Let Your Hair Down: Portrait Quilt Techniques to Try

As the daughter of a hairstylist, I constantly find myself looking at hair–whether it’s people in movies, photographs, or in person, my eye is naturally drawn to their tresses. The cut, the color, the texture—there is so much to look at and everyone’s hair is different!

Portrait quilt by Laurie Ceesay embellished with yarn, beads, and more
“1974: Good Hair” by Laurie Ceesay

With such affection for hair, I can’t help but notice the coiffures of each subject featured in portrait quilts. I’m particularly taken with the hairstyle-inspired portrait quilts made by Laurie Ceesay. As a hairdresser, Laurie has been exposed to a plethora of hairstyles, fashion, and artistic makeup applications, all of which show up as elements in her art quilts.

This portrait quilt combines raw-edge applique and embellishments including nail polish and beads.
“The Blue Wig” by Laurie Ceesay

Laurie chooses her portrait quilt designs based on a fun hairstyle she wants to create or her desire to work within a particular color palette. Here are a few guidelines Laurie follows when selecting fabric for her striking portrait quilts:

Hair—Select fabrics for the hair in 3–4 similar variations in the same color family. Batiks, tone-on-tone prints, and solids work well.

Skin—Select fabric for the skin in 5–6 gradations of one color. Keep your selections similar so the colors melt together. You will need to select a highlight color and a contour color from this group.

Facial features—Scraps of solid batiks or tightly-woven solids work well.

Clothing—Anything works, from polka dots to large-scale prints.

Background—Use either a single piece of fabric, or make a patchwork background (including borders if you wish). For the best results, select background fabrics that have plenty of contrast against the rest of your design.

Embellished art Quilt by Laurie Ceesay
“Violetta” by Laurie Ceesay

If you’re like me and want to showcase your subject’s hairdo, Laurie has a few suggestions for embellishing hair in portrait quilts you may want to try:

  • Try hand stitching fuzzy yarn to the hair area to add realistic texture.
  • Braid yarn or pieces of fiber and attach them to the hair area, leaving some of the braid dangling free.
  • Add a bit of tissue lamé or sheer shimmer fabric to add a fashion-forward effect.
  • Add shiny beads, shimmer paint, or glitter to accentuate areas intended to be sparkly.
  • Silk flowers and leaves, buttons, felt pieces, netting, and old jewelry can be used to accessorize the hair.

While we may not all be hairdressers, or have a stylist in the family, we can all agree the treatment of the subject’s hair, or lack thereof, can be a key design element of a portrait quilt. Discover how Laurie creates her portrait quilts from creating the illustration to completing the final stitches to attach the binding when you download your copy of Quilting Arts Presents: Portraits in Cloth. If you’re interested in portrait quilts, you’re sure to discover techniques, tips, and inspiration!

Happy quilting!

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