Creating a Fabric Portrait

A Guide to Translating a Photo into a Fabric Portrait

Sample of a fabric portrait. Relevant to the text.

Head and shoulders fabric portrait

What steps are needed to create a fabric portrait?

Think of it as capturing character in fabric, as you can translate the unique character of a person from a photo into a fabric portrait.

So whether you are creating a portrait of a loved one or as a memory from a trip you can follow this series of steps. 

The steps to creating a fabric portrait are the same no matter what technique you use.

1. Choosing a good quality photograph for your fabric portrait.

It is critical to have a good clear photograph to use so that making your portrait is as easy as possible. Preferably one with only one person in it as this usually means it will enlarge well. 

2. Using photo software to bring out the values (posterizing).

Posterizing brings out the values (light, medium, and dark) in your photo and aids in creating the pattern. There are a variety of photo programs that can do this for you. 

3.  Enlarging the photograph to a workable size.

You want to resize your photo so that the head is about 9″ high. This makes the fabric pieces a workable size.

The head size determines the final size of the whole portrait. For example, if the head is 3″ high in the photo you will need to enlarge the photo by 300%  (3 x 3 =9).

4. Creating a pattern from the photo.

You will create a pattern by again focusing on the values in the photo. No drawing required!

5. Choosing fabrics for your portrait.

Select fabrics based on the values that you saw in your posterized photograph.

You will need to decide whether you want to try and do realistic skin tones or whether you want to choose another colou eg. green!

6. Placing the fabrics according to your pattern.

Based again on the values you selected you will place the fabric pieces accordingly. Different techniques will layer the fabrics in a different order.

7. Sewing the fabric pieces in place.

This can be done with a straight stitch or a zigzag stitch. The zigzag works better to keep the edges of the fabric from fraying.

8. Adding detail stitching

Detail stitching is added to the portrait to bring out the features and detail to the hair. 

Fabric portrait of a male to show the detail stitching.

Detail of eyes

9. Quilting the portrait and background.

This last step brings out the features in the portrait, creates dimension and the quilting in the background adds interest.


Choosing a good photograph for a Fabric Portrait

Posterizing a Photograph 

Resizing and Printing a Photo at Home (MAC version) 

 Resizing and Printing a Photo at Home (PC)

Join the Fabric Faces Facebook group to join with other fabric portrait enthusiasts!

The Eyes Have It mini-course

Smiles and Pearly Whites – Focus on the Mouth Mini-course

Online Fabric Portraits WorkshopFacial Expressions