Author Archives: Diane Rusin Doran

Take Your Best Shot

My grandmother was a professional artist who worked in oils and watercolors. Her work was widely exhibited and sold. Though she took many photos, I would have to say that she was not a gifted photographer (despite her many other fine qualities!). The truth is that the technical quality of the photograph was not important to her. She was simply trying to capture the moment, whether the joy in a family gathering or an eye catching composition.

I’ll never forget sitting at our kitchen counter together one day drawing simple houses, flowers, and trees with markers. As she demonstrated the magic that happens when you paint a little water on the lines, I told her that I envied her ability to draw anything. Nana looked at me in surprise. She said that not only had it required a tremendous amount of practice, but she couldn’t draw much of anything simply from memory. She relied on sketches and photographs to reliably produce work with the correct proportions, scale, and lines. Wow! That was truly a light bulb moment for me.

We are lucky today that many of us have a camera, in the form of a phone, with us everywhere. We can easily use the photos we take as a reference for many aspects of quilt design, no matter what style we prefer. Whether we want to replicate a photograph as closely as possible, or simply use it as a reference or guide, the sky’s the limit.

This month’s cover artist, Cynthia England, used a photograph she took in Capetown, South Africa as the inspiration for her award winning piece Reflections of Capetown.

Cynthia England's original photograph
Cynthia England’s original photograph used to create the design for Reflections of Capetown
Reflections of Capetown ©Cynthia England
Reflections of Capetown ©Cynthia England

As you can see, Cynthia recreated her original photograph in great detail with her picture piecing technique. (You can see more info about how Cynthia creates her work in our May/June 2017 issue of the magazine.)

But what if you just want to create an appliqué that is reasonably accurate and recognizable as, say, a bird? Just take a photo and work from there. It doesn’t have to be pin sharp or perfectly composed to do the job.

Here’s a not so great photo I took through the dining room window. What is great is how the bird is posed. (And I do realize that some of you don’t like grackles, sorry!)

©Diane Rusin Doran
A quick shot of a grackle, taken through a window. (©Diane Rusin Doran)

If you enlarge this photo you’ll see that’s it’s grainy, and it has some extra birds that detract from the subject. However, if I’m using it for reference I can just ignore those extra bits. Here I’ve traced the outline of the main bird and the bird feeder. I simply printed the photo on an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper, placed a transparency on top, and used a marker.

A simple tracing of the photo above.

Voila! By just outlining some key parts of the photo, I have a reasonably shaped bird that’s well proportioned relative to the bird feeder. The beauty is that I can take what I want from one photo, and combine it with bits from others, or draw designs that are uniquely my own.

Here’s one of my favorite tricks, photographing or scanning a leaf or other flat object on a plain piece of paper.

Locust Leaf

The stark contrast makes it super easy to outline the leaf and create a design, whether appliquéd or stitched.

And, of course, you can also take pictures simply to remember a color combination or shape that you love. (See the blog posts here and here for more on that.)

I’ll always be grateful that Nana shared her artistic “secret” with me. We can’t all be world class photographers, but it’s not a necessary skill for creating pleasing and successful designs. Next time you’re having a bit of difficulty creating the right shape, line, proportions, or colors, just “take your best shot” and work from there.

Choosing Colors

Most quilters learn sooner or later that multicolored fabrics have a handy dandy tool on the edge of the selvedge. The manufacturers have kindly printed the separate colors used in the design right there on the edge of the fabric. How convenient! This allows us to easily select coordinating fabrics. (Of course, if you stay… Continue Reading

Fabulous Freezer Paper

Prior to becoming a quilter, I never gave freezer paper a second thought. It wasn’t my storage solution of choice, and it never occurred to me that it might have other uses. Due to its unique nature of having a paper side and a plasticized backing, it’s actually one of the most versatile supplies any… Continue Reading

AQS Lancaster Part III

Well, there were so many great quilts at Lancaster that I just can’t resist sharing amazing detail shots of a few last pieces. Here’s a detail from Marilyn Badger’s Pinball Wizard. It’s not the first time she’s made me believe in magic. Fabulous piecing, beading, and of course the quilting. Speaking of beading, check out… Continue Reading

AQS Lancaster Part II

Today it’s all about the details. Whether accomplished by hand or machine, all of these beauties seen at the 2017 AQS show in Lancaster certainly deserve a closer look. First off, Roses by Judith Craddock. Yes, completely handmade, these roses are simply lovely. And look at the tiny bees! Next, Fun and Fancy by Zena… Continue Reading

AQS Lancaster Part I

The spring quilt shows are in full swing! Last Friday I braved the rain and drove up to the Lancaster show and it did not disappoint. This year the lighting was *very* improved, affording a much better view of the quilts. Here are some that caught my eye. First off, Snow Bird by Charleen M. Van Steenberg.… Continue Reading

Spring Things

Spring!! I do believe it’s finally here. I don’t know about you, but we’ve certainly had a rocky start to spring here in Maryland. First unseasonably warm weather, then a period of freezing temperatures and snow that wreaked havoc on many plants that were blooming a little too early. Things are more normal now, and I’m… Continue Reading

Ready to start using rulers?

Last May I mentioned the wonderful three part series that Patsy Thompson was writing about ruler work on a domestic machine for MQU. Since then I’ve taken the plunge and am loving working with rulers on my own machine. It’s really fun! I am in no way as expert as Patsy is, but, as a relative… Continue Reading

Happy National Quilting Day!

Today is National Quilting Day, and it’s not too late to celebrate! I haven’t managed to actually quilt yet today, but have spent a bit of time reading and reviewing books for our May/June 2017 issue. (Spoiler alert: there’s quite a crop of good quilting books out there just now.) I’m hoping to get a… Continue Reading

Batting Basics

Batting is often an afterthought, especially for newer quilters. But since batting can dramatically change the look and feel of your work it’s really quite important. Here are a few things to consider when selecting the right batting for your project. How will you use the finished quilt? Will it hang on the wall, be… Continue Reading