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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guest Blogger - Allison Aller

It's the 15th of September and that means, that I have another Guest Blogger to introduce you to.  I met Allie years ago through our mutual love of crazy quilting.  I have always been taken with Allie's fearless use of color and her beautiful embroidered landscape quilts. 

Landscape quilts are so unique and no one does them better than Allie!  When I invited her to be a guest here on my blog, I asked if she would discuss her process.  Please welcome my dear friend, Allison Aller of Allie's In Stitches.

Portraits of Place in Crazy Quilts

My dear friend Pam has invited me to guest blog today on the subject of creating "place portraits", created by embroidering over photo-transfered imagery, in crazy quilting.  I've enjoyed stitching these for the past several years and am glad to share my experience.  You might like making one too.
The reason I call these "portraits" is because these finished pieces reflect not just the visual representation of a place, but also the stitcher's feelings about it and love for it.  Your stitches as they integrate with the photographic image on fabric create a rendition of your subject that is yours alone.  It doesn't have to be slavishly realistic, either, as many portraits are not!  What matters most, I think, is that you have passion for the place you are portraying.

This is not a technical article but just a description of the process I use to create a place portrait.  Links for relevant technical tips as well as relevant supply sources will be given at the end of the post.

The basic steps are as follows...

Preparation of the Print onto Fabric:

1)  Choose a photo of your home, garden, or a landscape you wish to have as the central image of your portrait. 
2)  Transfer your photo onto fabric.  There are many ways to do this and in fact several whole books on this subject! (1; see below)  What I like to do is print my digital photographs onto commercially prepared cotton or silk fabrics that are ready to run through my printer and accept the pigment inks I prefer to use.  Epson printers use pigment inks; HP uses dye-based inks.  I have found that the dye-based inks fade too much over time to be satisfactory. 
The products I like best are EQ Printables for cotton, and Color Plus Textiles for silk (2)  Be aware that the cotton is harder to stitch through than the silk, as it is tightly woven.  The silk, however, does not yield as vivid as a print, colorwise.
3)  Once your image has been printed, rinsed, air-dried, and ironed according to the package instructions, I find it extremely useful to interface the back of the print with fusible knit interfacing.  This stabilizes the printed fabric for stitching.
4) In order to prevent "over-handling" of the print while stitching on it, I like to machine baste 3" strips of muslin around the perimeter of the print.  This is temporary, but will prevent the edges of the print from being stretched out or frayed from handling during stitching.

Embroidering Your Portrait

The main concept to keep in mind when choosing your embroidery threads is the relationship of the scale of the threads to perspective in the portrait.  What I mean by this is this: the father away, or in the distance in the photograph the area you are stitching on, the thinner your thread should be.  The thickest threads belong in the foreground of your portrait. This helps a lot to give the illusion of depth to your scene.  I never embroider anything in the sky; in real life, of course, the sky is so much farther away than any landscape element that it appears totally I like to keep it that way in my place portraits.  Flat, flat, flat!
Also, it makes sense to start your embroidery in the background areas, and then move to the midground with your stitching, and finally, to embroider the very foreground area.

Let's have a look at some projects...

My first attempt at using this approach was for a quilt called "The Home in the Garden".
Here is the photograph I used.  It's my garden in July!

I cropped it, printed it onto cotton, and began developing it with embroidery. In this picture the evergreen on the left, the tree behind it, and the pink sweet peas on the left have been stitched.

Here is the embroidery a little further along.  You can see I have sketched out where the outer edges of the finished embroidery will be.  I have used stitches with the most dimension in the foreground--French knots and bullions for flowers, while simple detached chain stitches and fly stitches work well for foliage.  Straight stitches in the proper scale and color work perfectly well in mid to background stitching.

An interesting phenomenon is that the viewer's eye and brain will "blend" the photographic and stitching details so that the mind really reads this as one consistent image.

I like to frame my portraits with crazy piecing and stitching, but I try not to let that get too busy, so that the portrait in the center keeps the viewer's main focus.  Staying with one color in the piecing helps, as is keeping the seam treatments simple.
The final size of this piece is 16" X 16".

This next project is shown actual size.  It is a 2" covered button!
The stitching is obviously all in the foreground; you will notice (if you look closely) that the trees behind the cottage were not stitched.  That would have brought them too much  into the foreground, no matter how fine a thread I had used.

I used this same subject, the old family cottage, for a couple other portraits.

In the first photo, you can see the initial embroidery of this small scene.  I went for a more "impressionistic" look this time.

As always, the foreground stitching was added last.

The finished piece, measuring 8" X 8", again had a simply crazy pieced and embroidered "frame", with an inner border of rocks that were gathered from the beach below the cottage.  This piece is mounted on foam core. (3)

The next cottage portrait was much more elaborate.  I used a larger printed central image, which was 10" X 13".  There were also other printed photographs integrated into the piecing around the central image, which formed more than just a frame, but a much larger compositional context for the center.
This was technically quite difficult!

