WWW Oatmeal Honey and Pumpernickel Breads

I have two more white whole wheat bread machine recipes to share today: a brown bread and a white bread.

DSCF0439The brown bread is a pumpernickel bread based on one I found on the back of a bag of Arrowhead Mills Organic Rye Flour. The brown color comes from using cocoa powder. Most of us in my house liked the original recipe pretty well, with it’s nice tangy flavor. But some in my house are partial to sweeter breads, and liked it better when I used honey instead of molasses. One lone holdout does not like caraway seeds at all and would not eat it until I made the recipe with flax seeds instead of caraway. Sesame seeds would probably be nice too, or you could leave out all the seeds. Download the recipe for Whole Wheat Pumpernickel Bread here.

Whole Wheat Honey Oatmeal BreadThe white bread is an oatmeal honey bread. This is a basic bread that is simple, but really tasty. I add dry milk for some extra protein and a slightly softer texture, but you can omit the dry milk for a non-dairy version that isn’t much different. Download the recipe for Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread here.

White whole wheat ricotta bread machine goodness

White whole wheat flour has all the health benefits of regular whole wheat flour, but it is made from a different kind of wheat that is softer and has a milder taste. While regular white flour has little nutritional value, white whole wheat flour is actually good for you!

Shane with his muffin project Shane's science fair projectWhen white whole wheat flour started showing up in stores about 10 years ago, I was intrigued. I followed everyone’s advice and started swapping out a third or a half the white flour for white whole wheat to add whole grains to my baked goods. Nobody in my house seemed to notice. Tentatively, I started increasing the whole grain to white flour ratio, and nobody seemed to notice. Thanks to my son’s award-winning sixth grade science fair project I gathered conclusive, scientific evidence that swapping out all the white flour for whole wheat in chocolate chip cookies and in blueberry muffins makes no difference to a classroom full of hungry sixth graders.

In January I decided to replace my family’s still functional, 20-year-old bread machine with a more modern model. It turns out that the era of bread machine baking has come and gone, and most bread machine manufacturers have not come out with any new models in years. So the Panasonic SD-YD250 we bought is actually the top model of the last decade, but it remains the #1 top seller on Amazon.com. And the new machine turns out to be a big step up from the machine it replaced because it has a bigger pan, warms the ingredients, and doesn’t add the yeast until it is time.

Panasonic bread machine, top view Since acquiring the new machine, I have baked bread 2 or 3 times a week, every week. And I have baked only 100% whole grain bread. Baking whole grain bread is trickier than swapping out the white flour in cookies and muffins, because whole grain flour has less gluten than bread flower, and this affects how much the bread will rise. If you are not careful, breads made with whole grain flour can end up pretty dense. There also aren’t that many bread machine recipes that have been tested with white whole wheat flour, because white whole wheat flour was not widely available back when new bread machine cookbooks were actually being published.

Chuck removing the Whole Wheat Ricotta bread from the bread machineI’ve tried some of the whole wheat recipes in the cookbook that came with my bread machine. We’ve enjoyed the 100% Whole Wheat, Honey Walnut, Whole Wheat Yogurt, and Seven Grain bread recipes from that cookbook. I have followed those recipes as written, except for using white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat, and flax seeds instead of sesame seeds in the yogurt bread. I’ve also tried the 100% whole wheat with honey instead of molasses for a sweeter bread. So far I’ve found that any whole wheat bread recipe can be made with white whole wheat flour and the results are excellent.

I’ve also found some bread machine recipes online, and adapted some bread-flour recipes from some other cookbooks to work with white whole wheat, reduce the amount of fat, and work with my bread machine. In general, bread flour recipes seem to work with white whole wheat if you add gluten or if the recipe includes dairy products (yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, or milk). I’ve also successfully removed the butter and oil in a number or recipes and replaced it with apple sauce. As I perfect these recipes, I will share them here.

The first recipe I would like to share is a recipe for Whole Wheat Ricotta Bread that my family loves. Even when I bake the extra large size, it rarely lasts it more than 24 hours in my house. I baked this bread four times in the past couple of weeks to tweak the amount of liquid and experiment with two different kinds of ricotta cheese. Each time it disappeared very fast.

DSCF0210The key to this bread is the ricotta cheese, which makes this bread moist, slightly sweet, and very rich tasting. Use part-skim or low fat ricotta to cut the calories and fat considerably. In my experiments, I found that the part-skim ricotta I used causes the bread to rise a bit more than the low-fat ricotta (that contained less fat). But it is good either way. I haven’t been able to find fat-free ricotta at any of the stores I shop at. I’m guessing that will work well too, but might result in a little bit of a denser loaf. I also made this bread with non-fat greek yogurt instead of ricotta. This was also a lovely bread, but it was not as moist, and did not have the richness or flavor of ricotta bread.

You can download my recipe for Whole Wheat Ricotta Bread here.

Whole Wheat Ricotta Bread, size XL (made with part-skim ricotta)

My quilt in Science magazine

IMG_6002I’m really excited that my Security Blanket quilt won honorable mention in the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge and is featured in an article in the February 7 issue of Science magazine. No, they don’t have a category for quilts, but that didn’t stop me from entering (and winning).

The quilt is currently on loan to Carnegie Mellon University, and is being displayed in the home of our university president. My daughters and I stopped by a couple of weeks ago to check it out.

Science also did a little profile of me in their Career Magazine.

badpasswordAnd for those of you who want to make your own security blankets, pillow, ties, curtains, or dresses, I now have a few different versions of purple “bad password” fabric available by the yard at Spoonflower.com. You can order it on wrapping paper or wall paper too. I have small and large versions of the print, with and without the naughty words. (The quilt includes all the naughty words for authenticity.)

Security Blanket, machine quilted, digitally printed cotton fabric, 63.5"x39"

Security Blanket, machine quilted, digitally printed cotton fabric, 63.5″x39″

 

How to make an Interleave quilt

My Interleave quilts are pieced using a quilt-as-you-go technique in which thin strips of fabric are sewn to batting and backing. The interleave design results from cutting these strips from two panels of fabric and piecing alternate strips from each panel. In my quilts, some of the panels are pieced and some are photos printed on fabric. For added interest, I often shift my strips in a wave pattern. The result of this process is a complex-looking quilt that can be pieced quickly from thin strips sewn in straight lines.

