Pets Are ‘People,’ Too!

I am a proud aunt to several fur babies and feathered friends my sister is raising. Her family includes four dogs, a cat, two horses, and several chickens. Each is special to her, with personalities and unique characteristics. If you are a pet mom or dad, I’m sure you understand.

My sister has a milestone birthday coming up and I’d been racking my brain for the perfect gift when I remembered the pet portraits of Jane Haworth. What better gift than that!? Jane uses a photo as inspiration and fabric collage techniques to create her beautiful pet portraits. The April/May 2019 issue of Quilting Arts featured her step-by-step technique—plus the cover of the magazine featured her quilt, “Tilly.”

The first step—a great photo—is not a problem for me. My partner is a professional photographer and recently shot several of my sister’s animals for a ‘family’ portrait. It will actually be hard to choose from all of the great photos he took, but the bounty allows me to be picky. The photo must be well focused and have good contrast—value—between light and dark areas of the fur, especially on the faces.

Artwork by Jane Haworth and photo by

Fabric selection is next. A wide range of value and contrast is of paramount importance. Even more than color or hue. And Jane says exaggerating the contrast somewhat is also a key to success. Her Quilting Arts cover quilt “Tilly” was made in shades of purple and gray—and those fabulous oranges for the eye and background—and it is stunning. The balance of values is so spot-on you don’t even question that the cat is purple! She really got the highlights and lowlights of Tilly’s face just right. And bringing life to the eyes with ‘catchlights’ is also super important.

I think my sister might prefer realism, though, so I will stick with mostly natural colors. Luckily, her dogs are all sorts of shades of yellow, orange, brown, gray, black, and white so I’m positive I can strike a good balance—with a little purple or green thrown in for humor, perhaps!

A variety of fabric is also important, and prints are often more effective than solids. I will search my stash for small-scale prints, batiks, tone-on-tones, and interesting prints of all sorts. I think some black-and-white or gray-and-white prints will be great, too. Even a bold or bright fabric used in small, judicious pieces will work—and may help give the quilt a little zip.

I like the ‘furry-ness’ that raw-edge appliqué creates and think that technique will work best for my pet portrait. I will build each dog’s portrait separately—using Jane’s technique from the magazine of gluing pieces onto lightweight interfacing—and then assemble the ‘family’ together on the background before quilting.

Artwork by Jane Haworth and photo by

Free-motion quilting will also provide another opportunity to add texture—like tufts of fur, eyelashes, and more—to my quilt. I may use a combination of solid-colored and variegated threads, too, especially in the negative space of the background. When Jane was a guest on Quilting Arts TV Series 2400, she recommended the quilting follow the direction of the fur. She also used her quilting to thread sketch things such as whiskers and to extend elements past their shapes which helped blend the fabrics together.

So the plan is in my head … time to start! But, shhh, don’t tell my sister so it will be a surprise.

Not ready to try it ‘solo’ but intrigued to create a pet portrait of your own? Join Lea McComas for an online course, Pet Portraits Memory Quilts, beginning soon. She’ll walk you through the steps and help you feel confident about your quilt art.

Sew happy to share this with you!

Until next time,

HEADER IMAGE: “Zeke” (detail) by Jane Haworth
CREDIT: Photos by

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