Quilting is a wonderful art form with endless design possibilities. You can make personalized gifts that are heartfelt and memorable, especially when you include personal photos. Many people don’t know this, but you can actually transfer photos onto fabric and incorporate them into a quilt! There are a few different methods of doing this, and we’ll detail them all below.
Methods For Transferring Photos To Fabric
There are a variety of ways you can transfer a photo to a piece of fabric. The method you choose will depend on the tools you have access to and what you want the final product to look like.
Method One: Use Photo Transfer Paper
This method is often used for printing photos on t-shirts, but it works great for a variety of crafting purposes. Photo transfer paper is applied with an iron, and can be applied to aprons, cotton bags, pillowcases, tablecloths and even on hard surfaces such as wood.
- Begin by picking out your photo transfer paper at your local craft store. Photo transfer paper is available in a variety of styles, so make sure to buy the kind that is compatible with the type of printer you have at home (ink-jet vs. laserjet). You can also buy different types of photo transfer paper, light and dark, to match the type of fabric you’re using. Read the directions on the back of the package to ensure the paper is compatible with the type of fabric you’re planning to use.
- Now, you can print your image. Place your paper in your printer, and print your image as you normally would. If the image has text, you’ll need to reverse the photo on your computer before printing; otherwise, your text will be backwards once you transfer it to the fabric. Make sure you print the image on the correct side of the paper, as indicated in the directions. Trim around the edges of your printed image with scissors or a rotary cutter (see how to properly use a rotary cutter here).
- Now, it’s time to iron on your image. For best results, place a pillowcase on a hard surface, such as a countertop or kitchen table (not an ironing board). Place your fabric right-side up, smooth out any wrinkles, then place your transfer paper right-side down, making sure your image is centered. Press with a hot, dry iron.
- Let cool for a moment, then peel away your paper in one, smooth motion. This should reveal your perfectly transferred image.
Method Two: Use Freezer Paper
Freezer paper is intended for use in the kitchen, but it comes in handy for a variety of crafting purposes. It is not the same as wax paper or parchment paper. One side of the paper is plastic-coated, designed to provide a barrier to air and moisture, and the other side is a durable paper that can be written on. The freezer paper method is super convenient, as it basically allows you to run a paper-sized piece of fabric through your printer so that you can print the image directly on the fabric.
For best results, you’ll want to use a laserjet printer. If you have an inkjet printer, you can set the image with vinegar once you’ve finished printing or look for a commercially treated and designed product to be printed on.
- Begin by pressing your fabric and cutting both your fabric and your freezer paper. Cut both into a rectangle that measures 8 1/2″ x 11″, the size of a standard piece of paper. It’s a good idea to use a sturdy piece of cardstock as a template, so you can get the measurements precise. We also recommend cutting with a rotary cutter for precision and smoothness.
- Fuse your freezer paper and your fabric together using an iron. Make sure to press the waxy side of the freezer paper to the back side of your fabric.
- Place your freezer paper and fabric into your printer, and select the “photo” setting for best results. Run a test sheet of paper through your printer first to make sure you’re printing in the correct orientation. Then, run your fabric through the printer so the image prints on the cloth side. The freezer paper is there to provide stability and support so the image doesn’t warp.
Method Three: Use A Gel Medium
This method probably requires the most materials, but it’s a really fantastic way to transfer images. This works best on solid linens, cotton-blends, or canvas fabrics with no stretch. As far as materials go, you’ll need Liquitex Gel Medium (this is the magic ingredient), a paintbrush, a dry-toner printed image (make sure to reverse it if it has text), and a spray bottle filled with water.
Seven Steps to Perfection
- The first step is to copy your image onto a piece of paper. You can print an image online, or you can even photocopy an object like a playbill, a postcard, a scrapbook page, or something similar. This is a great way to incorporate keepsakes into your quilts!
- Apply a thick coat of Liquitex Gel Medium onto the right side of the printed image with a paintbrush.
- Press the image right-side down onto the fabric, and smooth out any wrinkles. Let the image dry for at least a few hours, preferably overnight. It’s a good idea to get a heavy book to place on top of the image, to weigh the image down while it dries.
- Once your image is dry, use a spray bottle to thoroughly wet the entire image. You can also use a wet rag if you don’t have a spray bottle. Starting in the center of the image, gently use your fingers to rub the paper off the back of the image. Be gentle; if you rub too hard, the image will come off as well.
- Once you’ve gotten most of the paper off, soak the image in water again, and continue rubbing gently until you’ve got all the small bits of paper off.
- Take the fabric to the sink and rinse the image with water to get the remaining crumbs of paper off.
- Hang the fabric out to dry, or lay it out flat in the sun. If you plan on washing your fabric, paint an extra layer of gel medium on top of the finished image to make it more durable.
Photo Quilt Ideas
Once you’ve learned how to transfer photos onto fabric to incorporate them into a quilt, there are so many amazing, heartfelt projects you can make! We’ve compiled some of our favorite photo quilt ideas below.
Wedding Gift Quilt:
Making a wedding gift for a couple that incorporates some special photos of them is a super special idea. You can take one central photo, perhaps an engagement photo, or you can use many photos of the couple throughout the years of their relationship. You can even add their name and their wedding date to make the quilt extra special.
Making a memory quilt for a loved one who has passed away is extremely therapeutic and makes a wonderful gift for a grieving family. You can incorporate photos of your loved one, colors that were special to them, even some old clothing of theirs. Memory quilts allow you to feel wrapped in the embrace of your family member or friend, even when they’re no longer with us.
Vacation Memory Quilt:
If you’ve gone on a trip that you always want to remember, what better way to hang on to those memories than to make a vacation memory quilt? You can incorporate special photos from your trip and apply appliques that remind you of all the adventures you went on. You can snuggle up under your quilt and feel like you’re back in a tropical climate, no matter what the weather outside is.
If you know a young graduate who’s going off to college, a graduation quilt makes a great (and useful!) gift. You can incorporate photos from their graduation and use fabrics that match their high school or college colors. You can even add appliques of their school’s mascot! No matter how far they travel, they’ll always have a piece of home with them to bring them comfort.
There are so many wonderful quilting techniques that allow you to make gifts that are personalized, heartfelt, and functional. Incorporating photos into your quilts makes them even more special. There are a variety of ways you can transfer photos onto a piece of fabric for quilting, and each way requires different materials. Just use whichever method is easiest for you, and you’re sure to end up with a dazzling quilt that will be the envy of all your friends and family!
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