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Book Review: Incorporating Digital Photography into Your Quilts

Digital Essentials: The Quilt Maker's Must-Have Guide to Images, Files, and More
By Gloria Hansen
The Electric Quilt Company, 2008
Paperbound, 208 pages

Quilting is a complicated, challenging hobby. For one thing, it involves math. On top of that, you have to have some spatial ability, and be able to visualize patches and blocks (sometimes in mirror image!) Then there's the hand-eye coordination. You need to be able to sew in a straight line without running the needle through your fingernail.

So why does a quilter need a guide to computer images? Aren't things difficult enough already? Resolution, cropping, resizing, megapixels . . . jpg, dpi, ppi . . . help!

Well, help is at hand. Everybody who has been awake the last ten years knows that computers have profoundly influenced every aspect of modern life, and quilting is no exception. People design blocks and quilts on computers, they scan photos and fabrics into their quilt designs, and they print out templates and patterns. Even sewing machines are computerized. Computer graphics is a complicated subject of its own, however, and most of us do not have the time to master all the finer points of sophisticated photo editing software. We need the essentials, and that's just what Gloria Hansen offers in this book.

Aimed at users of both Macintosh and Windows computers, Digital Essentials addresses the key image editing issues in the specific context of quilting and its special requirements. Quilters now need to submit digital photos to juried quilt competitions instead of prints or slides as in the past, and Hansen covers this topic comprehensively in its own chapter. Another chapter explores the advantages of dedicated quilt design programs over painting and photo-editing software. Need to prepare pattern diagrams and instructions that look professional? The information is here.

Along the way, Hansen demystifies the many arcane terms and concepts that make digital images so frustrating and hard to understand. She deals simply and clearly with such issues as manipulating image layers, sharpening focus, adjusting color balance, straightening, resizing, and resampling. At the same time, this book carefully explains the difference between the various digital file types, so that you can understand what a vector image does that a bitmap doesn't, and vice-versa.

Many quilters now display their work on the world wide web, and Hansen addresses a great many key issues that go beyond the merely technical, such as copyright and protection of images from appropriation by others who may encounter them on the web.

Presented in a large, quilt-book-like format with lots of white space and full-color illustrations, this book is far preferable to the 500-page tomes that purport to teach you everything there is to know in only 57 easy lessons. Gloria's credentials for this subject are well-established: not only an accomplished quilt designer and maker, she is a partner in an international web design company. This is her 14th book on this and related topics.

To get the most out of this handbook, you will want to have your favorite image editing program up on your computer screen to try out the techniques described. If you don't have Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro is available in a shareware version, and you can find yourself on the way toward proficiency in an area that will add new dimensions to your quilting.

Blending Photos With Fabric 2
By Mary Ellen Kranz
Electric Quilt Company, 2008
Paperbound, 144 pages

An ideal companion volume to Digital Essentials is Mary Ellen Kranz's sequel to her extremely popular earlier version of Blending Photos with Fabric. Kranz has taken a revolutionary but relatively simple idea, incorporating scanned photos into quilts, and moved it up to the next artistic level. Her use of photography in quilts is limited only by her imagination. Instead of merely embedding snapshots in her quilt designs, she bends and twists and rings changes on her images that add remarkable new dimensions to her work

To get there, Kranz breaks the process up into manageable pieces. The first and most subjective piece is inspiration, which she takes on in the first chapter. Especially revealing are two lists of visual inspiration that she cites that demonstrate her artistic development, and the developing sophistication of her vision. The first list of sources of inspiration includes such items as "sunsets," "mountains," "wildflowers," etc. A later list includes "shadows on the sides of buildings," "combinations of shapes," and "dichotomies," which clearly shows the increasing complexity of the visual stimuli for her creations.

The range of quilt designs that emerges from these inspirations is quite wide, from log cabin blocks made from scanned antique postcards, to highly abstracted versions of simple photographs, such as an iris blossom. Many of the quilts are realistic, but create newness by changing the perspective, placing a simple outdoor scene behind a window grid, for example. My favorite treatments are the more abstract or impressionistic designs, such as "Garden Pots" and "Dories at the Dock," that stray from too literal and photographic a representation of reality.

Other parts of the book deal with the technicalities of photography, image editing, and printing. Then the latter half of the book is devoted to 10 projects with complete instructions.

Get both these books at one great price in the Planet Patchwork store.


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