Here is a quick tutorial on how I make a small Interleave quilt. I put this together for a 1-day workshop. We will be making a roughly 18 inch square interleave quilt with .5-inch stripes that can be used as a wall hanging, placemat, or pillow top. You can make a smaller sample if you prefer, but I would not suggest going any larger for the class project.

Materials

  • 5 fat quarters (or larger) of cotton quilting fabric – Select 4 fabrics that go well together for the top, and 1 backing fabric that can be whatever you want. There should be some contrast between the 4 top fabrics – if they all blend together too much the interleave design won’t stand out. You should have enough left over from the top fabric fat quarters to make a binding. But you are welcome to provide extra fabric for a binding or to turn the finished quilt into a pillow. You will probably be doing the binding at home after the workshop.
  • Gridded cutting mat, at least 18 inches long
  • Ruler, at least 18 inches long (you need a ruler that will allow you to easily cut 18-in long and 1-in wide strips)
  • Rotary cutter
  • Scissors
  • Iron
  • Ironing pad or towel
  • Sewing machine and needles with a ¼ in. foot (if you have a ¼ in foot with a guide, even better!)
  • Neutral cotton piecing thread (I recommend Aurifil 50/2 in grey, but whatever you like to piece with is fine)
  • Pencil and pen
  • Pins
  • Fat quarter of cotton/polyester fusible batting
  • Fat quarter of quarter-inch grid cotton fabric –  available at http://www.spoonflower.com/fabric/2046219
  • Instructions and templates

Instructions

Select four fat quarters of four fabrics for the quilt top. They should be fabrics that go well together, but have some contrast between them.

Select four fat quarters of four fabrics for the quilt top. They should be fabrics that go well together, but have some contrast between them.

Interleave - straight

Next elect the style of interleave you want to try. The most basic shape would be straight, with no shifting. If you follow the instructions below and do not shift your fabrics, the result will be something like what you see here to the right. If you want to try this, just join your pairs of fabric on one edge rather than making tubes and skip the part about templates and cutting open the tube.

Interleave - vaseIn the instructions below I used a vase shape (shown here on the left) to shift my interleave design, but there are lots of other designs you might choose.

Below are example of the following shapes: sine wave, mirrored sine wave, skewed sine wave, hour glass, helix, and marquise. These shapes are all based on sine waves of differing frequencies and amplitudes. I generated them all using a computer program that I wrote. But once you have a feel for how this process works you can adapt these designs yourself without the aid of a computer.

Interleave - sine wavesInterleave - mirrored sine wavesInterleave - DNA Interleave - hourglass Interleave - DNA Interleave - marquise

Once you select the shape you want to use, you will need to create a paper template. I have prepared templates for the designs you see here. You can enlarge, reduce, or adapt them to suit your needs. This template is a PDF file designed to print on 11×17 paper.

The next step is to prepare the foundation for your quilt. Since this is a quilt-as-you-go technique, we will be layering the batting with a backing and a foundation. I like to use a fusible batt so I don’t have to baste it. I also find it makes things easier if you mark your foundation fabric with parallel lines. After marking several foundations by hand with pencil, I designed a grid fabric and had it printed at spoonflower.com on basic combed cotton. I know it is a little pricey for fabric you will never see in the finished piece, but it does save a lot of time and effort. If you would prefer, you can use any white or light-colored fabric and mark it with parallel lines, .5-inch apart.

Layer backing, fusible batting, and grid fabric and fuse together.

Layer backing, fusible batting, and grid fabric and fuse together.

After your foundation is prepared, follow the instructions below to cut your fabric and assemble your quilt.

Cut a 18x9.5 inch strip from each fat quarter.

Cut a 18×9.5 inch strip from each fat quarter.

Decide how to pair your strips; I suggest pairing them so the strips with highest contrast are paired together. Place a pair of strips right sides together, and sew along both long edges with a 1/4-inch seam allowance to form a tube (leave the short edges open). Repeat for the other pair of strips.

Decide how to pair your strips; I suggest pairing them so the strips with highest contrast are paired together. Place a pair of strips right sides together, and sew along both long edges with a 1/4-inch seam allowance to form a tube (leave the short edges open). Repeat for the other pair of strips.

Cut out a paper template with shape you will use to shift your strips.

Cut out a paper template with shape you will use to shift your strips.

Lay the paper template on one of the fabric tubes and trace along the edge with a dark pen. Flip the template over and repeat on the other tube.

Lay the paper template on one of the fabric tubes and trace along the edge with a dark pen. Flip the template over and repeat on the other tube.

Cut both tubes open along the lines you just traced.

Cut both tubes open along the lines you just traced.

Press all the seams to one side. You should now have two panels that are cut to match the curves in your design. To make it easier to keep track of your panels, place a piece of tape on each panel and label them "1" and "2."

Press all the seams to one side. You should now have two panels that are cut to match the curves in your design. To make it easier to keep track of your panels, place a piece of tape on each panel and label them “1″ and “2.”

Using your dark pen, draw a line down the left edge of the front side of each panel. Remember "the Line is on the Left" so that you know how to orient your panels and strips when you sew them together.

Using your dark pen, draw a line down the left edge of the front side of each panel. Remember “the Line is on the Left” so that you know how to orient your panels and strips when you sew them together.

Starting at the bottom of each panel, use your ruler and rotary cutter to slice a 1-inch strip. You may want to slice several strips at a time, but if you do, I suggest numbering them along the edge so you can keep track of what order they are in.

Starting at the bottom of each panel, use your ruler and rotary cutter to slice a 1-inch strip. You may want to slice several strips at a time, but if you do, I suggest numbering them along the edge so you can keep track of what order they are in.

Line up the bottom strip from panel 2 on the bottom edge of your grid fabric, aligning with the line 1-inch from the bottom edge. The strip should be face up with the edge where you marked the line on the left side. Since the edges of the strip are not perpendicular the alignment with the left and right edges will be approximate.

Line up the bottom strip from panel 2 on the bottom edge of your grid fabric, aligning with the line 1-inch from the bottom edge. The strip should be face up with the edge where you marked the line on the left side. Since the edges of the strip are not perpendicular the alignment with the left and right edges will be approximate.

Line up the bottom strip from panel 1 face down on top of the strip from panel 2. Pin in place.

Line up the bottom strip from panel 1 face down on top of the strip from panel 2. Pin in place.

