Tutorial: Visualising Fabric on Patterns – Part One (Photoshop)

I was hoping to share some sewing with you today but I had a bit of a crazy weekend. I’ll share more of that with you later but for now, here’s what I was working on most of Saturday.

I posted recently about my NERDY stash busting using Evernote. Several sharp-eyed seamstresses noticed that in my examples I had included images showing my selected fabrics with the pattern line drawing. I make these up to help me decide if I like the pattern in that fabric and also to help me chose how best to place my pattern pieces on the fabric, for example if it is a boarder print like in two of the examples below.  I find if I get the perfect fabric choice I’m much more excited about the finished result.

So for those of you who were curious how I achieved this, and so you should be, I would love to share with you how I do it.

I use a program by Adobe called Photoshop. My version is quite old (version 7.0 – if you have a newer version you should still be able to follow along) it is very common due to its pre everyone-has-an-internet-connection registration process so a few of you might have it. If you don’t and cannot get a copy (new versions are quite expensive) do not fear because there is a free Ubuntu program called Gimp which is really great and so similar to Photoshop it makes me giggle. I downloaded it from here and it runs in Windows. You should also grab the help plug-in download in your language while you are there; install this after successfully installing Gimp.

(Typical but important disclaimer: At the time I downloaded the above files were clean and free of viruses. Even when downloading from a reputable website you should always use up-to-date virus protection software to scan all downloaded files before installing them in your computer and re-scan your computer after installation as well. FYI: I use AVG Free which is excellent.)

To keep this manageable I’ll cover Photoshop first in this post and sort out Gimp in the next post

OK ready? Good, let’s begin:


Tutorial: Visualising Fabric on Patterns – Part One (Photoshop)

What you’ll need:

– Adobe Photoshop 7.0 or newer

– A really good photo of your fabric.

Iron any major wrinkles out and take a photo by standing on a chair (be careful) over your fabric. Try to get as much in the photo as you can but don’t stress if you get your feet in there or the colours don’t look perfect, we’ll sort that out later on. My picture isn’t prefect but I know I can fix it up, you’ll see.

This beautiful cotton sateen came from Potters fabrics, it feels amazing to touch and the colours are just gorgeous, I can’t wait to use it for something

– A clean line drawing of your pattern

I usually just get one from the website or if it is from a magazine or old pattern then you may need to scan/photograph it. The other option is to just search Google images and you might get lucky.

For my example I’m using Butterick’s 5455 dress A


First of all let’s go over a few of the Photoshop tools I’ll be referring to and where to find them (click images to enlarge):

Polygon Lasso tool – this tool is great for drawing selections that are weird shapes

Crop tool – Just what it says, used for cropping an image down to just what’s needed

Move tool – Use to move parts of an image about

Magic Wand tool – The most amazing tool in the world and it really is magic, used for automatically selecting areas of the same or similar colour

Zoom tool – To zoom in select this tool and click on your drawing. To Zoom out again hold Alt and click

Hand tool – When you are zoomed on your image sometimes you need to move about to see another area. Select the hand tool and click and grab to move about the image. You can also hold down the space bar while using any other tool (it’s a bit faster)

Layers Window – This is where you control your images layers. They list here as you build them up in the image. For this example we’ll only end up with two or three layers so it won’t get too complicated. The darker grey layer is the one that is active so if you find what you are doing to your image isn’t affecting the right layer pop over to the Layers window and check that you have the correct layer selected.

History Window – If you make a mistake in any of the steps below you can click back in the History list to undo it. Ctrl + Z or Edit > Undo will work for one step backwards but to go back 2 or more steps you need to use the History window.


The first thing I do is prepare my pattern line drawing. Open your pattern image file.

Select File > Open and browse to your image, open it

You can see my file contains all the pattern options and the back view as well. Since I am only interested in the front view ‘A’ I am going to crop the image down to just that.

Select the crop tool (or press ‘C’ on your keyboard) then click and drag across your image to enclose only what you want left behind.

