Make A Photo Transfer Quilt

If you have an inkjet printer, you can make this photo quilt as a gift for someone special.

If you have contemplated upgrading your color inkjet printer to a laser model, you may want to hold your horses and reconsider. On a laser printer, you will not be able to print photographs that you have scanned onto most commercial brands of T-shirt transfer paper. Laser printers generate more heat as the paper runs through the feed tray, and the adhesive on the transfer paper that allows the picture to bond to your fabric item will literally melt, ruining your printer.

The realm of photo transfer to fabric projects has broadened a great deal in recent years. Home crafters are finding that they do not necessarily have to rely on those thermal transfer stands hawking T-shirts, mugs, and calendars made from their hastily snapped, pixelated, low-resolution photo at the mall anymore.

Another item that home crafters will not have to wish that they could have made for them by someone who owns a thermal transfer press (which can be costly) is a photo album quilt. This is an ideal gift for someone that enjoys family keepsakes.

Inkjet Printer Considerations

You will want to make sure that your has moderate to high resolution, preferably of around 300 dots per inch (dpi) or more. Although your image manipulation software on your computer and your monitor may offer you 16- and 32-bit color capability, your printer (especially an inkjet) may only offer you 256 colors. You will also want to check your printer's properties on the control panel or printer folder of your computer to see if it is capable of printing heavier paper stock. When you prepare to print your picture on our fabric, you will want to specify a paper type in that menu that accommodates transfer paper. A good-quality inkjet will print transfer paper, photo paper with a glossy finish, greeting or business cards, labels, envelopes, or transparencies for an overhead projector.

Transfer Paper Considerations

You can purchase T-shirt transfer paper at most office supply stores, or in the computer and electronics section of stores like Wal-Mart or Kmart. Unlike regular printer paper that you can purchase by the ream for roughly ten dollars, transfer paper usually comes in a packet of ten to 20 sheets, and it costs around 15 to 20 dollars. You will want to plan your project carefully so you can use your paper sparingly. It is important to print only the pictures that you like the best and that have the best image quality and resolution.

T-shirt transfer paper comes in a standard size of 8.5 by 11 inches.

Selecting Your Fabric

Cotton blends like calico are excellent for quilting, and plain fabrics like broadcloth and muslin are ideal for transferring photos. Opt for pale colors like white, dove gray, beige, or pale yellow as background fabric for your photos. The pictures will show up easily on light fabrics such as these.

You will want to prewash all of your fabric before you begin to cut. With cotton fabrics, some shrinkage will occur.

Color schemes in a photo quilt can be very precise and coordinated, or they can be very random, depending on the colors in the majority of your photos. Black and white photos are a very sensible choice also, since they do not lose much of their quality from scan to print.

Manipulating Your Images

Once you have either scanned your photos or downloaded them as image files from your digital camera, you can import them into your graphics program for retouching, resizing, color adjustment, or cropping. For line art, the best picture format is a GIF file; for photos, however, you may want to save the image as a JPEG. The GIF file will have a .gif extension. The JPEG file will have a .jpg extension. This is how you will identify them on your disk once you save them. Another image format that has some nice advantages is the Encapsulated Postscript file, also called an EPS. This file type has an .eps extension after the filename. An EPS is a vector graphic that does not lose image quality or resolution each time that you resize it.

Once you import your photos into your graphics software package, this is an excellent time to correct things like red-eye, a thumb or finger that was showing in the lens, hairlines, date stamps, or objects in the background that you don't want.

If you are adding text to your image, you will want to flip your image backwards before you save it. This will make the text read in the right direction once you transfer it into the fabric.

If your photos are of varying sizes, you may want to resize them to the same size, as long as doing so does not compromise the image quality. An 8x10 photo with many people in it might not look good any smaller than about 4x6.



Once you have your photo images saved on disk at the size that you want, start thinking about how big you want your quilt squares.

Planning Your Quilt

When creating a photo quilt, you will want to keep the design simple. Plot the design around the number of photos that you will use. For example, if you have 24 photos saved as 2x3-inch JPEG files, you will obviously need 24 squares of pale fabric to use as a background for them. If you want to make the quilt with alternating squares of color, then you will need an equal number of contrasting squares.

It may help to draw your quilt out on grid paper with two different color pencils to give yourself an easy pattern to follow.

Cutting Your Squares

When deciding you big you want your quilt squares, make sure that you have enough fabric surrounding each side of your photo. For 2x3-inch photos, a good size for the quilt square is about 6x6 inches. To ensure that your quilt squares do not "shrink" when you sew them together, add a 5/8-inch seam allowance around every side. If some of your squares are actually made from two triangles of contrasting fabrics, make sure to first cut a square of paper to your desired size, cut it in half diagonally, and THEN add the 5/8-inch seam allowance to each side. This will keep all of your single-fabric squares and two-fabric squares equal in size.

After you have cut all of your pale squares of fabric for your photos, it is time to begin printing.

Conserving Transfer Paper

Open your image files in your graphics programs. In the print menu, select your specialty paper setting and the highest quality graphics setting. Do not select a setting that economizes on the amount of time that it takes to print, you want your images to look good.

If possible, import at least two to four of your images into one document, or even into a page layout or word processing program that will allow you to line your images up side by side. If you are working with small images like wallet photos, you can easily print four of them on one sheet of transfer paper.

Feed the paper into the printer with the backside facing up, or according to the manufacturer's instructions. Remove each sheet of paper from the printer immediately after printing, and lay them flat and face up to dry. Avoid letting the edges curl. Do not stack the prints on top of each other or bump into each other on the printer tray as they are coming out. They will smear.

Once they are dry, you can cut the photos apart, leaving a few millimeters of white space around the borders.

Transferring the Prints

Center each transfer face-down on your fabric square. Iron it according to your the paper manufacturer's instructions. This will usually involve pressing firmly over each corner of your picture, and then pressing the center. Try not to move the iron around in a sliding motion over the transfer. Allow each transfer to cool completely before continuing to move or manipulate the fabric.

Constructing the Quilt

Once you have transferred all of your photos to fabric, line up all of your quilt squares on the floor (make sure the floor is clean). Alternate squares so that every other square is a different color, and so that the photos are evenly distributed. Then, start turning the squares and pinning them right-sides together on their vertical sides. Machine-stitch them together and press the seam allowances open. You should then have several long strips of alternating fabric.

Now, pin the long strips right-sides together on the long sides, in the same order that you had them laid out on the floor. Press the seam allowances open and trim the corners. You now have the topside of your quilt.

Finishing Touches

Purchase enough quilt batting to line the entire quilt, this will make the quilt warm and fluffy. On the wrong side of the quilt, pin the batting at the edges and tack it down with your sewing machine around each side. You may even want to tack the batting down with hand stitches or decorative yarn loops at the corner of each picture square. This will keep the batting from bunching up in the laundry when you wash the quilt. You can also substitute an old blanket cut to match the size of the quilt panel for the batting.

Cut a piece of backing fabric (a good choice is broadcloth, calico, or upholstery fabric that is equal to your quilt panel. Place the panel and the backing right-sides together, pin them, and machine-stitch the raw edges together, leaving a five-to-six-inch opening in the seam so you can turn it right side out. Grade the seam allowances, clip the corners, and turn the quilt right side out. Slipstitch the opening together.

This quilt makes a nice throw for a sofa, or it looks nice hanging from a wall or quilt rack. Display the quilt in any high traffic area of your home as a conversation piece.

© High Speed Ventures 2011