8.0 Podcast Episode – Gridlock Quilting

September 18, 2010

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This episode we are going to explore quilting on a grid using techniques I found to create a pixellated image.

The image is a copyrighted image from Nintendo, but the final composed picture will be arranged in the order of my personal decision.  Due to the copyrighted nature of the original image, I would strongly caution in this case against selling the object without checking on copyright laws, which even after reading about, I still feel like I know very little.  This image and project may fall under the fair use laws, in which case the copyright may not be an issue.  When in doubt, consult professional help. (this post may lose some pictures if asked to take them down, I will)

Grid quilting is not equal to watercolor quilting, but close!

Darla’s steps for grid quilting are as follows.

Obtain the image. 

This is hard work when playing video games.

For common images you would like to replicate, you may be able to download specific sprites. 

For my practice piece, I found a site that had many sprites available to download, and saved the sprite images on my computer (right click, save target as). This site has many sprites available to download, and the site defines a sprite as a 2 dimensional image that is integrated into a larger scene.  I want to eventually do an entire scene, but starting with a sprite is a good start.

Sprite Stitch article about sprites and downloading.

If you want to make a pixellated image from a normal picture, there is also this website that can create pixellated images.  It is best to get the smallest images possible and then blow it up.  I have found that this program has limitations on showing adequate resolution, but wouldn’t a pixellated image be a great watercolor quilt background for applique pieces of more details?

Using photoshop 7.0 these are the techniques I used recently to foundation piece an image using a grid.  Similar tactics may be able to be used with similar programs.

Free Image Editing Software Programs

  • Pixlr (browser-based graphic program, nothing to download)
  • Inkscape (free to download, vector graphics)
  • Or go old school and create the image with online graph paper. (downloads as a pdf)


Work with the Image

It helps to be able to see the pixels.  On photoshop, click on edit, preferences, grids, guides and slices.

Then check the grid like so that 1 grid line for every 1 pixel:

It doesn’t matter what color of lines, as long as it will show up on your image, it’s fine.

This will take the image with a grid, if you just opened the small image, it might not show up well.  Go ahead and blow it up by pressing Control and + (the plus sign) to get the maximum amount of size.

If the grid doesn’t show up, go to view/show/grid.

The original image was this:

Image from Nintendo JJW.

And now I have an image like this:

Also notable, I highlighted the blue color and put it behind mario in the project.

Print the Image

To be able to print the grid on paper, I found an easy trick. 

Get the image blown up as much as possible.  I found the maximum amount I could see was 1600%.  Make sure the grid is on. 

Hit print screen.  Then open a new picture (ctrl N) and then paste into the picture (ctrl v).  Surround the area of the picture only, then image/crop.

Printing off of photoshop was easy when I went to file print with preview, and then adjust the scale size of the printed page by changing the 100% to something easier to see on the page.

For the rest of this tutorial, the printout is black and white (I haven’t used color ink in forever), for further color information for the project I referenced the original on the computer. 

The printout does not have the grid printed on the printout.   The grid trick was done for another project after printing this off.  It would have made the next step easier.

If you notice I wrote with pencil across the grid and down the grid, one number for each pixel.  This helps me figure out how wide the grid is a the widest portion and how tall the grid is.  Again easier with a grid superimposed.

Prepare the mockup interfacing

For greater reference, and a step that might not be necessary, I copied this onto some pellon interfacing.

I purchased pellon interfacing with a one inch grid printed on one side of the fabric.  Since I want to make the pixels smaller than one inch, I took my trusty ruler, a pencil, and I drew in every half inch on my grid. (not pictured)

Then I counted down 9 rows and started drawing in the grid with an ultra fine tip sharpie marker, making sure to have some scratch paper behind the marker.  The marker bleeds through this interfacing, so be careful with your fabric.

This step reminds me a lot of counted cross stitch.  I did not distinguish what is what color here.

Along the top and sides of my grid, I marked the numbers from my original drawing.  This makes it easier to do some of the following steps.

I made sure I had plenty more of the half inch marked pellon grid pieces.  This was all done at the same time I was drawing my half inch squares for the diagram above. 

Prepare the strips

Make sure to draw about twice as many half inch squares from what is needed.  Then cut the horizontal strips for each line of the grid.  Cutting half way between the half inch blocks gives you a quarter inch seam allowance and makes things easier in the long run.

I found what helped me in creating the project was to cut and number in groups of five.  My brain can only remember about five things at once, so dealing with groups of five made the project more manageable, less overwhelming, more organized.

Then I took my drawn grid with the printout, hid all the rows but the top one, then copied all my data onto the strip.  I wrote the grid number on the left and then drew the left border two inches in, and then drew a vertical line every time I change colors. 

For example the first row has 7 blue blocks, 4 black blocks, and 5 blue blocks, so on my strip I drew a number 1, a left vertical line, then 7 blocks over drew another vertical line, then 4 blocks over drew another vertical line with the symbol I made up for black (slash diagonal lines), then 5 blocks over, drew the last vertical line on the right side. 

Pictured below is my 6th line with 2 blue, 1 black, 1 red, 1 black, 6 peach, 2 black, and then 2 blue (off screen).  I later learned it was better to write the color code in the seam allowance on the top or bottom rather than on the block itself.

