Pictorial quilting: 4 picture-perfect approaches

From Mosaic Picture QuiltsHave you ever wished you could capture a noun in a quilt—meaning a person, place, or thing? Real-world images, experiences, and stories have always been a muse for quilters, and ideas for sharing them in quilts abound. Whether you gravitate toward a pictorial-quilts technique that results in an exact representation or an artistic interpretation of the world around you, you’ll find a variety of ways to express yourself with the inspiring quilting ideas below. Today, we take a look at the different ways in which four popular designers create amazing pictorial quilts—and in their books, they show how you can do it too.

What memory will you capture… what place or person will you celebrate… what story will you share in your next quilt?

Quilting the Real World: Mosaic Picture Quilts by Pat Durbin

Mosaic Picture QuiltsWords from Pat: “Have you ever wanted to make a quilted wall hanging of a favorite photo? Well, I have too, but I tried several methods and didn’t really like the process or the results. So, I came up with an easier way to get the job done, and I like the results. My landscape method maintains the patchwork feel that we all love, yet it enables you to depart from the square look and define the many lines and angles that are needed to make your quilt picture look realistic. You will feel as though you are painting a picture with fabric or putting together a jigsaw puzzle (except that you get to make the pieces). It’s fun. It’s different. It feels like painting. And it’s easy! You’ll discover that you can make picture quilts that you never thought you could.”

Pat uses a clever raw-edge patchwork technique in Mosaic Picture Quilts, so there’s no sewing until the quilting stage. Use a gridded fusible foundation, fabric glue, and a fine layer of tulle to permanently set the squares. Add extra embellishments such as tiny rocks, sticks, and dried or silk flowers under the tulle before quilting for dimensional effects—and breathtaking surprises!

Pictorial quilts technique--grids
Start with an inspiration photo, placed underneath a gridded transparency overlay.

Detail of Pacific Beach quilt
Choose fabrics square by square to make your image come to life.

Pat walks you step by step through the entire process, from preparing the foundation to choosing, cutting, and placing fabric squares to create a realistic image. Take a look at some of her amazing pictorial quilts, along with the photos that inspired them:

Deep Blue Sea quilt
“Deep Blue Sea”

Coastal Garden quilt
“Coastal Garden”

Morning Light quilt
“Morning Light”

See more from Mosaic Picture Quilts

Quilting an Artistic World:  Exploring Embellishments by Rose Hughes

Exploring EmbellishmentsWords from Rose: “Life is made up of a series of layers, many, many layers. Adding a layer may mean adding meaning and texture to our lives, and removing or peeling away layers can provide new revelations. Great metaphor, right? Well, I love using layers to transform my quilts. One way I’ve enjoyed using this idea of layers over the past several years is to start with just two fabrics. The top layer of fabric is cut away in places to expose the layer underneath. Revealing the underlying fabric creates fun backgrounds for all kinds of embellishments, which play a very important role in these finished pictorial pieces. All the fabric-embellishment methods you’ll learn to play with along the way can be used to create any size piece your heart can imagine.”

Quilt artist Rose Hughes knows how to create a scene—and she uses nature as an unending source of inspiration for those scenes. In Exploring Embellishments, Rose uses her Fast-Piece Appliqué technique to create the foundation for artistic quilts with as little as two fabrics (see Rose demonstrate the technique in this video):

Fast Piece Applique backgrounds
These first two examples represent high contrast and low contrast backgrounds.

Fast Piece Applique backgrounds 2
The second two examples show how texture and pattern within the design of the fabrics work in tandem with color to further create the mood of the quilts.

After the backgrounds are created, the embellishment fun begins. Choose the story or theme you want to express; then create your own pictorial scene with fabric, beads, buttons, felt, paper, and found items. (Rose says you can use just about anything with a hole!)

Projects from Exploring Embellishments
Step-by-step projects from
Exploring Embellishments

5 stars! Kim, a visitor to our site, gives Exploring Embellishments five stars and says: “I found the Fast-Piece Appliqué technique intriguing and liked how you could create a complex background with only two fabrics. Each project uses different embellishments, so you can try something new. This book has lots of photos so it’s easy to understand Rose’s process.”

See more from Exploring Embellishments

Quilting a Seasonal World: A Year of Paper Piecing by Beverly V. Maxvill

A Year of Paper PiecingWords from Beverly: “In this book you’ll find a collection of 12″ blocks designed to help you make a special project quickly and easily. I’ve created a design for each month of the year, and you can make just one for a particular occasion or for holiday decor, or combine blocks into larger projects.

Adding special touches to the blocks is a fun way to personalize them. I like to embroider details, but you can also use beads or ribbon embellishments. I hope you have as much fun stitching these designs as I’ve had creating them.”