Using a 1/4-in foot sew along the top edge of your strips. A foot with a 1/4-in guide can make this easier. You may prefer to use a walking foot,

Using a 1/4-in foot sew along the top edge of your strips. A foot with a 1/4-in guide can make this easier. You may prefer to use a walking foot,

Press open your strips. Then cut another strip from the bottom of panel 2 and layer it face down on top of the previous strip you sewed. Sew the next strip in place.

Press open your strips. Then cut another strip from the bottom of panel 2 and layer it face down on top of the previous strip you sewed. Sew the next strip in place.

If your strips are not precisely 1-inch thick, don't worry. You should line up the top of each new strip with the next grid line, even if the previous strip falls a little short of that line. In the even you have a strip that goes over the line, you may want to trim it so you can see the line or use a ruler to help with alignment. You can use pins to hold the strips in place, but you may find that after some practice they are not necessary.

If your strips are not precisely 1-inch thick, don’t worry. You should line up the top of each new strip with the next grid line, even if the previous strip falls a little short of that line. In the even you have a strip that goes over the line, you may want to trim it so you can see the line or use a ruler to help with alignment. You can use pins to hold the strips in place, but you may find that after some practice they are not necessary.

Continue alternating between panel 1 and panel 2 strips until you cover the grid. You may have a couple extra strips left over. (To avoid leftover strips, your grid fabric should be at least .5-inch taller than your fabric tubes.)

Continue alternating between panel 1 and panel 2 strips until you cover the grid. You may have a couple extra strips left over. (To avoid leftover strips, your grid fabric should be at least .5-inch taller than your fabric tubes.)

Once all your strips have been sewn down, your quilt is not only pieced, but also quilted.

Once all your strips have been sewn down, your quilt is not only pieced, but also quilted.

For a little extra pizzaz you may want to do some free motion quilting  or other embellishments.

For a little extra pizzazz you may want to do some free motion quilting or other embellishments.

Variations

You can achieve some interesting effects by starting with fabric panels that include interesting shapes. For example, you might cut your fabric into right triangles instead of strips, and interleave them without shifting.

Right triangles Right trianglesInterleaved right triangles

You could use the same panels shown above, form them into tubes, cut them open on a curve, and produce one of the designs below, depending on the shape of the curve you use.

Interleaved and shifted right triangles Interleaved and shifted right triangles

You might also start with panels that have three or more shapes and interleave them as shown on the right below.

side triangles side trianglesinterleaved side triangles

I used this approach to make Interleave #1.

four colored panels, sliced and sewn back together four colored panels, sliced and sewn back togetherIMG_2531

For Interleave #2 I assembled five diagonal strips on each panel. Instead of cutting 1-inch strips for interleaving, I used 1.5-inch strips so that they would end up 1-inch after accounting for seam allowances. In order to keep everything lined up nicely with proper spacing, I had to cut a .5-inch strip after cutting every 1.5-inch strip. These narrow strips are not actually used in the quilt, but they do make for some colorful ribbons. This approach requires more cutting, but a lot less sewing, so the quilt assembly goes faster.

Panels ready to interleave for Interleave#2: Sunset over water Panels ready to interleave for Interleave#2: Sunset over water  Interleave#2: Sunset over water, 24x24" machine pieced and quilted

Finally, interleaving large prints or photos printed on fabric, results in all sorts of interesting possibilities. Below are examples of using wavy striped fabric in Interleave #4, plaid fabric in Interleave #5,  and photos printed on fabric in Interleave #6.

IMG_3421IMG_3527 IMG_4313

Have fun, and let me know how you use this technique!

February 17, 2014 Update!

I’ve been so excited to see the quilts created by some of my workshop participants as well as by a quilter in the San Francisco area, Monica Tong, who found my blog post and followed the instructions to make two quilts. Monica adapted the instructions to use three fabrics in each panel instead of two — which is exactly the idea.

 

Quilt lecture and Interleave workshop

I will be giving a lecture and teaching a workshop for the Pittsburgh-area “Quilt Company East Guild” later this month. If you are interested in attending either of these events, please contact Sally Janis <SallyJanisQCE@verizon.net>.

Info on both events below from the QCE newsletter.

QCE Guild Meeting 
Monday, January 20, at 7:00 pm, Beulah Presbyterian Church
Lorrie Faith Cranor 
Engineering with Fabric

Question: What happens when you combine the mind of an engineer with the soul of an artist and turn them loose on fabric?

Answer: Magic!

Quilt artist Lorrie Faith Cranor has been exploring design, form, and color since she taught herself quilting as a distraction from her engineering and policy graduate studies in the mid-1990s. Her work is a treat for both the eye and the brain.

She is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University where she is director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory (CUPS). During the 2012-2013 academic year she spent her sabbatical as a fellow in the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University where she worked on fiber arts projects that combined her interests in privacy and security, quilting, computers, and technology.

Lorrie has won a number of awards in local and national quilt competitions. Several of her quilts have been featured on the covers of books and journals. She had a solo exhibit at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum in the Summer of 2013.

Interleave#2: Sunset over water, 24x24" machine pieced and quiltedInterleave#2: Sunset over water - detail

January Workshop 
Interleave Technique
Tuesday, January 21, 9:30—2:00, First Baptist Church in Monroeville 

Here’s a chance to learn Lorrie Cranor’s original Interleave technique. Lorrie’s Interleave quilts are pieced using a quilt-as-you-go technique in which thin strips of fabric are sewn to batting and backing. The images above show one of her finished quilts (left) as well as a close-up (right). The interleave design results from cutting these strips from two panels of fabric and piecing alternate strips from each panel. In Lorrie’s quilts, some of the panels are pieced and some are photos printed on fabric. For added interest, Lorrie shifts her strips in a wave pattern. The result of this process is a complex-looking quilt that can be pieced quickly from thin strips sewn in straight lines. In this workshop, Lorrie will break down her process into easy steps. Participants will create their own unique interleave wall hanging.

Non-member Workshop fee is $30 payable to QCE. There is also a $12 materials fee.

class-sample

Here is a sample of a project for the Interleave workshop

For more information on Interleave quilts see the blog posts on Interleave 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

To infinity… and beyond!

While I often imagine myself making homemade gifts for everyone on my list, that doesn’t actually ever happen. This year I got a fun idea for one special gift, and liked it so much that I decided to make several more on a similar theme. This year was the year of the infinity scarf (a scarf with the ends sewn together in a loop). But not just any old infinity scarf…. this year I designed three original fabrics, had them digitally printed at spoonflower.com, and turned them into infinity scarves.

