Printing a photograph on fabric these days is no huge deal. Crafters can do it at home, and online shops make it easy to order, say, a batch of T-shirts with a baby picture on them for whatever birthday party is coming up.

But once upon a time printing photographs on fabrics was a gee-whiz accomplishment, and LIFE was there to have some fun with it.

“Until now anyone claiming to have seen a dinner dress decorated with life-size photographs of the wearer would have been met with breath-sniffing suspicion or clinical alarm,” LIFE said in its December 8, 1947 issue. “Today, however, such dresses can be made and photographs of everything from animals to pearl necklaces are being printed not only on dress fabrics but on upholster, pillows, ties, bathing suits and lingerie.”

The story was an occasion for LIFE photographer Nina Leen to creaTe some amusing pictures, such as the one of the man falling asleep on a pillow adorned with the face of actress Hedy Lamarr, or the one of the model wearing a dress covered with photographs of her own smiling face.

The photo in the story that presaged how this printing technology would actually be used in modern everyday life may well be the one of the woman whose shawl has a photograph of her dog. While LIFE’s story declared that ‘For the textile industry photographic fabrics are the big news of the year,” the printing of recognizable photos on clothes has, in modern life, been more for novelty products than conventional fashion.

It’s a common story of technology: it’s one kind of advance to be able to do something, and another to realize maybe you shouldn’t.

Model Norma Richter showed off a dress decorated with images of herself, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

A model wore a shawl featuring a photo of her terrier dog, sitting beside her.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Frank Sinatra pictures printed on huge bolts of rayon were created to cover pillows for adoring bobby-soxers, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

This wall hanging, showing linemen at work, was made for AT&T and hung in company’s New York boardroom.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

The Chrysler building appeared on the model’s tie as well as in the photo’s background, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

This process of converting a photo onto a fabric print began with the photograph of a flower, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

A textile factory manufactured fabric featuring the photograph of a rose, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Part of the process for making a photographic print on fabric, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

The fabric featuring the rose photo was ironed, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

This lampshade was made with a photo of a flower printed onto fabric, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Photos/Shutterstock

The handbag was designed with a photo of a flower, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

A model wore a dress with a photograph of a rose printed on the fabric, designed by Martini to sell for about $70, 1947.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

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