Saturday, July 17, 2004

Computer Assisted Landscape Quilts

Last year, I signed up for the On Land and Sea landscape quilt class at taught by Susan Brittenham.  Susan's process for creating landscape quilts involves creating a tracing from a photograph to find the major image edges, and enlarging the tracing using either a grid method or projection method.  The enlarged image is then retraced on to freezer paper to create templates for the individual pieces. 
This works well, but seemed a bit tedious to me, and since I'm somewhat manually challenged, I also found it to be a bit frustrating.  And I'll be frank, I use a pen or pencil so infrequently these days, that my hands quickly cramped up any time I did the tracings.
Ok, I'm a quilt nerd, so let's see what sort of technology I can throw at the problem.  The first step, of course, is to scan the photo into the this case I didn't have a digital photo to start from.  Photos on paper, how quaint .
The next step is to turn to some photo editting software.  For this task, I used Adobe Photoshop Elements as an editor.  This worked rather well, having all of the tools I needed for the job.  The editting process went through the following steps:

  1. Edit the photo with Elements.  Ok, no rocket science here.
  2. We're going to doing this process using multiple layers in the image.  So the first step we need is to create a second layer with a copy of the original photo.  To do this, select the menu item "Layer->Duplicate Layer".  You can accept the default name, or give it a more meaningful name.  I using call this "Edge Layer".
  3. Now we want to take advantage of the Elements graphics filters to jump start the tracing process for us.  When I first did this, I used the "Filter->Stylize->Edge Detect" filter to transform this into a tracing of the image edges.  Since then, I've poked around a little more and found "Filter->Sketch->Photocopy", which does sort of a black and white photocopy process on the picture.  This produces results much like Edge detect, but it has a couple of settings you can play with that can produce a more usable tracing of the image.
  4. Right now, all you can see is the traced image, which is all black and white.  It would also be helpful to be able so see some of the underlying color.  If you click on the Layer tab in the upper right corner, you can make the tracing layer partially transparent, so you can see some of the details of the original image.
  5. Ok, now let's create a layer to use for our pattern tracing.  Click on the menu item "Layer->New->Layer", and create a new image layer called "Pattern".  We're going to use the drawing tools to trace the major lines of the underlying image to create a pattern.
  6. To trace the image, select the Pencil tool from the drawing tools palette.  For the purposes of creating a pattern, a bolder line is preferred, so I recommend changing the pen size to 3 or 5 pts to create a bolder line.  Ok, use this pen to trace along the major lines of the drawing to create your line drawing.  Don't try to trace all of the edges created by the filter, you need to be a little more selective in deciding the major elements of the drawing.  Being able to see the original image using transparency helps a log.
  7. A couple of things to keep in mind:  1)  at any point, you can zoom the image to make it easier to trace a particular line.  2)  Don't be too anal!  You don't need to trace every line, nor do you need to trace every little dip and turn.  That level of detail will be lost when translated into fabric anyway.  Finer details can be created using the fabric choices, quilting, and other embellishments if you need to.  3)  I find tracing using the mouse to be difficult, so I picked up an inexpensive graphics tablet.  Wacom makes some nice, inexpensive tablets that allow you to use a pen for the tracing.   I found that to work better than a mouse, despite the aforementioned hand cramping problems .

Ok, I have an image, now what.  Well, we want to save this as a usable pattern.  Save what you've created first as a .PSD file so you keep all of the layers.  Now we want to create a .jpg file containing just the traced pattern you created.  This takes a couple of steps:

  1. Click on the "Layers" tab, and select the Background layer.  Select "Layer->Delete Layer".  Repeat for the "Edge Layer".
  2. At this point, we have just a pattern left, but the background has become an annoying checkerboard.  Select "Layer->New->Layer From Background" to create a new background layer. 
  3. Select "File->Save As".  This time we're saving this as a .jpg image rather than an Adobe .psd file, so make sure you change the Format item to JPEG for the save.  This will create a .jpg image containing just the tracing information. 

You now have an image containing a tracing of y0ur starting photograph, but this is not really in a usable form yet.  The next task is to get this sized to the size quilt you want to make.  It took a bit of looking around, but I found a nice program for this called Poster7.  Poster7 allows you to print out an image in any size, using multiple sheets of paper that you can then tape together to make a poster.  I find it handy to print directly on to freezer paper.  NOTE:  only do this if you have an ink jet printer.  DO NOT PRINT ON FREEZER PAPER WITH LASER PRINTER.  You can damage a laser printer if you try this, because laser printers use heat to set the toner on to the paper, and the heating elements will melt the plastic of the freezer paper.

The first time I tried this, I cut sheets of freezer paper from a roll and fed them into the printer.  I have a wide format printer, so I was able to cut larger sheets to use.  The curl from the rolling process was a bit of a pain, but it did work.  You can also buy freezer paper precut for printers, including a 12"x15" size.

IMPORTANT NOTE:   When you are printing on freezer paper, you are printing on the non-plastic side.  If you just print that way, you'll end up with a mirror image of the original photograph.  You may want to reedit the pattern .jpg file in Abode Elements and create a mirror image first.  When you print it out, the pattern will be drawn on the correct part of the freezer paper.

Ok, now print the pattern out on freezer paper, cut your templates, and you're off to the races.  Susan Brittenham recommends creating a master copy of the pattern to use for aligning the pieces once you've used the templates to cut the fabric pieces.  I found it useful to make the master from the layered original .psd file, printed to the same poster size on normal paper.  Since I created this with partially transparent layers, this master helps with both alignment and fabric selection, since I can see the colors from the original image too.  You might want to make the Edge Layer image transparent before printing, so you can see the full color of the poster.


At 9:30 PM, Blogger No Hippies in Alabama? said...

Yeah, anonymouse/troll/botfly, you are an idiot. Did you just graduate from the 6th grade? ANYWAY Rick...What I didn't get was the method of sewing this. Is it paper pieced or applique?

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Rick McGuire said...

This was done with machine applique. When you use the freezer paper templates to cut out the pieces, add an extra 14" all around the template. Then, working from the top of the quilt down, turn under the upper edge and lay on top of the pieces already in place and sew down using a narrow zigzag stitch. I used invisible nylon thread, but any thread compatible with where your working is fine. The pieces were all sewn onto a large piece of stabilizer.


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