The first scarf was inspired by a colorful painting that my grandmother made earlier this year in her art class. The painting is framed and on display on a shelf in my kitchen. I love the bright-colored swirls and spirals, reminiscent of my own doodles, and thought it would look lovely on a scarf. I took a digital photo of the painting and loaded it into Photoshop. I played with it a bit and realized that all I needed to do was tile it in a mirror-image pattern to create an absolutely stunning design. The shapes in the painting combined with their mirror images to form new shapes and an intriguing pattern.

Painting by Gladys Lipton 2013   gladys-668x900    gladys-tile1

 

I uploaded the design to spoonflower and ordered two yards of performance knit fabric, a washable polyester knit. Then I waited about a week for my custom fabric to arrive in the mail (the worst part of using spoonflower is the wait!).

IMG_5589

Two yards is enough fabric to make three infinity scarves using the free pattern from Sewn Studio’s Jersey Infinity Scarf Tutorial. The tutorial was super easy to follow. The hardest part is cutting two yards of this slippery fabric into three 24-inch pieces. I made my first scarf in less than an hour and was quite pleased with the results. The scarf can be worn long, or looped around twice. It can also be knotted in various ways for a different sort of look – although one of the great features of infinity scarves is that you don’t have to mess around with tying them. I made three scarves – one for Grandma Gladys, one for my mother, and one I kept for myself.

output_19_45_15

I decided to try my hand at some more fabric design. I went back to the Processing computer program I had used to design my Interleave quilts and adapt it for fabric design. My first design is based on my Interleave #3 quilt. I used the same pattern and color scheme, but added gradients so each bar is a lightly different color. The addition of the gradients adds dimension to an otherwise flat design, and makes it almost appear to glow.

My second design was based on my Interleave #4 quilt. Here I completely changed the colors and used gradients to not only add dimension, but also to introduce more colors. I love the way the colored stripes mix to produce the illusion of additional colors. Here you can see the fabric pattern, as well as the scarf being modeled by me as well as by my mother-in-law.

output_20_22_17   Lorrie with interleave infinity scarf   Connie with infinity scarf

The infinity scarves were big hits. Here you can see them modeled by my grandmothers and by my mother. Grandma Gladys, second from the left below, made the painting that is featured on the fabric. (Did you guess that we all like purple?)

Gertie, Gladys, Judy, and Lorrie

These fabrics are all available for sale from my shop at spoonflower. You can have them printed on your choice of fabrics (or even wallpaper or gift wrap).

 

Password dress

IMG_5014This is old news, but just now getting around to posting it. I made a password dress to go with the password quilt. I wore it to the opening of the Computers, Quilts & Privacy show and to give my artist’s talk.  I also wore it to a faculty meeting and disrupted the meeting.

As with the Security Blanket quilt, I generated a Wordle from the RockYou password set, and then edited it in Adobe Illustrator. I selected brighter colors for the dress and had it printed at spoonflower.com on performance knit polyester fabric. I made my own pattern by tracing a store-bought dress I own that fits me well. It is just two pieces of fabric. The only tricky part was finishing the neckline and arm holes. I bought a double needle and used it to do the hem. This was my first foray into sewing with knit fabric.

And here are some more photos from the Computers, Quilts & Privacy show at the Frame. There is also a video of my talk that I will post after it is edited.

Computers, Quilts & Privacy

Quilts from my staybatical will be on exhibit at the Frame Gallery on the Carnegie Mellon campus October 24-November 3, 2013. The Frame Gallery is at 5200 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213, on the corner of Forbes and Margaret Morrison.

Artist’s talk
Friday, November 1, 12:30-1:30 pm
STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, College of Fine Arts Room 111
Lunch provided, please RSVP to studio-info@andrew.cmu.edu.

Join us for a talk by quilt artist Lorrie Faith Cranor. Lorrie is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University where she is director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory (CUPS) and co-director of the MSIT-Privacy Engineering masters program. During the 2012-2013 academic year she spent her sabbatical as a fellow in the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at CMU where she worked on fiber arts projects that combine her interests in privacy and security, quilting, and computers. In this talk she will discuss these interests and how she combined them during her sabbatical. For directions or more information contact Marge Myers at 412-268-3451.

Opening Reception
Friday, October 25, 2-5:30 pm

Gallery Hours
Thursdays: Oct. 24 + 31, 5-9 pm
Fridays: Oct. 25 + Nov. 1, 2-7 pm
Saturdays: Oct. 26 + Nov. 2, Noon to 5 pm
Sundays: Oct. 27 + Nov. 3, Noon to 5 pm

Exhibit flier
Exhibit poster

Security Blanket

As I’ve been thinking about quilt ideas related to security and privacy during my staybatical at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry all year, the title for this quilt was obvious: Security Blanket. Less obvious was the design of a quilt that would fit this title. Ultimately, I took inspiration from the research on the security and usability of text passwords that I’ve been working on with my students and colleagues. While this quilt started out as an art project inspired by my research, what I learned from creating it will likely influence my future password research.

Security Blanket, machine quilted, digitally printed cotton fabric, 63.5″x39″

Our research group has collected tens of thousands of passwords created under controlled conditions as part of our research. Among other things, we have compared these passwords with the archives of stolen passwords that have been made public over the past few years. Perhaps the largest such archive consists of 32 million passwords stolen from social gaming website RockYou and made public in December 2009. These passwords are notably weak, having been created without the requirement to include digits or symbols or even avoid dictionary words. Security firm Imperva published an analysis of these passwords. More recent analyses of stolen passwords have found that passwords stolen in 2012 are pretty similar to those stolen in 2009.

The media had fun publishing the most common passwords from the RockYou breach. As with other breaches, password and 123456 figured prominently. But after you get past the obvious lazy choices, I find it fascinating to see what else people choose as passwords. These stolen passwords, personal secrets, offer glimpses into the collective consciousness of Internet users.

I asked my students to extract the 1000 most popular passwords from the RockYou data set and provide a list to me with frequency counts.  I then went through the list and sorted them into a number of thematic groups. I assigned a color to each group and entered the passwords with weights and colors into the Wordle online word cloud generator. I then saved the output as a PDF and edited it in Adobe Illustrator to rearrange them in a shape that I liked, with some pairs of words purposefully place in close proximity. I designed a border, and had the whole thing printed on one large sheet of fabric by Spoonflower. When the fabric arrived, I layered it with batting and quilted it. I bound it with matching fabric from Spoonflower that I designed.

