Fabric Crafts: How to Transfer Photos Onto Fabric

What better way to showcase those favorite photos and to enhance your fabric crafts than to transfer photos onto fabric and sew them into useful items to be used or displayed?

I sought out someone who could relay a successful way to preserve these memories on fabric. I went to see Cheryl, fellow quilter, and my favorite librarian, and got the skinny on what to do.

Cheryl offered these preparation tips:

  • Gather the photos you want to use
  • Decide on a theme
  • Decide on the layout of the project and the placement of the photos in that project before printing on the fabric
  • Decide on picture size(s) to use: 5x7, 8x10, etc.

Materials Needed:

  • 100% cotton (like muslin) or 100% silk fabric. A light color is best for good color transfer.
  • Bubble Jet Set. This product is available online
  • Plastic, gallon-sized zip top bags
  • Freezer paper
  • Scissors
  • Printer and computer
  • Any photo editing program for your computer or pictures on CD
  • Iron and ironing board

Getting Started

  • Wash, dry and iron the fabric to be used for the photo transfer
  • Cut fabric to a size to fit your printer. 8 1/2 x 11 is a good size.
  • Put the cut fabric in a plastic, gallon-sized zip top bag, and pour in enough Bubble Jet Set to saturate the fabric.
  • Let soak five minutes.
  • Remove fabric from plastic bag and allow it to dry thoroughly.
  • Pour any leftover solution back in the bottle.

Print Prep

  • When dry, iron the Bubble-Jet-soaked fabric to the smooth side (shiny side) of white freezer paper. Make sure there are no creases or bubbles in the fabric.
  • Check to make sure you know what side of the fabric your printer will print on. Do a trial print check with a piece of paper marked to indicate the side to put face up for correct placement.
  • Select the photo(s) on your computer (from an editing program or disc) for your project.
  • Run the treated fabric through your printer with the freezer paper on the back, so that it prints on the fabric. Make sure there are no loose threads hanging from the fabric that can get caught in the printer. Also make sure your printer can handle the fabric.
  • Let the fabric with the photo transfer dry for at least 30 minutes.
  • Remove the freezer-paper backing.
  • Cut the fabric to the needed block size. Remember to leave enough fabric around the photo for a border or seam allowance.
  • Sew the project together.
  • Hand wash the photo transfer project with mild detergent, or machine wash cold on a gentle cycle.

This is just one way to transfer photos to fabric. There are several other methods and techniques available. Another method uses a color-copy, heat-transfer technique where your photo is transferred to a special paper that is then ironed onto fabric.

Cheryl made her mother a family quilt incorporating family photos with other blocks in a full-sized quilt. We brainstormed some other photo transfer projects we thought you might enjoy trying.

Project Suggestions:

  • Black and white wall hanging (black and white photos on a white background using a black-print fabric border)
  • Tote bag
  • Pillow
  • Graduation quilt using a photo for each school year with a graduation photo as a center block
  • Friendship quilt
  • Theme quilt showcasing a favorite sport
  • Memory quilt (retirement, vacation, etc.)
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