Recently I took part in an exhibition called Up Your Street at the Dick Institute in Kilmarnock. All of the chosen artists/craft makers produce work inspired by the environment in which they live and work. The curator chose artists from hugely varying localities, from city to remote Scottish island. As well as the main pieces in the exhibition, there was also an insight into our inspiration, our streets and working processes. This included a beautiful, yet noisy, film of the sea. Of the artists who did city based work, a large part of their premise was that you can find beauty anywhere, even in the industrial estates. As part of the gallerys education programme, I ran a workshop showing people how to make mini picture quilts from photos. I really enjoy this technique and find that it gives quick and satisfying results, without having to be great at drawing. All you need is a photo, a photocopy of the photo, some greaseproof paper, some bondaweb and of course, some scraps of fabric. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

Finished house
Finished house

The starting point

Take a photo of a house or building that interests you. It could be your own or by some top architect. If you are not confident about taking your own photos, a good source of images is travel brochures. You can but dream that you live in an Indian palace. The image I used was of a house near where I live. I did take some photos of my own house to use, but with a car and pram on the drive, I couldnt get a decent image.

Having got the image, enlarge on a computer or photocopier to A4 and make it black and white. If at all possible, increase the contrast of the image. The image becomes more stark and easier to draw. At this point, hide the original photo, so you are not influenced by its colours. It is more fun to invent new ones.

The Drawing

Now for the drawing. Some people may call it cheating, but I call it playing to your strengths. Get a piece of greaseproof paper (or even better, baking parchment, as the bondaweb will slide off it if you accidentally use a fabric scrap the wrong way), and tape it over your black and white picture. Trace the outline of the building and any background you require in pencil. Lift the tracing now and again to see how it looks and continue until you feel you have enough detail. Dont go overboard with the detail as you will be cutting out all of the small pieces in fabric and it can get fiddly. Once you have finished, make sure you write FRONT on this drawing so you know which side is which.

Source photograph
Source photograph

If you want to make a bigger piece, enlarge your drawing on a photocopier. You make find that you need to do a colour copy to get the best results, even though you have only a black and white tracing. You dont need large paper as you can always do this in bits and then stick the drawing back together again before retracing at the large size.

The fun bit

The next stage is to raid the fabric stash. If like me, you never throw out fabric scraps, this is a great way to use them up. I keep all my tiny off cuts in old biscuit tins, roughly sorted by colour. I wonder sometimes whether I am a bit too obsessive about holding onto them, but projects like this, where I and all the workshop participants were able to do our pictures without purchasing any fabric, vindicate this compulsion. Decide on a rough colour scheme and look for scraps that fit in with it. Be imaginative the building could be purple with pink spots! It is important to remember the size of the pieces you need; big prints may dominate in a way you dont want. Dont ignore any big prints you have, however, as you may be able to use small sections of them to get different colours. Think also about textures. In this piece I used patchwork cottons, sack cloth, silk, muslin and flannel. I even used the selvedge of the muslin to get a contrast between the bricks and the chimney.

You will need a bit of fabric for the background, a bit bigger than your picture. I used white cotton as thats what I had to hand, but you could use sky or grass coloured fabric (these neednt be blue and green!). Decide which shapes to start with. On this picture, I started with the blue sky, then machined rough trees and then the walls of the house. I didnt cut shapes out of the walls for the windows. The beauty of using bondaweb is that you can stick things on top. You just need to think a bit before you start about what order the shapes need to be applied.

House black and
white copy
House black and white copy

To get the individual shapes, turn your drawing over so you cant read FRONT, place the bondaweb on top, smooth side up and trace the shape that you want. Make sure you mark it clearly as once it is pressed onto dark fabric; the outline can be hard to see. Cut it out roughly, then press onto the wrong side of your fabric. Cut it out exactly then press onto your picture. To get the placement right, stick your drawing on top of your background. Slide your shape under the drawing and check that it lines up. When you are happy with the positioning, you can iron it down, through the drawing. You dont need to worry about how long to press it as you will be adding another bit soon, so that will help solidify your first piece.

I find it is useful working from the black and white image because, not only does it free you to experiment with different colours, it also help you identify the tonal value of each shape.

This helps in choosing your fabric, so that you keep the pictures cohesion. For example, if you look closely at my house, there is more than one shade of red used to give a depth to the image. I looked at the photocopy and used the lightest red for the brightest wall and for the shadow at the front, I used two layers of a slightly darker red.

Dont worry if your picture looks a bit off balance when it is in progress it needs all of the elements to make it work. I suppose I should advise copying your tracing and colouring it in your chosen colours before you start on the fabric. To be honest, Im always too keen to get started with the fabrics to do this. However, I know it does work for many people and it may save time in fixing mistakes later.

Drawing the main
Drawing the main shapes


Adding small details can be a bit awkward, so additional details could be added by stitch. For example, I was going to add the panels of the garage in different fabric, but I decided that stitching lines would give a less busy effect. The main disadvantage of bondaweb is that it makes the fabric quite stiff and is more difficult to hand sew. If you want to get a strong quilting effect, you need to ensure that your backing fabric is heavy weight to balance the rigidity of the front. In this piece I decided to take advantage of this and free machine over the white clouds, to give them some movement to contrast with the solidity of the house.

What Next

Having got your piece quilted, what next? As of yet, my house remains unfinished. I cant decide whether to leave as one piece and bind the edges or to use it in a quilt as you go wall hanging using more than one building or maybe just offsetting it with simple blocks. I already have house two underway, this time it is a museum in Edinburgh, and I have a large scale tracing on a Greek chapel about to be started. I think doing one of a friends house would make a great present. I hope you will have a go yourself and find out just how easy this is. Wed love to see your houses here at Popular Patchwork in the future

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 14 Number 12 - Autumn 2006