Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Exploring Pixel Quilts

Ever wanted to make a pixel quilt? There is something really fun about recognising a shape from squares. The brain is amazing at making sense of changes in colour and contrast and every pixel quilt I’ve seen has made me smile!
Baby Penguin

I first came across pixel quilts when I saw Monica Solario Snow’s Ron Swanson quilt. Now I had no idea who Ron Swanson was but I thought the idea of making a portrait quilt from squares could be fun. A lot of others enjoyed this quilt too and it has gone on quite a tour – see The Happy Zombie’s page for some photos of Ron travelling about the place. Ron Swanson is a character in Parks & Recreation according to Wikipedia! I’ve never seen the program but the reaction to one of the characters in quilt form on the net makes me think I’m missing out!

Mum in lots of pixels on left and less on right!
Faces do make great subjects for pixel quilts. Kerry @ Pennydog has made a brilliant Stephen Fry quilt and the portrait quilt of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor Who is well worth a look here on St. Louis Folk Victorian.

Coming up with a plan for a pixel quilt can be a bit daunting. Where do you start? There is always the option of colouring pencils and graph paper but most people use cross stitching software.

Kirsty at St. Louis Folk Victorian used a free program called Pic 2 Pat to create the plan for her Doctor Who quilt. This is also recommended by Caro Sheridan in the free Craftsy Class Pictures to Pixel Quilts. In this free class Caro gives advice on choosing an image, de-cluttering the background and using photo editing software and Pic 2 Pat to make a pixelated image.

Pic 2 Pat is designed for cross stitchers so there are options for stitches per inch and canvas size. Depending on how big you want your quilt you can play around with these options. I chose 8 stitches per inch and used 8.0 x 5.0 as a starting point to generate these images. Once you have chosen your size it pixelates the image and gives you options on the number of colours. The more colours the greater realism but the more expensive your quilt and the more piecing involved. Anywhere from 8 to 15 colours is good for a starting point.
Too many colours & detail for a quilt?
If you follow the Craftsy class the whole way through Caro Sheridan shows you how to use a Google docs spread sheet or Excel to redraw your design and set up the spread sheet to calculate your yardage and cutting plan for you. You may want to watch this more than once and work through an example while watching the videos. I must admit I fell asleep twice trying to watch this on my tablet!

Kirsty used DMC colours, for Doctor Who, to generate her pattern and then, went to the craft shop and bought one skein of each embroidery thread colour and used that against a Kona colour card, to figure out what fabric to buy. Rather than mess around with the maths, she started with a bundle of each colour and added to it as she was running out. Leftovers went into stash! I like this improvised make do and not overly complicate it approach!

Alida at Tweety Loves Quilting is running a series of tutorials called Stretch you Skills (SYS2015) and one of the tutorials by the Bored Zombie outlines step by step how to chose an image and pixelating it with KG-Stitch. This is not a free program but Shareware which means you can use it free for 30days and then expect to pay approximately 30dollars for a software licence. The great thing about this software and a reason you might want to consider paying for it, is it will count the numbers of squares per colour in your design for you. You can decide how big you want your squares and thus your quilt and multiply the quantity by size to start calculating your yardage.

Andi from PatchAndi has created an online program to do all of this work for you. It's called YouPatch and it is free to play with, pixelating your image and even offers a re-colouring or touch up editing function. To download the pattern you have to pay $9.50 per pattern.

Once you open the pattern, you get a full page image of your quilt, a diagram showing how the pattern has grouped your colours and a block by block layout. Fabric yardage is calculated, as is cutting instructions by colour, all based on Kona fabric so it is easy to find or substitute if you have a Kona colour card. Andi even gives you a cutting chart from yardage for all your pieces. The pattern is well laid out and offers a lot of content.