For optimum coverage, I cut out 1 inch strips of fabric to start with.  Easy peasy.  Taking my one inch strip, I cut adequate amounts of fabric lengths for the sections of my quilt strips for each color and put them in order just above my interfacing strip.

Start foundation piecing

Now I get to start paper piecing!

Take the first two fabrics.  Put the first fabric just behind the interfacing so that it covers the area to be quilted, and then put the next piece of fabric directly behind it.  In the following picture, I have blue directly behind the interfacing and black directly behind that piece.

I love this because I can see through the interfacing very well, and so I can waste very little fabric by giving myself a quarter inch seam allowance here.  You can see that my markings are on the top of the interfacing, and this is where I am going to stitch.

Then as in true paper piecing form, I sew on the line, going just above and just below my piece.  A nice, easy, short, straight line.  Sew and line  up on the line between first fabric and second fabric.

Now time to turn it over, cut any extra long seam allowances if necessary …

… and finger press.

Now turn over the piece to see the lines and line up the next fabric with the next sewing line between blocks 2 and 3 … and sew on and sew on …

And after a while, you’ll see a pattern emerge.

Now these are strips just waiting to be sewn together.  Before sewing, press these strips on the fabric side.

Sew the strips together 

Using the numbered pieces, line up the first strip with the second strip, fabric side together, interfacing side outward.

Line up the interfacing grid several points on each strip.  You can see through the interfacing a little bit, and this helps things to line up vertically and horizontally.

Things that make this step easier

  • Have an outside border on each strip to line up. 
  • Stick the pin right along the gridline itself.
  • Make sure your strips are numbered and the numbers are all on the same side of the quilt.  This keeps you from having to figure out which direction the strip is supposed to be.
  • Make sure your strips are the same size.
  • Pin, pin, pin the strips together.

This picture is rows 1 & 2 sewn with row 3 pinned.

And here is what I have ‘finished’ at 10 rows.

I do not plan to remove any of the interfacing in this quilt.

I stopped here once I became evident of three things. 

  1. I knew what I was doing and I was liking the result.  It’s going to work.
  2. The red and skin tone are not correct and I can’t yet find the correct skin tone.  At this stage mario needs a tan.
  3. He’s facing backwards because i did not REVERSE the image.  GO DO THIS before you print the image and save a lot of heartache.

Quilting plans are simple.  To preserve the pixel nature of this quilt, I plan to quilt every half inch vertically and horizontally.  This may change to just stitching in the ditch with time however, it’s going to take several hours/days/months/years to get to the quilting phase of this project.  I want to make this quilt big!

Quilting on a grid folks.  Now you can get over the grid lock. Welcome to pixel perfection.

Let’s see your pixelated pictures.  Feel free to share computer designs on the Scientific Quilter Design group on flickr.


Additional Resources

Creating a paper pieced pattern in photoshop You Tube Video Part 1 & Part 2

Strip Pieced Watercolor Magic by Deanna Spingola

Create a Quilt Block with Illustrator

Additional Music by

Mario wave files The Mushroom Kingdom

From Freesound.org

From Mevio


Thanks for comments from Nonnie, Jen, Jill, Robin, Sandi


  1. […] Quilter A blog and podcast focusing on left brain topics about quilting. « 8.0 Podcast Episode – Gridlock Quilting 8.1 Evolution of a Camera Bag September 21, 2010 Welcome back to the home sewing […]

  2. http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/?p=1398

    this may help you simplify the process. It seems like you are adding some extra steps in the process.

    • Does look a little easier, I’ll have to give that one a try and compare and see if it works better. My gridded interfacing is not fusible. So to try it out, I’ll have to go shopping. For the work I want to do, I still see a lot of counting, gridding, sewing the extra half inch lines but the time saved would be in the sewing part.

  3. Darla,
    I liked the music that you used at times throughout the podcast.

    This was an interesting podcast. I don’t know if I would ever do a Mario pattern since Mario was popular during the period of time when I was living in Germany, however, I was immediately hooked on the grid idea when you mentioned cross stitch patterns. I now have a grid quilt on my to do list of quilts. There is a used book store just a short distance from my house so I think I will get a few cross stitch books from there to look through for a quilt pattern. Thanks for the great idea.

  4. I was immediately hooked on the grid idea when you mentioned cross stitch patterns. I now have a grid quilt on my to do list of quilts. There is a used book store just a short distance from my house so I think I will get a few cross stitch books from

  5. I have been searching around the internet for a Star Wars quilt idea for my 6 yr old, and while pondering what I will then make for my 4 yr old I googled Mario Brothers Quilt… and that led me here. I had not thought of foundation piecing either of the quilts… was actually thinking applique, but now I see how a person could work this and I might have to give it a try. Your Mario quilt is going to be so cool! (My two boys were Mario and Luigi this year for Halloween.)

    I have been picking up cross stitch books at thrift stores when I run across them because I had heard of making quilt blocks with the designs in them. I have an endless list of quilts in my head… if I could only finish what I start…

    Anyhoo, you have a cool blog! I will be following from now on.

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