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  • Writer's pictureleann hileman

What's the Process?

In response to this question, I'm going to simplify and oversimplify what I teach in a 3 day class. First of all, it's constantly evolving because each piece I finish has taught me a lot - not to mention what I learn from students every time I teach my Photos to Quilts class. My intention is always to take on more than I know how to do so there is always more to learn.

But here goes with a greatly condensed version. If I run out of steam before I finish, I'll pick up where I left off tomorrow - daughters and granddaughter coming over for dinner so will need to interrupt my writing for some good snuggle time with the baby.

  1. Selecting the photograph - I almost always use photos I've taken. I use Photoshop to crop it to get the best composition. I then get it printed (usually by Nations Photo Lab at in an enlarged size, as big as I can afford to.

  2. With the enlargement in hand, I trace over it onto white paper. This is the pattern making phase which is the most difficult to articulate. I start with tracing the outline of the desired piece (which is what I have left after I've cropped it and decided my composition) onto paper, then move on to tracing the darkest areas, then the lightest areas. Anything else that is an obvious shape gets traced. I need to make sure I am making shapes, not just unconnected lines. This results in my master drawing. It doesn't have to be super detailed at this point.

  3. I then trace from my master drawing onto Pattern Ease, which is very stable and is translucent, and that becomes my foundation onto which I place my fabric pieces.

  4. For landscape quilts, I work from back to front, in other words, the most distant to the most near, so I will start with the sky. Depending on the nature of the piece, I may piece the sky, paint it or use commercial fabric. For portrait fabrics, I may start from the person or critter first and patch in the background later.

  5. I decide which element I am going to do first - it's then that I really look at my photograph in detail and identify the shapes in that element. I will concentrate on that element, maybe the sky or a hillside, or the face or body of the person or critter. I then work from there, overlapping fabrics by a half inch or so. I trace that element onto freezer paper so I can cut pieces out to use as a template.

  6. This is the time I do my fabric pull for that element. This involves going through my stash and pulling out any possible fabric for that element - making sure I have a good range of values of every color I need for that element.

  7. I construct that element, having cut the shapes from the freezer paper and leaving a seam allowance (even though I'm not making seams) beyond the edge of the freezer paper. If I'm doing a turned edge, I use a mix of spray starch diluted with water and a paintbrush to wet the edge and turn it and press. I'm making an effort throughout this process to layer so that I have as few raw edges as possible.

  8. I put that finished element onto my Pattern Ease foundation, If I'm satisfied I won't be changing it, I can secure it by applique stitching by hand, by machine or with glue. I've used all these methods and again, it depends on the size of the element as well as other factors.

  9. Moving from finished element to finished element, I complete the basic piece so the Pattern Ease is totally filled in... from there I quilt and once it's quilted, I can add in embellishments and details using thread painting, fibers, cheesecloth, markers, oil pastels and/or paint. Note that my pieces are about 99% fabric and very little painting.

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