It does come with a Licence section right at the beginning, advising the pattern is for personal use only, and if you want to make more than 1 or 2 quilts you need to contact YouPatch for a licence. It is quite common for patterns to have a personal use only clause, some will have a limit of what is considered normal for 1 person to make (e.g. 25 a year), others don’t specify. I emailed Andi about this limiting the use to 1 or 2 for more explanation. Andi was super fast in her reply and explained as follows:
“The license we provide with our patterns assumes "personal use". We understand that occasionally people will make a commission or two from our patterns and that's OK. But what we want to avoid is someone purchasing a pattern from us and using it to produce commercial quantities of quilts for sale, without reaching an appropriate commercial arrangement with us. If in doubt, we encourage customers to get in touch and have a chat with us. We like to think we are pretty reasonable folk.”
When in doubt, it is always a good idea to ask the question and if you want more information Andi can be reached through the YouPatch contact page. For more info on copyright see this excellent blog post over at While She Naps.

So which would I use? Well, I tried 3 different methods to make a plan for this image of our Jack Russell Terrier Charly. (I took this photo on holidays in Kilkee a few years back and it’s one of my favourites of her!)

Initially I uploaded the image to YouPatch and Pic2Pat and found that the background was throwing off the pattern making a bit. YouPatch allows you to re-colour and it seemed the most affected so I spent a bit of time playing with that and then thought this is going to be huge and will take forever, so I thought about taking the background out. YouPatch very kindly gives an estimation of time to make your design and this was 70-92hrs!

YouPatch on left, Pic2Pat on right
Removing the background and simplifying again gave this.
Again YouPatch on left and Pic2Pat on right!
An uncluttered clean background helps a lot when planning your quilt and means less piecing! You can remove the background of your chosen subject by painting over it with MS Paint, or removing it with a photo editor like Photoshop, or the free web program Pixlr editor.

Finally, after using both programs I decided to give it a go myself. Opening the image in Photoshop and resizing to 72 pixels x 96 wide gave me a tiny photo (figuring 1” squares per pixel).

Zooming in gives you the pixelated look as resizing has removed a lot of detail. Turning on the grid and setting it to major every 8 pixels with 8 divisions gives me a grid 1 pixel in size. I took a screen shot and pasted it into excel. Making the excel columns and rows match at 30 pixels gave me a square grid and I resized my image so the image grid and the excel one lined up. Then i was able to print my plan 8 squares x 8 to create my blocks.
To figure out my colours I could go trial and error off a Kona colour card or go to Playcrafts and use their palette builder to pick out Moda Bella or Kona colours from my image. You can import Kona swatches into illustrator and re-paint your image with them too if you really like. To be fair pixelating an image from a photo is going to have way more than 15 colours and really needs to be simplified a bit like the other patterns!

Any which way you look at it, it’s a lot of work to make a pixel quilt, which makes me more appreciative of those Kerry and Kirsty made above. Keep the image simple, eliminate the background if you can, seems to be the way to go for the least amount of time involved. If all of this puts you off but you love the idea of a pixel quilt, Andi offers a custom service on YouPatch where you can pay her to create your pattern for you from your own photo. The standard rate is $30.
So what do you think?  Think Charly should be immortalised in fabric or maybe taken for a walk instead? I know which she’d prefer!


  1. I see that YouPatch shows where, to save time, you can cut larger pieces of fabric where one colour is grouped in the image. Is this feature included in KG-Stitch or Pic 2 Pat etc.?

    This seems like it would be a good feature to have.

  2. Hi Joy, the Pic2Pat and KG stitch are designed for cross stitchers who would patiently build the background square by square with thread. If you choose to use the cross stitch software you would have to print your pattern, decide on a 5x5 or 8x8 block and mark that out using a pencil. then group as many of the same colour as you can within your blocks keeping it to squares and rectangles. Hope this makes sense to you!

    YouPatch does it all for you and gives you the cutting chart too, of course you have to pay for a pattern for each design you make.

  3. Pixel quilts are so fun! Thanks for linking to my tutorial, I think you did a great job reviewing different software. Personally I prefer to do the manual work myself of coloring squares in a spreadsheet: it helps me having a better understanding of the complexity of the design (and future piecing challenges) and I can easily incorporate functions that count the amounts of fabric needed and the number of squares! It's time consuming but worth the effort in my opinion!
    And I think that Charly deserves both a quilt and a walk ;)


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