Sorting 1000 passwords into thematic categories took a while. While a number of themes quickly emerged, many passwords could plausibly fall into multiple categories. I tried to put myself in the mindset of a RockYou user and imagine why they selected a password. Is justin the name of the user? Their significant other? Their son? Or are they a Justin Bieber fan? Is princess a nickname for their spouse or daughter? The name of their cat? Their dog? (It shows up frequently on lists of popular pet names and a recent surveyfound that the most common way of selecting a passord is using the name of a pet.) Is sexygirl self referential? What about daddysgirl? dreamergenius?

When I didn’t recognize a password I Googled it. Most of these unknown passwords turned out to be ways to express your love in different languages. For example, I learned that mahalkita means I love you in Tagalong. Love was a strong theme in any language; there seems to be something about creating a password that inspires people to declare their love.

Not surprisingly, the top 1000 passwords list includes a fair share of swear words, insults, and adult language. However, impolite passwords are much less prevalent than the more tender love-related words, appropriate for all audiences.

There are a couple dozen food-related words in the top 1000 passwords. The most popular is chocolate and most of the others are also sweets (and potentially nicknames for a significant other), but a few fruits and vegetables, and even chicken make their way to the top as well. Among fruits, banana appears in both singular and plural.

Animals are also popular. While felines appear on the password list in a number of forms and languages, monkey is by far the most popular animal, and the fourteenth most popular password. I can’t quite figure out why, and I don’t know whether or not this is related to the popularity of “banana.”

Fictional characters are also popular, especially cartoon characters. The twenty-fifth most popular password is tigger (which might also be on the list because it is a popular name for a cat). A number of super heroes and Disney princesses also make the list, as well as another cartoon cat, hellokitty. Real life celebrities also make the list, including several actors and singers. While at first I thought booboo might refer to the reality TV star Honey Boo Boo, I realized that the date of the password breach predates the launch of that TV show.

A number of passwords relate to the names of sports, sports teams, or athletes. Soccer-related passwords are particularly popular. There are several cities on the list that I’m guessing were selected as passwords because of their sports teams, especially soccer teams.

Besides the obvious lazy password password, and also PASSWORD, password1, and password2, some more clever (but nonetheless unoriginal) variations included secret and letmein. And I love that the 84th most popular password is whatever.

Some passwords puzzled me. Why would anyone select “lipgloss” as their password. Why not “lipstick” or “mascara”? Perhaps it refers to a 2007 song by Lil Mamma?  Why “moomoo”? Why “freedom”?

Even more popular than the word password were the numbers 123456, 12345, 123456789. Other numbers and keyboard patterns also appear frequently. When I laid out the 1000 passwords on the quilt, I scaled them all according to their popularity. The most popular number sequence was chosen by more than three times as many people as the next most common password and was so large that I decided to place it in the background behind the other passwords so that it wouldn’t overwhelm the composition.

I made a few mistakes when designing the quilt that I didn’t notice until I was quilting it (quilting this quilt provided an opportunity to reflect on all the passwords yet again as I stitched past them). One problem was that when I transferred the top 1000 password list to Microsoft Excel while categorizing the passwords, the spreadsheet program removed all the zeros at the beginning of passwords. As a result there are three passwords that are actually strings of zeros (5, 6, and 8 zeros) that are printed simply as 0. In addition there are three number strings that start with a 0 followed by other digits are printed without the leading 0. Another problem was that the color I selected for jesus, christian, angel, and a number of other religious words blended in with the background numbers when printed on fabric, making those words almost invisible (even though they showed up fine on my computer screen). I had carefully checked most of the colors I used against a Spoonflower color guide printed on fabric, but had inadvertently forgotten to check this particular color. I reprinted about half a dozen of these words in a darker color and sewed them onto the quilt like patches that one might add to repair a well-worn spot.

There are also some passwords that I colored according to one category, and upon further reflection I am convinced more likely were selected for a different reason and should be in a different category, but we’ll never know for sure. I invite viewers to discover the common themes represented by my color-coded categories and to speculate themselves about what users were thinking when they created these passwords. Zoom in on the thumbnail images above to see all of the smaller passwords in detail.

The colors, size, and format of this quilt were designed to be reminiscent of a baby quilt, which I imagine might become a security blanket. Like the passwords included in this piece, a security blanket offers comfort, but ultimately no real security.

Inspired!

I’m excited to finally reveal Interleave #6: Porto, which was presented to Ed Frank and Sarah Ratchye at a reception before the Grand Finale dinner of the Carnegie Mellon Inspire Innovation! fundraising campaign last night. I was commissioned to make this quilt to thank Ed for serving as chair of the Inspire Innovation! campaign. (The campaign was incredibly successful, raising well over the $1 billion goal. As a faculty member at a terrific university that has a much smaller endowment than most of our peer institutions, I really appreciate how this infusion of funds will benefit the university.)

I felt truly honored to be asked to make this gift, and somewhat nervous about whether I could produce something that would live up to expectations. Ed and Sarah are art collectors, and Sarah is herself an accomplished artist. The folks who approached me about making the gift were hoping for a piece that would represent the interplay of art and technology, consistent with the mission of the STUDIO. Having spent a good part of the past year working in the STUDIO, I am personally grateful to Ed and Sarah for their financial support of the STUDIO as well.

I did not have a lot of time to produce this quilt, and it involved a number of new techniques I hasn’t tried before. It all came together fairly well until the end. Last weekend I finished the binding, and when I put it up on my design wall for a photograph I realized the corners were not square. Really not square. It was a lovely rhomboid parallelogram. Because I have different prescriptions in each lens of my glasses, when I take my glasses off the world looks a bit un-square (which drives my OCD side nuts). But my glasses were on.  I checked the quilt corners against the grid on my cutting mat, and there was no denying it. The quilt was not square. This was the widest Interleave quilt in the series and I realized that the longer the strips, the more room there is for the fabric to stretch as I sew – and I hadn’t noticed until that point that there was actually quite a bit of skew. I pondered the problem over night and the next day ended up removing the binding and vertical borders so I could square it up. Fortunately, I had used Aurifil 50 weight thread for piecing, which made the un-piecing a snap (my new favorite (un)piecing thread – really nice thin thread with low lint that doesn’t break while sewing but so easy to rip out without tearing your fabric when the situation calls for it). I reattached the borders and the binding and finally could declare it finished.

