How to Choose Photos for Compelling Photo Quilts

Happy New Year! I hope all of you got a chance during the holidays to spend some time with family and friends. I did, and I loved it.

In the coming year, I hope to spend more time focused on the things I am most passionate about, and my family and my creative pursuits top the list. Maybe I’ll even combine the two, making a photo quilt!

photo quilt by joan sowada
‘Friendship Mosaic,’ 38″ x 27″, by Joan Sowada.
Fused and machine quilted photo quilt.

There are so many resources today that make it easier than ever to create a photo quilt or a photo-inspired quilt. Phone cameras and photo-editing software make it a cinch to create picture quilts with digital imagery. You can also scan old photos into your computer and print them onto treated fabric, using image transfer techniques to make a family photo quilt or an art quilt inspired by photos.

Choosing the right image is key, however. Joan Sowada, who is renowned for her photo-based art quilts, offered the following tips for selecting an inspiration photo in the June/July 2011 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.

Find a photo that speaks to you. Photos that speak to us will have most of the following attributes: good composition, value contrast (all the way from white to black), unusual perspective, something unexpected, natural light, and they tell a story.

Look at the photo upside down and squint. When you see a photo right side up and you think it is good, turn it upside down to be sure. Most likely you will notice lines that lead the eye, a repetition of shapes, and a pleasing balance.

Ask questions. If the photo is lacking in strong composition or value contrast, can it be fixed with artistic license? Can design elements be added or subtracted from the photo? Can the contrast be exaggerated? Can you compensate for lack of value contrast by using a stronger color? If you can answer yes to these questions, proceed.

Art quilter Susan Brubaker Knapp also uses photography in quilt design, using paint and stitching to enhance the image. She offers the following advice on how to choose a photo for quilt design on her Quilting Arts WorkshopTM video Dynamic Quilt Design: Paint Meets Stitch.


cherries photo quilt by susan brubaker knapp
Susan Brubaker Knapp turned a photo of a plate of
cherries into a picture quilt with paint and stitch.

Work with your own photos.

By using photos you took yourself, you avoid copyright infringement and can feel free to alter the images at will.

Avoid too much detail. Images with a busy background or too much going on in the foreground will be more difficult to turn into a dynamic photo quilt design.

Make sure there’s a focal point.
If the photo doesn’t have a natural focal point, use photo-editing software to crop the image in a way that creates one.

I’ll bet you have a lot of photos from the past year you could use as inspiration for a picture quilt, a photo quilt, or a photo-inspired art quilt. In her Workshop, Susan shows you step by step how to take your images from photo to art quilt. Download your copy of Dynamic Quilt Design today and learn how to create quilts that will keep your family, friends, and memories closer this year.

P.S. Do you have a favorite image you’d like to turn into a photo quilt? Describe it below, or better yet, include a link to the image.

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2 thoughts on “How to Choose Photos for Compelling Photo Quilts

  1. I have a wonderful picture of my friends husband and son that I want to make into a small wall hanging for her birthday. What I like about it is that there are contrasts of curves in the ground and straight lines with the trees. Light and dark areas caused by the sun filtering through the trees around them and the similar colors of their clothing. An added pop is dad’s red hat and the son’s red shorts which I think really makes the image come together.

  2. @Honeylioness
    I took a peek at the photo you want to use. My fingers are itching to get started on your project! Would love to see the end result. I am drawn to this idea as well, but haven’t decided on a project at this time. (If you saw my studio, you would understand. ;})