Testing A Flower Collage Overlay



Do you ever have an idea for a project you are working on – but hesitate to check it out because testing the idea could destroy all the work you have already done? I often find myself wanting to play it safe rather than pushing ahead with something that might be really cool.

The nagging question for me is this: How much can I “test” without actually adding paint (or stitching, or whatever…)? Fortunately, this is one place where a little technology can be a big help. Let me show you an example.

[Tweet “Can we test a painted overlay without actually painting the fabric?”]


In one of the lessons in Whole Cloth Collage, we painted a series of images that appear to be overlapping. This is a flower and leaves collage I painted a few months ago.

One of the students asked if I had ever put a painted “overlay” on top of this type of collage? I was intrigued by the idea, but I didn’t want to add paint unless I was sure I liked the result. It’s the old chicken and egg thing. How do you know if you don’t try it?


So, I decided to see if I could simulate the overlay on my computer screen using this Sunflower motif. A flower shaped overlay seemed like a good fit for the garden theme. And since I was not actually painting, I could test anything I wanted. Right?

(Now, I was cheating just a tad here. The sunflower drawing was left over from my days designing rubbing plates. If I didn’t have that drawing handy, I would have had to make one.)


I took a deep breath and opened my (rarely used) Adobe Illustrator. I created a blue rectangle approximately the shape of the painted collage, and made it a little bit transparent. Then I arranged the layers so the flower was on the top.



Next, I used one of the tools to create a compound shape. (That’s a fancy term for the result when the software uses the top image to “punch a hole” in the bottom image, and leaves the openings clear so you can “see through” to whatever is underneath.)

Now, I have never made good friends with Illustrator, but I’m gaining confidence as I work with the simpler software for my Silhouette cutter. I am reasonably good at finding stuff in the online tutorials and patiently poking around until I figure it out. (I just need to get the “Illustrator is too hard” message out of my head!)


Next, I opened the picture of the painted collage, positioned it underneath the overlay, and then resized the overlay. I was getting there, but what would it look like without the edges hanging out? I have not figured out how to block out the edges with Illustrator, so I saved the file as a photo and hopped over to a photo program.


I cropped off the edges, and now I can see the collage with a simulated sheer overlay.

[Tweet “Preview a painted overlay — no paint, fabric or stitching required!”]

To Paint, Or Not To Paint?

Yes? No? Ummm… maybe not.

In this case, I don’t like the way this overlay looks on the collage. It chopped up the effect of the overlapping images, and turned it into a visual jumble.

But, I see lots of potential for this type of overlay for a future project. If the overlay were part of the plan from the beginning? Oh goodness, this could be lots of fun.

My initial reaction was that my Flower Collage Overlay test was a flop. But wait a minute! As a TEST, it was totally successful! I was able to simulate the overlay and view the results without adding paint, cutting up fabric, or putting a single stitch in the fabric.

As much as I love to test ideas on fabric, there are times when a detour through the computer can save me a lot of time and potential unhappiness. I will probably experiment with a few more overlay ideas before I discard this idea completely, and it’s nice to know I can preview the results without spoiling a lovely piece of art in the process.

And if I’m not really careful… I’ll be on slightly better terms with Mr. Illustrator.

Your Turn

Do you test ideas on your computer – or have suggestions to share? Leave a comment for your friends in the community. We’re all ears!


  1. sdBev on March 17, 2016 at 9:52 am

    gee my first impression was of how wonderfully complex and filled with color the sunflower became. I’d also want to consider the possibility of monochromatic rather than all the colors. Anytime a tutorial make me think of options, like this one, I know it was GREAT!

    • Shelly on March 18, 2016 at 9:26 am

      Thanks, Bev. I love that this has got you thinking about possibilities. I chuckled when I saw your thought about the monochromatic color scheme. That’s exactly where my brain was heading on this!

  2. Peggy Lawton on March 17, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    Hi Shelley, I was really interested in this article, as you say trying an idea out before committing to is a great idea. I too struggle with with Corel Paintshop Pro.11. I do not seem to be able to get my head around the layers but you have inspired me to try more with this idea in mind. Many thanks Peg

    • Shelly on March 18, 2016 at 9:29 am

      Give it a go, Peg! For me, the key is to slow down and go through the tutorials. As a reformed programmer, I should know better than allowing myself to be intimidated by software, but I’ve always been hesitant to dip into Illustrator. But, seeing that we can do experiments like this has me motivated to learn more.