I already wrote up a little artist’s statement, which the CMU advancement folks had a designer incorporate into a little booklet to accompany the quilt. I will just include the statement here for those of you who want to learn more about the quilt. I’ve also included some bonus images  so you can see how it was made.

Artist’s Statement

At first glance the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University appears like a good place for a computer science professor, but an odd place for a quilter. I am both a quilter and a CMU computer science and engineering professor who is spending my sabbatical as a fellow at the STUDIO.

While other faculty and students in the STUDIO spend the day creating new concepts from behind computer screens, I set up shop with an old sewing machine, an ironing blanket, a cutting mat and a huge pile of colorful fabric.  At the beginning of my fellowship, I smiled politely every time someone suggested ways of attaching the old sewing machine to a robotic arm, and spent days with needle and thread hand quilting colorful lines.

Hand quilting is a process that offers one a lot of time to think, and I did spend a lot of time thinking about the art and craft of quilting, and how I might use technology in my work. For most of my piecing and quilting, I use a sewing machine, which was fairly sophisticated technology when it was invented about 200 years ago. My most recently purchased sewing machine is actually called a “sewing computer” by its manufacturer, and it has some innovative features such as a sensor that can detect the speed at which the operator is moving a piece of fabric so that the machine can automatically adjust the speed at which the needle goes up and down.

I appreciate the added value that technology can bring to my art, enabling me to create in ways that would be difficult or impossible for me unassisted. But it is not my goal to use technology to eliminate the need for me to participate in the fabrication process. Part of my attraction to quilting and fiber arts is the tactile nature of the medium. For me, part of the fun is manipulating fabric and thread with my hands. I want to use technology to enhance my skills – let me sew straighter, faster, better – or, better yet, to let me create in ways I otherwise could not.

STUDIO director Golan Levin suggested the use of digital technology that was necessary for me to create this quilt. When I started my Interleave series of quilts, I sketched the quilt designs in pencil and did some design experimentation with scissors and paper. As I started to design the third quilt in the series, I began using Microsoft PowerPoint to sketch out some ideas involving sine waves. It was a tedious process as PowerPoint was really not the right tool for the job.

Golan saw what I was doing and suggested I write a program using an arts engineering toolkit called Processing to draw my design. As a computer scientist, I wasn’t previously familiar with Processing, which was developed by artists, for artists, and is taught in CMU’s undergraduate art classes. The program I wrote allowed me to generate the sorts of designs I had been struggling with, and it included sliders to allow me to experiment with sine waves of different frequencies and amplitudes. Using this program, I was able to rapidly iterate through large numbers of design possibilities before selecting one to actually fabricate. I did some engineering to figure out how to actually construct the quilt I designed, and then adapted my program to produce full-scale templates that I could print on paper and use to cut out my fabric.

Each quilt in the Interleave series uses a variation on the technique I described, but each includes a new twist on the approach. For Interleave #6, the new twist was the inclusion of a photograph digitally printed on fabric. After considering a variety of photo ideas, I chose a photo I took in Porto, Portugal in 2009 while on a short trip with some of my colleagues to attend a meeting for the Carnegie Mellon Portugal program. Although I was there for less than three days, I managed to meet the Prime Minister José Sócrates as well as experience the city’s São João festival. Walking around the city, I took lots of pictures with my DSLR camera.

Porto is a wonderfully photogenic city, full of hundreds-of-years-old apartments with bright red-orange roofs. The city also has amazing staircases, some of which appear on maps as roads. The Duoro River runs through the city, with tall bridges stretching across it. The view of the Ribeira district from across the river is particularly spectacular, and affords a view of layer upon layer of buildings built into the steep hillside. It is a photo of this view that I selected for the Interleave #6 quilt.

Full-scale paper prototype to check that everything was in order before printing the fabric.

Before printing the photo on fabric, I manipulated it in several ways, including increasing the color vibrancy and saturation. Additionally, I created three versions of the photo at varying degrees of pixilation. Then I used my Processing program to interleave the three versions in a sine wave formation and to leave space for splicing in batik fabrics. Next, I adjusted the end result so it could be printed on fabric complete with guides for cutting and splicing. Since I wasn’t entirely sure I had calculated everything properly, before having the fabric printed at spoonflower.com, I did a trial run with paper to reassure myself that it would work as I envisioned. When the fabric finally arrived in the mail I cut it up and sewed it back together, layered with a foundation grid, batting and backing fabric. The final touch was some hand embroidery for added texture and emphasis.

This was one of the two fabric panels I had printed to make this quilt. I removed the wide yellow and blue stripes and replaced them with batik fabric before making one-inch slices along the white lines.

The quilt is designed to show a view of Porto at various levels of focus, granularity, and abstraction. If you look at the quilt up close the pixelated sections appear mostly as abstract regions of color. On the other hand, you can see the un-pixelated sections most clearly, although they are rippled, as if reflected off water. The ripples are both a design choice, and an artifact of the medium – fabric stretches as it is sewn, so perfect alignment is difficult to achieve.

Step back from the quilt until you are too far away to see the un-pixelated sections clearly, and now the pixelated sections start coming into focus. Step back further and the larger pixelated sections convey meaning. The batik fabric sections appear as regions of color taken from the scene: the most abstract representation, color without meaningful shape. I began playing with pixelated images in my earlier quilts as I explored visual representations of privacy, and have continued to use this technique, even when privacy is not the main focus of a piece.

Interleave #6: Porto
25.5″x31.5″ digitally printed cotton and commercial batik fabric, machine pieced and quilted, hand embroidered with pearl cotton

 

Five-Four

I’ve got a thing going with these Interleave quilts, and now I even have a source of fabric with (almost) precise quarter-inch grid lines for easy foundation piecing of long thin strips. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to find commercial fabric with precise quarter-inch or half-inch stripes or checks, I gave up and created my own on spoonflower.com. You can buy it too. At $17.50/yard for basic combed cotton it is a bit pricey for fabric you will never see in your finished quilt. But if you want to piece narrow strips, this will save you hours of time. Full disclosure: if you buy it I get some royalties. All proceeds will go to support my spoonflower habit. You can see how I used the grid fabric as I pieced the quilt in the photo below. The orange fabric at the bottom is the backing fabric. It was one of the striped fabrics I auditioned and rejected for being too far off from quarter-inch stripes.

