the fur.

I use wax paper (instead of tracing paper) to create my templates. I start by taping a piece of wax paper over the image and using a sharpie, outline the major elements of the dog — head, ears, body, etc. This will be where you start to think of how to best piece the dog together. I often make several of these – one with detail – that I can cut out the pieces to use as pattern pieces – and one that I’ll use over and over that serves as the “main” piece that I will later add to with layers as I create the portrait.

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Iron fusable web onto the backs of the various pieces of fabric you’ll be using. Using the wax paper pieces you traced, cut out the various pieces – ears, eyes, etc. and use these to trace onto the PAPER BACK of the fabric pieces you’ve selected to use. Remember that you’ll need to make sure that the “right” or “top” side of the pattern you’ve outlined is up against the fusable web paper you’ve ironed on your piece of fabric. I pin it to the fabric, then use small scissors (in some cases, for tiny detail in the cut pieces, I’ll use an Exacto knife.) I start with the main body, then add the bigger pieces in layers as I go. (Note: don’t iron the dog onto the backing fabric just yet – save that till later.)

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To ensure that you match up placement of your pieces, use the overall template you’ve created to lay over the image before you iron down the individual pieces. I remove the fusable web paper backing from the pieces I’ve cut out, and place them on the face, then lay the wax paper template over to see if the placement matches. I usually iron the fabric pieces individually to make sure nothing moves (and that I don’t end up with a bunch of pieces ironed down and fused in the wrong place.)

Once I’m pretty far along – often after I’ve pretty much completed the whole dog portrait – I’ll iron the final image on the background fabric. I took the photos with it just place on it up until now.

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For detailed elements – like the eyes or detailed parts of the nose and mouth – I create them as separate pieces before ironing them onto the main body. I usually try to complete both eyes at the same time and make sure they look correct together before ironing them down. It is not unusual to have to toss one out and start over to get a matching set that I feel looks right! These close ups show the eyes and detail photographed after I finished and quilted the rest of the piece, but you can see how I layered the face pieces to get contrast in color to highlight shapes, layers of fur, and the eyes.  I also added a second layer of batting to just the head piece to make it “pop” a bit from the rest of the portrait.

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