5 Steps to Better Portrait Art Quilts – Quilting Daily

Looking back over the last 12 months, I’d have to say that portraiture was a big trend in modern and creative quilting. From pixel quilts made of tiny fabric squares to mixed-media quilts that enhanced fabric with paint or colored pencil, quilt artists made a lot of faces.

Judging by what I’ve seen at quilt shows, on social media, and in the Quilting Arts submissions in-box, portraits will continue to be popular in 2015. So here are some tips from some portrait quilt artists we’ve featured in the last year or so.


Pixel portrait art quilt by Deborah Hyde, made of 1″ squares fused and stitched on a grid.

Employ fine art skills.

You don’t have to go to art school to create successful fabric portraits, but knowing a thing or two about painting and drawing will help–even if you just practice in a sketchbook. Kate Themel,, who specializes in heavily stitched figurative quilt art says, “Painting taught me to think about the interaction of colors and not be afraid to make bold moves. Drawing required me to quiet down, observe objects with focused attention, and to notice contour and texture.”

Fusible is your friend. Deborah Hyde’s pixel portrait on the cover of the April/May 2014 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine wowed readers, and many were curious about how she managed to stitch so many 1″ squares. Deborah’s trick is to use a fusible interfacing grid. For more free-form portraits, add dimension with fabric and fusible. MistyFuse® fusible web is so lightweight you can build up layers or create folds with it.

Don’t seek perfection. “Perfectionism is a creativity killer,” says quilting artist and painter Melissa Averinos. Her Thread Ladies mini-quilts emerged from experimenting while she practiced long-arm stitching techniques. Doodle and play with thread and colors to see what kind of portraits you can create–and feel free to practice on muslin before you commit to “good” fabric.

Mix your media. Art quilts break the rules, so don’t be afraid to add paint, colored pencil, or water-soluble pigments to your fabric portraits. Esterita Austin applies white paint with a small angled paintbrush to add light–and life–to her portrait subject’s eyes.


quilted art portrait esterita austin
Quilt artist Esterita Austin shows how to bring life to fabric portraits by adding paint.

Practice on your pets!

Pet portraits are always popular. And while they’re often reluctant to pose, pets are less likely to judge your interpretation of their likeness than humans. Start with some fabric postcards or even ATCs (artist trading cards) featuring your pets before proceeding to people.

We have lots of information on how to create quilted art portraits from award-winning quilt artists and instructors available in the Quilting Daily Shop. Two Quilting Arts Workshops I highly recommend are Making Faces: Beginning and Advanced Portraits with Maria Elkins and Dynamic Fabric Art Portraits: A Foolproof, Step-By-Step Process with Esterita Austin.

P.S. What quilting trends did you see in 2014? Do you hope they’ll stay or go away? Leave your comment below.

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