Threads Make Feathers, Guest Post


My photo teacher [Meet Meg] is also a brilliant seamstress. She sews all manner of things, including tuffets, known as footstools to us peasants. She makes, sells, and teaches about them through her business, Tuffets To You. But I digress. Since she sews, I asked about the possibility of a quilt for the letter Q this year. She made a lovely piece. However, I found the process fascinating. I didn’t want it buried in an alphabet post. Instead, I asked her to write up what was new adventure for her.

As a professional photographer, I’ve had many, many photographs published in print … But, turning a photograph into an embroidered image on fabric was a first.

Welcome Meg.

Threads Make Feathers
Photographs and Story by Meg McKinney

Oh, those glorious tail feathers that emerge every spring, just so the peacock can attract his favorite peahen. They’re so flashy and colorful, she can’t miss them, or him. He shakes them gently, reminiscent of a disco glitter ball, with high hopes for successful wooing.

During this annual wooing season, like many others armed with a camera, I try to capture this stunning sight of peacocks with their plumage. But, I’ve learned that they have their own schedule, priorities, and really aren’t interested in having their picture made. Before you can press Auto Focus, they’ve scampered away.

I got lucky a few times with my iPhone camera, one spring day at Stepping Stone Farm Riding Academy, Chelsea, AL, where peacocks, guineas, barn cats, and registered American Saddlebreds, comfortably reside.

Once the wooing season is over, his stunning tail feathers fall to the ground, like shedding a winter coat, allowing him to be more nimble for the rest of the year.

I was inspired to make a peacock-themed quilt, based on this photograph.


My quilt guild, the Evening Star Quilt Guild, Pelham, AL, had a challenge, for a sub-group, the Machine Quilting Bee, announced in May, due in August. The challenge was an outline of a stitch pattern of a bird with plumage, feathers as a quilting design, surrounded with branches and berries. It was a very pretty design. We had to turn in a finished quilt – any size – finished with quilting and binding, that incorporated this design.

I signed up for this challenge because, for me, it was a challenge – truly.

Other quilters seemed to know exactly what to do with the challenge pattern. I wasn’t sure what to do. I first thought of appliqué – French for apply – where each part of a pattern is cut out in a fabric to match the design and colors, and stitched by hand or machine, around the outer edges to a background fabric. I usually do machine appliqué on my Bernina sewing machine, using a buttonhole stitch, or small zigzag.

Naah, I wouldn’t get it finished, even with three months to make it.

Next thought – use one of my photographs of the peacocks at Stepping Stone Farm and use the machine appliqué style for peacock feathers that I’d seen in a quilt book, Black & White, Bright & Bold, by Kim Schaefer (C&T Publishing), page 15, for a quilt called “Peacock Feathers.” I would quilt the challenge pattern in the borders and around the quilt.

Ohhhh, I could just feel creative juices flowing with ideas and colors and fabrics – teals, aqua, jades, and golds for the feathers, and browns for the backgrounds, similar to stall doors.

But, how would I turn the peacock photograph into threads on fabric, that would be a peacock?

Rickie Deaver, also a member of Evening Star, and the Machine Bee, graciously came to my rescue, with her updated Bernina Embroidery Software 7 program, that can “digitize” a photograph into a machine embroidered image.

As a professional photographer, I’ve had many, many photographs published in print – newspapers, magazines, posters, brochures, album covers, and online websites. But, turning a photograph into an embroidered image on fabric was a first.

After running the peacock photograph through Photoshop, to check colors, and sharpen the edges — after all, this was an iPhone photo, and not a full sensor image from my Canon 5D Mark III camera — I e-mailed it to Rickie, who downloaded it into her embroidery software.

We scheduled a work session at her home, to digitize and stitch the peacock photograph onto a white, muslin background.

Because this photograph was more complex than usual, the computer “had to think about” some of the steps, as Rickie said. Then the Bernina program translated it into thread colors and patterns. Her patience was amazing.

Bernina’s software told us to use 10 different thread colors, and also how long it would take to stitch each one. The software estimated 1 hour to stitch the entire peacock photo.


Of course, it took longer, as new projects do, but I went home with a completely stitched peacock photo on a white muslin. I kept staring at it, in amazement.

I sketched a basic drawing on quilter’s graph paper, and cut out the appliqué feathers for the border.



Next – to sew the rest of the quilt, select fabrics from my stash, assemble the top, and machine quilt the three layers of the top, batting, backing fabric, together, and sew on the binding.


That’s all.

I’m glad I had two more months to work on this quilt.

My peacock quilt wasn’t like any of the other challenge entries, and it won’t win any prizes (I can see mistakes, that any quilt judge would spot immediately). But I’ve had creative fun with my peacock photograph, and have a quilt to show for it – all because of taking on a challenge!



Meg’s links
Website, Facebook, Instagram

Meg on RS
California Girl becomes a Southern Belle, guest post with photos
Show Photos by McKinney, Vulcan & Fireworks, photos

Meg head

10 thoughts on “Threads Make Feathers, Guest Post

  1. Ohh Meg, your quilt is so artistic!! I do believe you should I show your wonderful quilt at our next
    Studio Art Quilt Associates. (SAQA) meeting. Let’s talk

    1. Hi “Z” – Thank you for your compliment, and taking the time to read through. This was definitely a first for me.
      I’d be happy to attend a SAQA meeting, as I’ve heard about the group, visited the website, and thought it looked pretty cool.
      Please send information about meetings (I live in Birmingham, AL), to this e-mail address: .

    1. Hi Janice – Thank you so much for looking and reading through this story. I am so glad for your blue fabric, for the backing, and then the variegated thread worked wonders. They were good ideas, and thank you for them as well. Meg

      1. Thank you Cathy! This was a new creative twist for me. I appreciate your taking time to read and look at my story about this little quilt. ‘Best — Meg

  2. Hi Meg:

    What a gorgeous quilt, a tremendous effort, well worth the time. A good fit for your to combine your skills as a master photographer and quilter,

    Cousin Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa — Thank you for taking the time to read through and see the photographs. This was a first, but it definitely gave me thoughts of future projects. As we say in the quilt world: “So many quilts, so little time.” 😀 Meg

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