There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

All work by student Beth Worrell.


Photo with overlay, no manipulation.
Photo with overlay, posterized photo.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” How many times did I hear that from my mother just about the time that there was a hitch in plans and it was time to regroup and try again? I always thought it was an odd thing to say, as she really did love most creatures (with the exception of rodents).

I have used the expression myself many times in class. Almost always it is when a student is having a problem and, rather than staying locked to my technique, we head off exploring other options until we find what will work for them at that time. I’ve been in classes where there wasn’t room to explore. I didn’t like that and I try not to subject my students to that either.

I do have one exception: posterized photos.Every now and then a student shows up with a photo that they have run through the posterize adjustment in Photoshop. If they have an untouched photo I always encourage them to use that instead. I have a strong belief that we as humans have a better idea of where to break the values to create the pattern. We certainly know better than the computer what OUR level of comfort is when it comes to how much detail we are willing to cut. (I even have an exception to the exception, I’m looking forward to seeing how a future student works with her posterized and color tweaked photo.)

There is nothing more rewarding than when a student that was very hesitant at the beginning of class discovers that, yes, indeed they CAN see the value changes and now have the confidence to go on and create patterns without the aid of the computer.

Now, many of you might say “Wait a minute! You said on The Quilt Show that you use a computer.” Yes, I do. But I am always in charge of the decisions. The computer is only a convenient way to trace without the expense of printing a large photo. Considering that I have created work that is 3 x 5 feet, that is important. I am able to print out my pattern on letter paper, then take it to

FedEx/Kinko’s and enlarge it to a max of 36” on the short edge to whatever else I need because the paper is on a roll.

The reason I don’t teach on the computer is because the initial set-up can be expensive. For the computer method you need, at a minimum: Photoshop Elements, a tablet with stylus, and a laptop for class. As with most things there is a learning curve, including getting the eye-hand coordination between the stylus and the line on the screen. But if you’re just trying it out to see if you enjoy doing it, all you need is a sheet of Dura-Lar, a Sharpie®, alcohol, Q-tips and a photo.

Now, back to skinning that cat. I Googled the skinning of a cat, and it turns out it can be traced back to at least 1678, though it was made popular by Mark Twain in 1889’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. And the cat?  That just might be referring to a catfish. Which I have seen skinned.