For those of you who are wondering why I care so much about precise quarter-inch stripes, quilters tend to piece their quilts with quarter-inch seam allowances. That means the stitching is always a quarter inch from the edge of the fabric. I have a special foot for my sewing machine with a guide that makes easier to do. So if you cut one-inch strips of fabric and piece them with a quarter-inch seam allowance on each side, you get a precise half-inch strip of fabric showing on the front of the quilt. This turns out to work out really well for the Interleave series because the alternating strips occupy the space of the turned under seam allowance of the adjacent strips. You can do this piecing without a foundation and just line up each strip by aligning it with the previous strip. However, I find that cutting long thin strips with perfect precision is difficult, so I am much better off if I align the strips to a pre-marked grid.

So, armed with a couple of yards of “quarter-inch-grid” fabric, I made another Interleave quilt last week. Unlike the other quilts in this series, for this one I made two panels with different numbers of vertical fabric strips. For example, Interleave #4 and Interleave #5 both started with four vertical strips in each panel, while Interleave #3 started with five. Using the same number of strips as well as the same amplitude and frequency for the sine wave shift provides a nice, regular pattern. For Interleave #7, I went for a more chaotic approach and used five strips in one panel and four in the other. There is still an illusion of curved shapes, but these shapes are all different sizes and an interesting five-four rhythm.

This quilt is made entirely from commercial batik fabrics. These are all multi-colored pinks, yellows, and oranges, which provide a rich texture. Two of the fabrics are cool ombre gradient fabrics that change color intensity from top to bottom (look for the yellow wave on the left that starts medium yellow, shifts to pale lemon, and then to cheddar; to the right is a pink wave that starts out cherry red near the top and fades to pale pink).

With the exception of Interleave #2, I did not add any quilting beyond the quilt-as-you-go quilting that is part of the piecing process (since I piece these quilts by sewing the strips directly to a foundation fabric layered over batting, layered over backing fabric). But this time around I decided to add free motion machine quilting as well as a bit of hand embroidered stipples and french knots. The quilting ads some additional depth and also highlights some of the shapes that emerge from the chaos. Click on the photo to the left to see the quilting up close.

Some of you may have observed that I haven’t said anything about Interleave #6. Quite true! Interleave #6 is still a work in progress. I started working on #7 while waiting for some Spoonflower fabric to arrive for #6. Also, #6 was commissioned as a gift, so I won’t be blogging about it until after it is presented to the recipient later this month.

Interleave #7: Five-Four, 25.75″x33″ machine pieced and quilted commercial batik cotton fabric

Tartan Tango

Some time in April a VIP visitor came to the STUDIO to talk with Golan, accompanied by an entourage of folks from CMU public relations and our central administration. While Golan entertained the visitor, members of the entourage wandered around the STUDIO, where they happened to find me surrounded by bright colorful things, working on Interleave #4. I introduced myself and showed them what I was doing. They were intrigued by the Processing program I was using to generate quilt designs, as well as the dozen or so colorful printouts of candidate quilt designs scattered on my desk. They started asking questions. Could I design a quilt like this with a CMU theme? I assured them I could come up with something. They told me they might be interested in commissioning such a quilt and would get back to me. A couple weeks later they sent me email, and asked me to describe a CMU themed quilt I might design with the Processing program. Then they asked for a mockup. They liked what they saw and I got the commission – with a very tight deadline. I got to work right away.

I had promised an Interleave quilt that would represent art and technology being woven together into the fabric of Carnegie Mellon. My design featured sine waves and CMU’s tartan fabric, which appears on graduation hoods and all sorts of official university paraphernalia. Plaid is a tricky fabric to work with, and many a hideous design has been created with CMU’s tartan plaid. I was determined to conquer the plaid. I headed to the campus store to purchase some. It turns out they sell both wool and flannel versions by the yard. I bought a yard of each. I could always make a kilt or pajamas out of whichever fabric I don’t use for the quilt.

I assembled panels of tartan and “solid” batiks and prepared to construct the quilt. From the previous Interleave quilts, I had learned that it really helps to to draw half-inch lines on a foundation fabric and line the strips up with the fabric for quilting. But it is difficult and tedious to draw so many parallel lines on fabric, so I tried to find striped fabric with half-inch or quarter-inch spacing. I asked for advice from some of my favorite online fabric stores but ultimately came up empty handed. I’m sure such a fabric is out there somewhere, but I have been unable to find it (but stay tuned….). So I marked the foundation by hand, and layered it over a sheet of batting and a cute apple print fabric I had in my stash.

The quilt construction proceeded similarly to the previous Interleave quilts. I decided to give this one a border, like a picture frame. I added a half-inch black border and a 1.5-inch tartan border. The tartan border was overwhelming so I trimmed it back to an inch for a much more pleasing effect.

After completing the quilt I photographed it. Fran Flaherty in the CMU Digital Arts Studio made 50 prints of the digital image on 11×14 archival paper.  Perry Beck at the CMU art store cut 50 mats. And I hand numbered and signed 50 prints. And then Fran made 50 certificates of authenticity and I signed those too.

This past weekend the quilt was presented to Maureen Cohon, wife of the outgoing CMU president. Mrs. Cohon gave the matted prints to the partners of the board of trustee members who participated in her “partners program.”

Interleave #5: Tartan Tango
25.5×33.5″ machine pieced and quilted commercial batik cotton fabric and wool tartan fabric

After I finished this project (a few days early even), I took some of the scraps from the tartan quilt and some other recent projects and improv pieced a couple of small quilts for my two graduating PhD students.

Children’s Museum Exhibit

I have a solo exhibit of six quilts hanging at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, on the yellow wall opposite the “Garage” room. These quilts include:  Lying on the Floor of the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum Looking At the Ceiling, De-identification
,  Self PortraitInterleave #1: Venetian LinesInterleave #3: WaveformsInterleave #4: Sine of Spring. (Yes, I finished Interleave #4 last week, just in time to send it over to the museum.) The exhibit should be up for about a month, but I don’t have an exact end date yet. I love the Children’s Museum and am really excited to have an exhibit there.

The exhibit came about after the director of the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum attended a meeting at the STUDIO and saw some of my quilts, including a quilt I made based on a photo I took at the museum. The museum has an art installation called “More Light” by Dick Esterle in their great dome (which used to be a post office). 840 pink and orange streamers are suspended on threads. They are hanging in a grid, so in reality they are parallel. But if you lie on the floor in the very center of the dome and look up the streamers, they appear to radiate out from the center. I snapped some photos with my cell phone while my kids were working on art projects at the museum. As soon as I saw the streamers from that perspective I knew I wanted to make a quilt of that image. The radiating lines in the dome ceiling and the large dark circles are pieced. The lighter circles in the dome and the streamers are all fused on and stitched.