Love decorating for seasons and holidays? The pictorial quilts in A Year of Paper Piecing capture familiar images in quick-to-make wall quilts that you can change out every month. Paper-piecing newbies can easily learn the ropes with Beverly’s primer on the basics. Check out her fun pictorial quilts month by month below:

Quilts from A Year of Paper Piecing

See more from A Year of Paper Piecing

Quilting a Whimsical World: Out of the Box with Easy Blocks by Mary Lou Weidman and Melanie Bautista McFarland

Out of the Box with Easy BlocksWords from Mary Lou and Melanie: “Quilters often think that to design a quilt you have to know what the finished project will look like before you start sewing. But if you let an idea percolate and grow over time, you might come up with a blue-ribbon winner. For us as artists, the goal is to have someone say, “Hey, how’d they think of that?” If you’re following the patterns in all of your books and not changing anything, now is the time to start flying as an artist and a designer. Everyone has a gift (whether they know it or not), and the point is to use your gift. Let the creativity flow, and create!”

Pictorial story quilts are this design team’s specialty, and if you’d like to learn how to dip into your creativity to make them, this is the perfect place to start. Pieced blocks will help you tell any kind of story you wish: biographical, anecdotal, historical—even downright hysterical! A special section on piecing one-of-a-kind faces will get your mind racing with ideas.

Pieced face quilt blocks
So many opportunities for creativity!

You’ll find 13 pictorial blocks and seven quilts to make in the book, step by step. But more importantly, you’ll discover how to tap into your creative side to make your own stories come to life. Here are just a few examples of the whimsical stories Mary Lou and Melanie share in their quilts:

Purple Cow quilt
“Purple Cow”

Her Royal Highness quilt
“Her Royal Highness”

Nine Lives quilt
“Nine Lives”

See more from Out of the Box with Easy Blocks

Have you made pictorial quilts—or would you like to—and what was or will be the subject of your design? Share your ideas in the comments!

9 Comments (leave a comment)

  • Those are absolutely fabulous books! I especially loved seeing the steps in the mosaic quilts. What fun and the eye candy is very yummy!

    Debby Kratovil on July 15, 2013
  • Is the gridded transparency overlay included with the book or can this be purchased separately? How or where can one of these overlays be obtained?
    Thanks for the great pictures of what is inside the books!

    Hi Doris,

    We don’t provide the transparency, but we do provide 3 different sized grids that can be photocopied onto acetate to create the transparency. This is easily done at a photocopy shop.

    Thanks for your comment!

    —Doris on July 15, 2013
  • Pictorial quilts are so fun to make. I have made several with the applique method. Now I would love to try a mosaic picture. In fact I just bought a book on making them. It is not the same one as you have here, but same general method. It is going to be lots of fun experimenting to see what I can come up with.

    —Cindy on July 15, 2013
  • I haven’t done the pictorial quilts as shown above, however, I have created pictorial quilts from small patches sewn side by side to form a picture. One, I named, Autumn in the Mountains, which was sewn similiar to the Mosaic ocean scene without the gridded transparency overlay. I alternated, green and autumn colored fabrics to represent the colors of autumn in the trees.

    Another one of my "creations" was to use fabric resembling sunsets or early dawn and applique’ a silhouette of persons or animals in the "picture." My earlier paintings, and the ones that sold the most, were those of a wild horse cantering across the prairie with a sunset sky behind him. Others, included, a stag with a full rack of antlers, standing on a cliff, with a sunset behind him. Working with silhouettes were my favorites.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on July 15, 2013
  • I would love to make ‘The Purple Cow’ I collecct ceramic and stuffed cows. This would be a first for me both the cow and Pictorial.

    —ELIZABETH CROSS on July 16, 2013
  • Also love the purple cow quilt. After the Sisters Quilt Show in July and seeing them displayed I was inspired . Loved the imagination.

    —Mary on July 30, 2014
  • What great ideas. Got to get the book. I have had ideas in my head but never knew how to create them. Thanks so much.

    —Lynn Ferkovich on July 30, 2014
  • I have hand drawn an Eagle in flight coming into the trees to its nest
    I am doing hand sewn applique…..having never tried landscape quilting
    I need to know how to attach pieces do I attach to each other or to a full solid sheet of cotton.
    I have been quilting for years ….have had this image in my head ..& now have drawn up the pattern…can you help?

    Holly on October 24, 2014
  • merveilleuse cette techinique. Merci pour la presenter.

    Translation: This technique is wonderful. Thank you for introducing it.

    —Abigail pereira nunes guerry on December 5, 2017

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