The parts of the image that will be cropped out are shown dark grey. You can move the selection box around with your mouse or adjust the handles to fine tune the selection or use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move it around by a small amount. When you are happy with your selection press enter on your keyboard and your image is cropped.


If you are using a black and white image from the internet like me you’ll probably find your image’s colour mode setting is “Grayscale” or  “Indexed  Color”, this is no good for us since our fabric photo will be in colour and when we drag it into our pattern image it will automatically change to black and white. So we need to check the colour mode and change it if necessary.

Select Image > Mode > RGB to change your images colour mode.

I could write a whole essay on CYMK vs. RGB but it’s not relevant to this tutorial so we are using RGB since the idea of Red/Green/Blue will be more familiar to most people.

If you scanned your image in it might already be in colour (RGB), for reasons that are a bit magical it is a good idea to change it to Grayscale, and then back to RGB.


Photoshop uses Layers to give you more control over your images. At the moment our pattern image is a background layer. Because we want to make some changes to it and also stick our fabric image under it we need to change it to something more usable.

This is really easy to do, simply get your mouse and double-click on the layer labelled “Background” and click “ok”. It is now re-named to “Layer 0” and if it helps you to visualise what’s about to happen next, imagine that this layer is floating over nothing.


Now comes the fun part. We need to remove the white from the inside of the line drawing so we can see through it. To make this easier you might need to enhance your image a little. If you scanned your image from a magazine or envelope it’s an especially good idea to make the black darker and the white brighter.

Select Image > Adjust > Brightness/Contrast and adjust the sliders to improve your image.

Subtle works best here, you can see I’ve only needed to up my Contrast by a small amount and I am happy with it. This makes the next step that much easier.

Now don’t freak out, I’ve zoomed in on my image using the zoom tool and it looks a little bit pixellated, that’s fine, it’s one of the drawbacks from using an image from the internet, they are often quite small and low resolution but it’s fine for what we want to do.


Now we are going to use the Magic Wand tool to quickly select the white and then delete it.

Select the Magic Wand (or press ‘W’ on your keyboard) and then click on a white part of your image that you want to remove (basically all the central areas) then press delete.

You should reveal a grey and white chequered background, this is a good thing. Remember how I said our layer is kind of floating over nothing? Now we are looking through the image at that nothing. You can select multiple areas to delete using the Magic Want tool and holding the shift key on your keyboard. Keep selecting and deleting areas until you have them all.


If you find an area doesn’t select very well or the magic wand tool selects too much you can manually select these areas using the Polygon Lasso tool.

Select the Polygon Lasso tool and zoom in to the troubling area.

Click around the areas you want to remove to create an enclosed selection (the marching ants) then press delete.


We’re moving on to the fabric image next so you can just move your image off to one side by clicking on it’s title bar and dragging it over or just minimise it for now.


Right, now let’s sort out our fabric

Open you fabric photo image

Select File > Open and browse to your image, open it

Now you might not be happy with the colour or contrast of your fabric image, we can fix this up using the following tools.

Select Image > Adjust > Color Balance and adjust the sliders to correct any colour discrepancies.

Again, subtle is best and the general rule is that if you image looks a bit magenta, drag the Magenta/Green slider away from magenta. If it looks a little yellow, drag the Yellow/Blue slider away from yellow etc…When you are happy, click OK

Select Image > Adjust > Brightness/Contrast and adjust the sliders to improve your images brightness and contrast, click OK when you are happy with the result


I took a pretty big photo of my fabric and only the middle part is really any good so I’m going to crop out the rest (including my toes, hehe)

Select the crop tool (or press ‘C’ on your keyboard) then click and drag across your image to enclose only what you want left behind.

The parts of the image that will be cropped out are shown dark grey. You can move the selection box around with your mouse or adjust the handles to fine tune the selection or use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move it around by a small amount. When you are happy with your selection press enter on your keyboard and your image is cropped.


