The process uses a camera and either a photocopier, or a scanner, printer and a computer. After a simple start you can sew a picture in your chosen materials. If you are happy with drawing, the process can be developed further so more abstract images can be created in fabric.

A variety of images taken at the Eden Project, showing the interesting shapes and grids, plus reflections in the biomes and windows
A variety of images taken at the
Eden Project, showing the
interestingshapes and grids,
plus reflections
in the biomes and windows,
Photographs by Lesley Coles

Collecting your images

Remember to take a camera with you at all times and take plenty of photographs of the places and buildings you like. You never know when a good shot will present itself. Take both close up and distant shots and carefully frame what you like in the viewer. Use a high-resolution film - I recommend Kodak 400 speed film, which is a good one to use at most times.

If you forget your camera, run out of film or the weather is awful, look at the postcards available and purchase a good selection. These can be paintings or drawings as well as photographs. (Please respect copyright. If you are making to sell or exhibit, you must only enlarge and use your own images, not someone else’s work, unless you have their written permission). Always on the lookout for inspiration, you can often supplement your own images this way. The colours and shapes can be used for inspiration, even if you do not use the postcard as a direct image source.

Project Materials

At the same time, you can also collect suitable material for your quilt. Any excuse to browse in a fabric shop is a good one! Look at all types of material available and study smaller areas of large patterns for textures and colours. If you are making a practical quilt then it is usually best to use 100% cotton. If your piece is decorative, rather than a bed cover, any type of material is possible, for example, silk or furnishing fabrics, as well as organza and other man made fabrics.

Look in your fabric collection and see what you have already. Often you require very small amounts, so even those tiny scraps may come in useful. Also, look at material on both sides. The reverse may be ideal. Shadows can often be created by using the reverse of a printed fabric against the right side as it presents a softer colour and design.

Selecting your image

When you have your photographs and images, use a card ‘window’ to isolate areas within the image that you may wish to use. Take an A4 sheet of stiff paper or white card and cut an L-shaped piece from each side and end. Use this over the photograph in different sizes to frame an area. It is an ideal way to isolate areas and can change the way you look at the image.


Enlarging your image

When you have chosen a photograph that you want to work with, enlarge it on a photocopier. All you need is a black and white image, which is clear enough to trace from. If necessary enlarge it several times until you have the image the size you want, these pieces can then be taped together with clear tape.

Isolating images using a card window
Isolating images using a card window

Alternatively, you can scan the photograph into an image program such as Photoshop on a computer. If the program has a facility to flip images into reverse do so at this stage, before printing out enlarged areas of the image in black and white.

Alternatively, if using slide film, set up the projector and display the picture onto a large sheet of white paper. You can project your image in reverse at this stage to save time later on. (The initial sewing is from a reverse image on the back of the work.) Draw onto the paper from the projected image to get an outline drawing. Put in the detail as you go - switch off the light from time to time to check if you have all the details you need on the paper.

You now have two choices with the enlarged images. Either use as they are or draw from them to alter and abstract a design. If you wish to use it as it is, start gathering your fabrics and move to the sewing stage.

Eden Project - original positive slide image
Eden Project - original positive slide image

Altering initial designs

Use your window again to find an area to work from, or use the whole picture. Draw a grid over the selected area, with a ruler and pencil. The number of squares drawn depends on the size you require and the amount of detail on your photocopied image. (The greater the detail, the more grid lines you need.) When you are sure you have the correct lines, redraw the grid using a thin black felt tip, or use a yellow highlighter pen if the black does not show up on the photocopied image. If necessary, draw over the copied image with black or coloured felt tips, any details you want to use. Using a soft 2B pencil, lightly draw an enlarged grid onto the paper you will draw on. These lines will need to be rubbed out or ignored later. I use A2 paper for this stage or you could use lining paper on a roll.

Black and White source for design
Black and White source for design

At this point you can change the shape of the enlarged grid. In Eden II: Reflections the grid was enlarged in both directions, but stretched to twice the width and three times the height of the original grid. You can draw all the details onto the grid or be selective and simplify the image by only drawing some of the lines. Simplify edges, round corners, taking an artist’s licence to draw the image you want from the original.

In both of her Eden hangings, Lesley simplified the biomes using the photographs as a guide only. The difference is that in the second piece, Eden II: Reflections, where the image is stretched, it starts to look more abstract.

Keep drawing different pieces until you have an image you are happy to recreate in fabric. This could be the first, the fifth or even the 25th drawing! Each time Lesley spends time drawing, she feels it develops the work in ways she has not planned. It becomes more organic and so develops in ways that she could not have predicted at the outset. Several drawings were done for Eden II: Reflections that were not used, but Lesley feels these were an important development in the work.

Biomes, photograph by Annette Franklin
Biomes, photograph by Annette Franklin
Eden: The Big Build
Eden: The Big Build

Preparation for sewing

Lesley uses a reverse appliqué technique she has developed from trial and error over several years. However, you may choose your own method of appliqué when you have developed your design and are ready to sew.

Eden: The Big Build uses photographs taken during 2000 as Eden was being constructed. Foliage is represented by a patchwork background. The 6 pictures were hand sewn to the background after both were quilted.

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 10 Number 11 - December 2002