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Book Review: Blending Photos with Fabric

By Rob Holland 

The advent of digital camera over the past ten years has completely revolutionized photography. It very nearly put Eastman-Kodak out of business, when they lost their main stream of income from film, and it enabled many more people to enjoy the art of photography without all the messy, expensive business of processing. You can now print photos at home, on your inkjet printer, every bit as good as those that came from the local drugstore, or bypass printing altogether and share them digitally. You can mimic the tricks of the darkroom with software such as Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop, and create almost any effect imaginable. 

Digital photography has also been a boon to quilting. With the technology simplified and inexpensive, quilters now have the means to explore new ways to include photographs in their quilts. As with any innovation, its development has been incremental. Early pioneers had to figure out how best to transfer photos to fabric, make sure the dyes didn’t run, and then include them in quilts. Photos were usually presented on quilts in the same way as they are in frames on the family dresser, as mementos for display, or as embellishments. There was (and is) nothing wrong with this approach, but quilters are restless and endlessly inventive, so it was inevitable that they would experiment and come up with new uses for photographs in quilts. 

Enter Mary Ellen Kranz and Cheryl Hayes. They are the authors of the new book from Electric Quilt, Blending Photos with Fabric (The Electric Quilt Company, 2004, paperbound, 128 pages, retail $26.95) which has already become the technical bible of photo-quilting, as well as a cutting edge exploration of new artistic directions. Part how-to manual, part creative inspiration, this book is the ideal blend for aspiring photo-quilters. 

Kranz and Hayes do not assume their readers are advanced in their digital photography skills. They begin their book with a half-dozen pages of tips on making good photographs -- everything from finding or creating the proper lighting to not putting your finger in front of the lens. This is then followed by a very detailed tutorial on how to go from a digital image on your photo screen to one on a piece of fabric. It includes information on a variety of printable fabric products as well as preparing your own raw fabric for printing, including the application of Bubble Jet Set (if appropriate to your fabric). A second portion of the tutorial is about preparing your image – manipulating and cropping it in image editing software, and the final portion is about how to prepare your printer to print on fabric.

One of the difficulties of a book such as this is the great number of variables in the processes being described. There are dozens of image editing programs, and hundreds of printers that people might use to transfer their photos, and a single tutorial cannot possibly take them all into account. The authors resolve this problem by choosing a popular, and representative, image program, Paint Shop Pro, and a typical printer, an Epson, to illustrate their points. If you use Photoshop instead of Paint Shop, you will have to know enough about your own program to know what the equivalent steps are in the process. Likewise you should know the characteristics of your own printer. Making these adjustments is not difficult, and the book does a good job of explaining the principles behind the specific actions so that extrapolation is easy.  The authors also provide quilt design advice for Electric Quilt 5.

Once the technical details are out of the way, the rest of the book is dedicated to the unique design approach that Kranz and Hayes take to making photo quilts. As implied in their title, the photographs are integral to the quilt design, not embellishments. They are usually the initial inspiration and a central design element. The possibilities of this approach would seem to be infinite, and the authors present a total of 10 quilts, each of which demonstrates a different approach. Some make the images used abstract by cutting the printed fabric into strips. Others use variations of the same image (a flower, for example) which have been stylized in the imaging software. Some are traditional, some are more free-form, and all of them break the bounds of our notions about how photos are used in quilts. My own personal favorite in this collection is a quilt called “Wish You Were There” which is made out of images of old postcards.

Blending Photos with Fabric addresses other issues such as fabric selection, borders, scanning, and a variety of photo-editing techniques, all organized in a colorful and varied way that never lets you get bored. If you’re looking for new directions in your quilting, and all those digital images on your hard drive are burning a hole in your pocket, this is an excellent way to get them out there for the world to see (and have fun at the same time).

Blending Photos with Fabric is available in our store.

We also sell EQ Printables Inkjet Fabric Sheets for printing your photos. Ready to go into your printer, color-fast.

(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.


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