The trick, as in creating many types of artwork, is to work in layers - building, adding, editing, detailing bit by bit as the form takes shape.
Of course, there are technical skills involved, some pieces requiring more intricacy than others, but the basic strategy isn't so different than many forms of painting, pastel, watercolor, etc.
I made a sweet piece of an aerial view of Aarau, Switzerland a few years ago. My customer wanted a special, personal gift, made from a photo from a tourism brochure. Here's it is:
The first thing I did was find out that the photographer was Jiri Vurma, and I contacted him for permission to use his photo for the derivative work. His work is excellent, if you want to click his name to see more.
Next, in order to really personalize it properly, I had to know something about Aarau. I spent about 3 hours on Google, reading about Aarau's history, finding pictures of special features.
It's where Albert Einstein went to gradeschool, so of course I wanted to highlight that building, along with several other classic monuments.
I collected photos of the key places, so I could represent their shapes and choose fabrics that would fit the sense of time and place.
I decided to do all of the important architectural treasures in silks and brocades, to make them stand out.
I then trashed my fabric stash, pulling out every fabric that I might want to use. About 70 altogether. Pain in the butt ironing it all and hanging it by color scheme...
I blocked out the basic color areas with a selection of foundation fabrics:
I cut and sewed into place the underlying shapes of the landscape:
I added another layer of detail:
Then another layer, sewn down bit by bit:
Many of Switzerland's old towns have their own crest. I created the Aarau crest in silk embroidery. After the last round of applique to add the more fragile silks, the last step was to add an insane amount of detailed stitching, both general free-motion quilting in the landscape and sky, and especially multicolored stichwork to put a thousand little shutters on all the windows in the city.
This was such a fun piece to make, and the gift recipient (who grew up in Aarau) was delighted. This is probably my own personal favorite of all the artwork I've done.
So there you go. Easy...
And here's a song from Swiss rock band Wind of Change: