Turn a black and white photo into a fabric portrait

My father’s 80th birthday was fast approaching and I wanted to give him something a little more special than a tie and socks.

I had some monochrome fabric remnants collecting dust in my craft cupboard and after admiring some impressive applique projects by other crafters on the Web, I decided to try making a fabric portrait of my dad. I found the perfect shot to replicate—his passport photo when he was 21 years old.

How did I make it?

In Photoshop, I just pixelated the photo a bit so the shadows would stand out more. Then I printed the photo to fit a piece of 11” x 17” bond paper.

Next, I made my pattern pieces by placing tissue paper over the printout and tracing all the various parts that I would need to cut from fabric.

Then I selected my fabric: light grey for the main face, medium grey for the shadows, charcoal for the hair and eyebrows, white and light grey for the shirt, and actual grey suit fabric for the jacket. Then to add a bit of interest, I used a deep crimson fabric for the tie.

I chose a plain white fabric with a bit of texture for the background and penciled the basic outline and main features of the picture onto the fabric for placement. Then I cut out all the pieces, allowing for overlap in some places, and basically just laid the pieces out on top of the background, layering them as they would appear naturally in the photo.

Initially, I used straight pins to fasten the pieces to the background, then carefully hand-basted everything in place.

Last, I used a small zigzag stitch on my sewing machine to stitch it all together.

Believe it or not, the bulk of this project was finished in a day! Once all the pieces were cut out and pinned down, the rest was a piece of cake.

Now, wasn’t my father a handsome fellow? (And yes, you still are, dad!)

(Below, left to right, my dad’s passport picture that I worked from; my finished and framed fabric portrait; an 80th birthday card/book I made for him as well.)

quilt_applique karl1



  1. Susan said,

    September 29, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    An awesome likeness! He must have been very pleased!


  2. Nora said,

    September 27, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Your father is lucky to have you as a daughter, Donna.


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