Now for a little bit of technical jiggery.

Our internet/scanned pattern image is probably not very big but, given today’s amazing cameras, our fabric photo to likely to be huge.

Because our next step will involve dragging our fabric image into our pattern image and if it is a lot bigger it’s just gong to be a huge pain to muck around with. So let’s check our image sizes.

Select the pattern image – un-minimise it or click the title bar to activate it

Select Image > Image Size

We’ll concentrate on the Document Size measurements and let’s look at the largest one, in this case it is the largest size is the height, my pattern image is about 7cm tall, click OK to close

Now lets check the fabric photo, select the photo image by clicking on the title bar to active it.

My fabric photo is a whopping 71cm tall! That’s pretty big, we need to adjust it to a bit closer to the pattern image size.

I’m going to change my height measurement to 10cm so that it is still a bit bigger than my pattern image but not so huge it is impossible to work with.

Notice that the image width altered automatically to keep the proportions correct.


Ok, we’re nearly there, still with me? Good 🙂


Now comes the proper exciting bit, we’re going to finally drag our fabric image into our pattern image and get the first glimpse of how it all looks, ohhh!

Select the Move tool Grab the fabric imager by clicking in the middle of it, hold on to it, now drag it across and into your pattern image and then let go.

Our fabric image automatically becomes the top layer but we want to put it below so move your mouse over to the Layers Window, grab the active layer (layer 1 – our fabric, you can see the little thumbnail) and drag it below the pattern layer (layer 0)


So far so good, but our fabric is a little large don’t you think? The print is way out of scale when compared to the dress.

You probably need to move your fabric about a bit and maybe even change its size too.

Select Edit > Free Transform or press Ctrl + T on your keyboard

(You might have noticed I have a bit more grey space around my pattern image, you can do this too by dragging the edges of your drawing a bit bigger, it helps to see the transform selection handles.)

To change the size of you fabric image grab one of the corner handles on the transform box. As you drag it smaller (or bigger) hold down the shift key to keep the proportions correct. Let go when you are happy with the size. Clicking and dragging inside the transform box lets you move the fabric image around. If you want to change the orientation of your fabric image you can rotate it by hovering your mouse just outside one of the corner handles, a curved arrow shows up, grab and move your mouse to rotate it. Again you can hold down the shift key to snap to the angles. When you are happy with your transforming you can press enter on your keyboard.

Use the Move tool to further adjust the position of your fabric image and you can use the arrow keys on your keyboard to fine tune it.


You can see that I have positioned my fabric along the waist seam line, I think the fabric looks the correct proportion so I need more fabric to fill in the top part of the dress.

To do this I can just make a copy of the fabric layer and reposition it.

Take your mouse over to the Layers Window and left-click on your fabric’s layer, select Duplicate Layer, and click OK

Now you have a second fabric layer. If you like you can transform this layer (Ctrl + T or Edit > Free Transform) and rotate it to move the print about. Then use the Move tool and reposition it to fill the leftover space


One you are happy with your final image the last thing we need to do is flatten the image so we can re-save it as a jpeg. Take your mouse over to the layers Window and click on the small circle with the arrow in the top right of the Window, select Flatten Image

Now save your image Select File > Save As

Chose where to save your file, give it a good name and select your File Type as JPEG, click Save

Aaaaand you’re done, good job! 😉

Ohh pretty, yes? Tragically I don’t think I’ll have enough fabric for this particular pattern (it needs 2.20 meters and I only bought 1.50, what was I thinking?) but it was fun anyway. I’ll have to have a closer look at the layout, I’m going to guess that the piping is cut on the bias and therefore takes up a large amount of fabric so maybe if I make the piping in a contrast fabric I can get the pieces out of my 1.50…

This is my first really technical software post so if you have any feedback, questions or get stuck on a step please contact me through the comments on this post and I will do my best to help you out and improve any steps as needed.

