Class Details for Realistic Fabric Portraits

Number of Lessons: 5
Price: US$ 51.00
Tutor: Marilyn Belford
Start Date: 23 February 2018
Weeks Open: 8.5

How many times have you heard an admirer of an art quilt (perhaps yourself) say, "That is so beautiful, I wish I could do that", or exclaim, "Oh, I can never do that, I can't even draw a straight line." Geared mainly for those quilters who cannot draw, Marilyn will guide you step-by-step through the techniques that enable you to produce realistic fabric portraits of loved ones. In this class, you will learn how to use the computer to adjust photos, appliqué by fusion, deal with the features on a face and use thread painting for the finishing touches. Good basic sewing skills are necessary.

Supplies and Outline


  • a clear color photo or slide
  • muslin for the foundation
  • 19" x 24" pad of tracing paper and/or lightweight clear vinyl from JoAnn's.
  • 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of transparency film (for overhead projector use)  See note below.
  • overhead projector, slide projector or digital projector
  • piece of foam core board or insulation board large enough for the enlarged image
  • graphite or other transfer paper
  • drafting tape
  • an ultra fine-line Sharpie™ marker
  • paper scissors (not your favorite) for cutting fusible web and paper
  • tweezers (optional)
  • repositionable fusible web (double-sided).  
    • I use Steam-a-Seam 2 LITE.You can purchase it by the yard from rolls at fabric shops.  It also comes packaged as sheets in a plastic bag.  There are 1/2"  and 1/4" tapes of it available.  These are for use on straight edges mostly, and you can cut that from the larger pieces.  I like to buy a little at a time (1 yard) because it has the tendency to dry out (more on that later on).  However, if you have to mail order it, play safe and buy 2 yards.
  • sewing machine (with feed-dog down capability)
  • darning foot, quilting foot or embroidery foot
  • appliqué foot
  • assorted threads.  See the note below on thread types.
  • basic sewing supplies
  • non-slip work gloves (optional)
  • needles should be Metallica, Metafil or Topstitch.  They have a longer eye without added width and help prevent the fraying of threads.  I generally use a #80 or less for the cotton lightweight threads (#60). .  A #90 needle is better for metallic threads or thicker threads.
  • a few pieces of assorted fabric to practice on.  Some solids, some large flower prints, and some large geometrics.
  • fabric for the back
  • extremely thin cotton batting.  Buy the kind that advertises that stitches can be up to 8" apart, and recommends that you do not prewash.

Note:  The transparency film can be purchased at any copy center or at an office supply or school supply store.  Most copy centers or public libraries will rent an overhead projector to you.  If you have a slide, you can use a slide projector.

If neither is available, just proceed with the rest of the supplies.  There will be instructions later on for making a light box from a window.  You can find other supplies at hobby or art supply shops.  A computer with scanner and Photoshop program is useful, but copy centers can usually supply you with the kind of images described in the step-by-step instructions.


Assorted fabric for faces

You will need lots of assorted fabric pieces, skin tones and prints that read as a solid from a few feet away.  Light mauves, light olives for shadows.  Batiks that shift colors are good, as well as marbelized fabric, and fossil ferns.

These fabrics for faces are somewhat magnified so that you can see the print.  Note the various textures and tones.  You will be doing a lot of fussy cutting.  For example, using fabric that shifts from a natural skin tone to an olive hue is good for shading in such areas as under the eye.

These fabrics are good for hair, including cat fur.  The first time I used cat fur for hair I had to close my eyes before I could cut the cute kitty cat into smithereens.  Patterns of wood grain are marvelous, as are marbelized swirls.  The fabrics on the right might prove nice for curls.

Fabric assortment for hair

A Note on Threads

There is a vast selection of thread types and sizes in the market place.  There is cotton, rayon, polyester, silk, monofilament and metallic.  Choose thread to serve specific purposes.  Each type has distinct physical properties and characteristics.  Polyester, for example, retains its round shape at all times, whereas cotton, rayon and silk tend to lie flatter on the fabric.  I would choose the latter for shading and the polyester for distinctive outlining, as it will be more raised. Some pilyesters are nice and thin.

Thread size plays an important role in your choice of thread.  The standard size used in regular sewing is usually 40 wt, sometimes 50 wt.  Machine embroidery uses 60 wt and 50 wt.  Heavy-duty sewing uses number 30.  Sometimes you will see the thread size shown as 50/2.  The top number is the size and the bottom number is the ply (the number of filaments wound together).  The larger the size number the finer the thread.

For shading, I like to use number 60 (fine).  With the finer thread, I can go over the same area with a second color (creating a blend) without adding bulk or stiffness.  However, color choice is my prime consideration, and if I cannot find the exact color I want in the finer thread, I will use any weight thread with the desired color.  Just adjust the stitches accordingly.

Try to match the colors closely to the tones in the fabric you selected for the skin, hair, eyes and mouth.  You might also want some colors that may be used to highlight something, like light shining on hair (usually a slightly lighter hue than the original), or a deeper color than the fabric to emphasize a shadow.


Lesson One:  Getting Started

  • collect all your supplies
  • choose a photograph
  • prepare your photo for transfer
  • trace the photograph

Lesson Two:  The Process

  • learn to use fusible web
  • make the fabric templates
  • learn how to order the pieces on the face
  • audition pieces on the face
  • construct the face

Lesson Three:  Thread Painting

  • thread painting tutorial

Lesson Four:  Thread Painting a Face

  • thread paint the eyes
    • add lights
    • add eyebrows
  • join skin sections
  • paint the nose
  • paint the mouth
  • highlight the hair

Lesson Five:  Finishing Up

  • add quilting to the face
  • finish the background
  • border and bind the quilt
  • add a label
  • add a sleeve
  • learn to hang the quilt