The Joy of Fabric Art Pet Portraits – Quilting Daily

A note from Vivika: While I’m on medical leave, my dog, Elvis, has been keeping me company. His presence–and frequent antics–lift my spirits. Pets are so important in our lives–and often in our fabric art–so today I thought I’d share this Q&A with Quilting Daily Community member Martha Tabis from 2010. Martha creates cheerful 12″ x 14″ portrayals of cats and dogs that are full of character and reveal a fondness for her four-legged companions. Here, she discusses the animals–and the techniques–behind her pet portraits.

Martha Tabis

QD: Please tell us about the subjects of your textile art.

MT: Wiley and Ivy, Boston terriers, were my family’s first pets, so they have a special place in my heart.

QD: Each of the backgrounds has a very different, very distinct color palette. How did you decide upon these?

MT: The backgrounds reflect each dog’s character. Wiley (on the orange background) was a four-legged wild man: energetic, rambunctious, playful. Ivy (on the hot pink background) could bounce like a spring and found mischief everywhere, but could also morph into a little lady.

QD: Please briefly describe the process/processes used to create these portraits.

Ivy fabric art pet portrait by Martha Tabi
Wiley fabric art pet portrait by Martha Tabis
Ivy (top) and Wiley (above), rendered in fabric art
by Martha

MT: For all of these pieces, the backgrounds were created by overlapping raw-edge cottons, synthetics, satin, tulle and organza. I used cotton flannel for batting to minimize bulk. I used minimal free-motion stitching to set the background fabric in place before adding the figures.

I used a photograph as the pattern, printed on tear-away stabilizer and also plain paper. I laid the printed stabilizer over my pieced background and stitched outlines of the animal’s shape and major features. I used the plain paper print to cut out pattern pieces from stabilized fabrics, then fused the pieces to the background. I chose true-to-life fabrics for Wiley and more whimsical prints for Ivy, such as a dot print for the white areas of her face and a floral print for her black areas. The fun part began as I thread-painted each pet’s features and shaded areas.

I made the fabric sandwich, then quilted the background, and outlined the figure one more time with stitching to add dimension. To finish front-view portraits, I bound the edges in the traditional way and mounted them to fabric-covered frames. For back-view portraits, I zigzagged the quilt edges and added decorative yarn.

QD: Do you have plans for future portraits?

MT: Friends and mentors liked the portraits and encouraged me to sell them, so I started a business this year doing custom work. I’m drawn to making these portraits by the appeal of interpreting a beloved pet in fabric. It’s a joyous process for me.

There are many ways to make your pet the focus of your fiber art. In the new Quilting Arts Workshop Fabric Postcard Pets: Three Easy Ways to Make Mini Pet Portraits, Pauline Salzman shows you fast, fun techniques using fabric scraps and images of your pet. Watch a preview and pre-order your copy now.

P.S. Do you make pet portraits? Tell me about them!

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