I started with many prints laid out roughly in the positions I thought I would be using them.

Fast forward now to where the quilt is pieced and the outer piecing is starting to be embellished.  Notice that some of my piecing seams were deliberately designed to act as tree trunks and branches, once they were embellished.

These buttonhole leaves were inspired by the great work of Lisa Boni of
She makes the best buttonhole leaves ever!

The final embroidery of this central image was fairly light-handed.  I outlined all the major architectural shapes of the cottage, highlighted the flowers in the border in front of it, and did lots of straight stitching in the grass in the foreground...and also spent three days making all those buttonholed leaves.  ;-)

Each project and image will guide you as to what kind of embroidery needs to be done:  you will discover that for yourself. 
This whole quilt took about 4 months to make.  It measures 30" X 30".

This summer I decided to do another garden portrait, again using the procedure described at the beginning of this post.
One difference in this project, called "High Summer", is that once it was finished, I mounted my embroidered central image onto fusible craft batting before appliquĂ©ing it over my crazy pieced "mat".  (4)
This gave me a nice smooth edge, "stretched" the embroidery so that it was flat, and caused it to be just slightly raised above the surface of the quilt.

Here is "High Summer" completed.  Again, the frames are kept to a single colorway in order to showcase the central embroidered image.

This is 18" X 22".

Finally, I want to mention that there is an alternative to inkjet photo transfer that I sometimes use to get my image onto fabric.  Transfer Artist Paper, or TAP, is an updated version of the old Tshirt transfer paper.  You reverse the image you wish to use on the computer, print it onto the TAP, and then iron it onto your fabric.
You get a sharp print easily with really good color...the only hitch is that it is harder to stitch through than inkjet printed fabric. (5)

"June" was made using the TAP.  It is small, about 10" X 12".

If you are inspired to try this approach with a "place portrait" of your own, I would really love to see it.  Drop me a jpg and a note about your project at

1) Several books on photo transfer published by C & T are here:
2) EQ Printables is here:   *Note*  The Cotton Lawn is easier to stitch through than the Cotton Sateen.
Color Plus Fabrics are hard to find but a good source is here:  I especially like their silks, but all their fabrics are great.
3) See my article in CQMagOnline for how to mount small quilts onto foam core.
4)  I like Fast 2 Fuse from C & T, as it has fusible web on both sides and is just the right weight.
5) find TAP at many online sites; just Google it!

I'd like to thank Allie for taking the time write such an informative and interesting blog post for my readers.  Please take a moment to hop over to Allie's blog and say hello to her.  Allison's work is pure perfection.  You will never be disappointed in the eye candy you find on her blog.  Thank you dear one!


kerrykatiecakeskeb43 said...

Wonderful guest post by Allison! These landscape quilts are gorgeous!

Elizabeth said...

What amazing and inspiring work!! Simply stunning!! Thank you so much for introducing us to Allison!!! I must add her blog to my favorites list. Makes my fingers itch to get to stitching!!!!

agypsyangel said...

Wonderful, wonderful. Thanks for sharing. I love quilts! I did something similar with a photo of my son, niece and nephew, they turned out pretty cute I thought. I will see if i can find them or a photo of them.... Have a wonderful day. I would love to send you a personal email regarding my experience. Talk with you soon and so glad I found you.
Smiles & Hugs,

MosaicMagpie said...

I so enjoyed seeing these landscapes. It is amazing the depth that is created with the embroidery stitches.
Thank you Pam for intrducing me to Allie.

Connie Eyberg Originals said...

I continue to be inspired. Love Allison's landscape quilting and can't wait to try this technique. Thank you for posting her work and for her guest appearance. Connie

Laurie said...

I follow Ally's blog, and love it. Thanks so much for bringing her as your guest artist. I love her work, and am now not so intimidated to try this. Thanks Pam!!

paqui said...

Fantastico !!!!!!!!!
kiss from spain.

oregonpatchworks said...

These designs are wonderful ....i love these picture..Portrays the simple definition of the complete Nature..............


Laura Bray said...

An amazing project! If I didn't have to take my daughter to school right now, I'd be going through photos and doing this project this minute!

Magpie's Mumblings said...

I follow Allisons blog so have seen these pieces in process there - so much enjoyed reading the actual steps of their creation here. Another great guest blogger Pam!!

Lynn Stevens said...

Wow, Thats quite a process, I had no idea so much went into doing quilt pieces. A real eye opener!
Gorgeous work.

Karen said...

Oh my gosh.
I am here from Debi at Life in my Studio. I SHOULD'VE KNOWN!
This is an amazing post.
Have you ever noticed there are a bazillion new things to learn, a ton of projects that we want to do and just not enough hours in the day?
I am so glad I found you. This is wonderful.
HAGD! Karen ~ Some days are diamonds

kathleen said...

love all the landscape information,,thank you for sharing,,they are all beautiful,,,

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