I’d love to see your images so please feel free to share them with me.

Bear with me while I make up the Gimp post in the next day or two. I’m new to the Gimp program but I’ll do my best to replicate this tutorial so that those of you who cannot get a hold of Photoshop can still play along and maybe I’ll even choose a different pattern and new fabric from my stash to keep it interesting 😉

IMPORTANT: This work is my creation and my intellectual property, protected under a Creative Commons license. You may not use it for any commercial purposes, claim it as your own, or resell it.

Creative Commons License
The Curious Kiwi Tutorial: Visualising Fabric on Patterns – Part One (Photoshop) by thecuriouskiwi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

24 thoughts on “Tutorial: Visualising Fabric on Patterns – Part One (Photoshop)

  1. I just read this and all I could think is how well written it was. For so many years, i avoided the PhotoShop program and its cousins :-)). They did not compute in my mind. I haven’t tried it yet but I understood everything! It made sense! Thank you. You have changed my mindset and given me a tool for my sewing success.

    • Thank you so much Deborah – it’s great to read that my tutorial was nice and clear for you, I hope you’ll find time soon to give this a try. I’m hoping I can find some time to write an updated tutorial soon with some extra techniques.

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  3. What a wonderful tutorial. So easy to follow and your style of writing is chatty and easy to follow; I felt like you were right in the room talking to me. Thank you so much.

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  5. I love how merging technology and the love of sewing can help people that can only draw stick people. WOW! I’m definitely going to try this with the free gimp website. You have enhanced my sewing addiction:)

    • No worries Dawn, happy to share 🙂 It came in super handy for the top I am making right now, I used a tricky print and couldn’t decided how to place it. Keep your eyes out for the post, hopefully i might finish it this weekend xx

  6. My husband would be very proud of your tutorial. He uses this technique a lot for non-sewing related projects. This is such a great resource for sewers. Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is a great tutorial Kate. Thanks. Haven’t used photoshop much so this has cleared up some confusing stuff. It’s great to get a better idea of what clothes would look like. Especially good for my teenage daughter who buys patterns by whether she likes the fabric on the illustrations on the front!

  8. Wowweee… this is SUPER-extreme-nerdy-amazingness Mel! I love it! I doubt I’ll ever use it… but I still think it’s ace 🙂

    • Thanks Shanna, it was quite a challenge to slow down and try to explain things that I just do intuitively from using the program for so long. It’s great to hear your encouragement xx

  9. you’ve done such a good job with this tutes! One thing to keep in mind while doing this is the scale of the print and the dress- that’s quite hard, it looks like a really big photo of the print is necessary! I’ve been thinking of trying this to give alternative print choices in my etsy shop.

    • It does work better with larger scale prints and boarder prints. Smaller patterned fabrics are ok if you have a high resolution/large image to work with, that’s why scanning the line drawing is sometimes a better option. I tried to keep this first tut pretty basic but I might wait a few weeks and do an advanced version for those who want it, maybe show how to get a better resolution image and how to combine pieces to create a whole outfit.
      For the JJ blouse example at the top the pattern on the fabric was really small so I actually fudged it and it’s a little larger than it should be but I still got a really good idea of what the final product would look like.

  10. Amazing!! I have photoshop elements which is a very abbreviated form of Photoshop. It is inexpensive too. I think I could use it for this.

    • Elements looks really similar, I’d love to know if you can follow along or get the same results…might need a few tweaks – the help menu will be your friend 🙂

  11. This is so interesting and I can’t wait to try it sometime since I already have some photos of my fabrics. It’s such a clever way to visualize designs. I liked you wedding dress too. I’m in the process of making one and about to tear my hair out!

    • Thanks, it makes me more excited to start a new pattern and it’s fun to look at the final garment and compare it to the digital one.

      Your dress is looking lovely…don’t pull out too much of your beautiful hair, you’ll having nothing left for your big day 🙂 I can’t wait to see the final photos, best of luck! xx

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