Portrait of a Girl…and Her Man!

What goes into an eye…

Another quilt-a wall hanging that I finished this year, but did not get around to sharing…

I wanted to make something special for my son and daughter-in-law for their fifth wedding anniversary and thought this would make a great gift. Many of you have asked me how I put together the portrait, so I will try to do a brief summary here. But before I do that, I must record my thanks to a generous friend and wonderful artist, Manju Narain, who is a  master of portrait quilts and who worked as my guide and sounding board as I created this portrait.

  1. The choice of picture is important. Take a high resoltion picture so that you do not lose out on the details. Mentally remove any extraneous elements in the background as you weigh the pros and cons of a particular picture. Does the picture speak to you, tell you something about the person behind the face? I went through several photos, changing them to black and white, checking for contrast and  drama before I zeroed in to this one.  My daughter-in-law, M’s, smile is a blinder and (of course!) I think, my son has a very sweet smile too.
  2. Once the picture was finalized, I reduced the number of colours to five- black, white and three greys . I don’t have Photoshop and was not satisfied with the result obtained with Paint, so I searched online and found a great site which works beautifully well.
  3. I enlarged the picture to 30″ x 40″; then took two full size prints-out, one on plain paper and the other on freezer paper and pulled out black, white and grey solids to work with. I trimmed away the background from the freezer paper print. The plain paper picture would work as a guide. I also kept a print-out of the original picture in colour, for reference.
Portrait Quilt -patchworkofmylife The prints-out on plain paper and freezer paper

4. I traced the outer outline of the figures and the garments on the white background fabric- this will help me in the final placement of the figures on it.  No pictures of this!

5. I began work on my DIL’s (daughter-in-law’s) face and neck first. I built the portrait in layers, like one does with oil paints. 

I decide to use the medium grey fabric as a base for the face on which the features will be built up. I ironed the freezer paper on the right side of the fabric which will form the lowermost layer. I built up the various layers, using the freezer paper templates as guides.  For the really tiny pieces, I ironed a two-sided fusible on the wrong side of the fabric before cutting out the pieces. They could then be ironed in place. (The details, such as the white highlights on the nose, teeth and eyes would come in last after most of the quilting had been done).

For the hair, I used black as the base and pinned the highlights in the dark grey over it . (I later regretted not adding a fusible under the highlights as the thin strips frayed before I could stitch them down.  Another good option would have been to cut and place them just before I was ready to quilt down the piece.)

Auditioning the fabric face on the plain paper print out.

Now I was ready to create Son’s face. Here, the base would be the dark grey.

The base for this face is the dark grey

The basic shapes finished, I stitched DIL’s face in place on the background, using my pencil tracing as a guide.

I referred to the coloured picture to get the highlights and shadows on the picture right.

The great thing about having freezer paper templates is that you can iron them on the background fabric to make sure you are stitching pieces in the right place!

Coming alive!

The deadline for finishing the quilt approached, but we had guests over whom I had to take shopping! That is where I found the perfect danglers for DIL!

The perfect earrings!

Son’s jacket was a bigger problem. He is wearing a light blue jacket in the photo and I wanted to use their garments to add colour and zing to the portrait. Instead, I found this brown furnishing fabric-the texture seemed perfect! I also found the perfect buttons in my mother-in-law’s collection; they came from a coat that belonged to my father-in-law almost half a century ago.

The jacket is furnishing fabric! The buttons are from his grandfather’s coat.

Now I was thinking about DIL’s saree. Also, I needed colour here! That is when I remembered how fond DIL was of orchids and had insisted on purple orchids for her jaimala (garlands exchanged by bride and groom) on her wedding. So we went orchid-hunting! I finally managed to find these silk orchids, so pretty, don’t you think?

White silk and purple orchids for DIL?

Meanwhile, I add more details to Son’s face…

I add more details to the Son’s face

…and find the loveliest black tissue brocade in my stash for DIL’s saree. I auditioned gold tissue for her blouse, but settled on black.

Saree in black silk tissue brocade

This is looking good now!

Love the way it is coming up!

Black brocade saree in tissue silk for DIL

Now that everything is in place, comes the difficult question-to quilt or not to quilt. I began tentatively…

Scared I’ll ruin it!
Oh God! What have I done to it? Should I rip it out?

But, what the heck! Let us jump right in!

My only hope is that quilting the background will improve it!

Well, lots of more quilting-and here we are.  I finally decided to add five orchids to the quilt, four in DIL’s hair and one in Son’s buttonhole for it was five years of married life they would be celebrating!

All ready except for the final highlights and the binding

The binding was done, dots of white Inktense pencil inks added to the teeth and noses, hanging sleeve attached and I was ready to share the pictures of their gift with the children on their wedding anniversary. I brought it with me when I travelled to the US to visit them. Here is the portrait on their dining room wall. Incidentally I used the ‘Hang-it-Dang-it’ hanger to hang it and it worked wonderfully well!

A final close look at the portrait before I say goodnight!

In its home!

(For those of you who have been waiting, I did not take enough pictures, so a detailed tutorial will have to wait till I do my next portrait quilt.)