I was speaking at an event in downtown Pittsburgh today so I decided to skip lunch and take a walk across the river to the Children’s Museum to see my quilt exhibit. It was a lovely day for a walk — beautiful weather and blue skies. It was fun to see my quilts on the wall of the museum.
On my way back I stopped to take some photos of Cloud Arbor across the street from the museum. A little girl ran up to me and suggested that I get a little closer to the fountain so that I could get wet. As we were talking, the cloud generator turned on and the girl rushed into the fountain to get wet. If I had not been dressed up and scheduled to speak to a room full of lawyers an hour later, I probably would have followed her.

Sine of Spring

I was so pleased with the results of Interleave #3, that I decided to continue the series and see what else I could do to facilitate my quilt design with Processing. This time I started with some of the fabrics I wanted to use — a wonderful, colorful wavy batik fabric seemed perfect for a sine wave quilt. I matched the colors in this fabric with other fabrics in my collection, and not finding exactly the right shades, it was a good excuse to go fabric shopping.  I worked on the quilt design in Processing, but couldn’t figure out how to represent the multi-colored wavy fabric in a single hue. So I enhanced my Processing program so that I could input digital images and use them to create my interleaved designs. I took digital photographs of a bunch of my fabrics with a ruler next to them (for scale). I then experimented with using these digital images in my computer-generated designs.

The addition of digital images of fabric made my computer-generated interleave designs much more vibrant, and also allowed me to visualize the placement of fabric patterns. I had lots of fun playing with different designs.

I eventually selected a design and began the process of rendering it in fabric. I used a very similar approach as I used in Interleave #3, except this time I drew 64 pencil lines spaced a half-inch apart on a piece of white fabric and layered that foundation fabric over the batting. I then sewed the colored strips to the sandwich of white fabric, batting, and backing, aligning each strip to a pencil line. I was able to use just one pin as I positioned each strip. Not having to line up each strip with a ruler and pin it in place along the whole length of the strip saved a lot of time. By the time I finished this quilt I was able to position, piece, and press each strip within about four minutes. I did run into a few problems with some of my pencil lines that were not completely straight — the fabric stretches a bit when you draw on it with a pencil if you are not careful, causing some of the lines to curve. This inspired a not-yet-successful mission to find a commercial cotton fabric with precise half-inch or quarter-inch stripes that I could use as the foundation.

I enjoyed watching the pattern unfold as I worked on this quilt, and I love these colors, which remind me of spring flowers. This quilt celebrates Spring, which after several false starts, seems finally to have come to Pittsburgh.

Interleave #4: Sine of Spring
24″x31″ machine pieced and quilted commercial batik cotton fabric

Self Portrait

As part of my sabbatical project, I  have been continuing to contemplate ways to visualize privacy. My De-identificaiton quilt featured digitally-printed photos de-identified by their extreme magnification and by splicing them together with other fabric. Another approach to visual de-identification is pixelation. To pixelate an image, we superimpose a grid on the image and replace each cell with a color representing the average of all the pixels in that grid cell. Although pixelation has been shown to be highly vulnerable to automated re-identification, it is a widely used method of obscuring images to make them more difficult for humans to recognize.

I have long been intrigued by the Salvador Dali paintings, Lincoln in Dalivision (1977) and Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko) (1976), which in turn were inspired by Leon Harmon’s grey photomoasic of Abraham Lincoln (1973).

Recently, Ray J released the single “I Hit it First” with a pixelated photo on the album cover. The photo was quickly recognized as a 2010 photo of bikini-clad Kim Kardashian.

Original portrait

While working on my Big Bright Pixels quilt, people kept asking me whether there was a hidden picture or message. There wasn’t. But that did get me thinking about doing a pixel quilt with a hidden image. But what image should I pixelate? I had recently used a pixelated face in the logo I designed for the Privacy Engineering masters program, and a face seemed a natural choice given that faces are commonly pixelated to protect privacy in news photos. (Other body parts are also frequently pixelated, and I love the censorship towel, but I digress.) I settled on pixelating a face, and briefly considered using a face of a famous person before deciding to use my own face. I selected a blue-haired portrait, photographed by Chuck Cranor.

Pixelated portrait

Pixelated portrait

Pixelation can be done trivially with a computer using standard image processing software packages or by rolling your own. I started working on my pixelated quilt before I started programing in Processing, so I used Photoshop to pixelate a headshot of myself. The initial pixelation was nice, but I wanted something more colorful and also higher contrast so that the differences between colors would show up better when printed on fabric (digital printing on fabric tends to dull colors). I experimented with adjusting the contrast, brightness, and color settings in Photoshop until I came up with a brighter and more colorful pixelated image. This was the image I sent to Spoonflower for digital printing.

Pixelated portrait with high contrast and color manipulation

Pixelated portrait with high contrast and color manipulation

By the time the fabric arrived I had gotten busy with other quilts, and I was also a little disappointed in how the printed fabric looked, so I left the fabric sitting out on my table in the STUDIO for a while. I decided that the dulled digital print needed some more punch, so periodically I cut a fabric square to match a pixel in the fabric and pinned it in place. I cut some of these squares from translucent polyester organza, adding some vibrancy and shimmer to the pixels over which I layered them. I cut other squares from lace, commercial batiks, and printed fabrics that were more intense versions of the hues in the digital print. I ended up covering about 20% of the pixels with other fabric.

Back of quilt top with vertical lines sewed

Back of quilt top with vertical lines sewed

After a few months of staring at the pixels I finally decided to sew the quilt together. I used a shortcut technique to sew the quilt together without actually cutting apart the squares in the digital print. I folded the fabric along one of the vertical lines, catching the pinned squares in the fold, and stitched along the line with a quarter-inch seam allowance. I repeated this approach to sew all the vertical lines and pressed all the seam allowances to the side. Then I folded the fabric along one of the horizontal lines and repeated this process. The end result was a pieced quilt top that appeared to have been pieced out of 130 2.25″ squares (2.75″ with seam allowances). Theoretically this approach should have resulted in precisely pieced seams; however, some of the lines are actually slightly off and the rows and columns did not come out quite as square as I had hoped they would.

Pieced quilt top

Pieced quilt top

I layered the quilt top over batting and backing and used a spiral free-motion machine quilting pattern to quilt the whole thing free hand. I did the quilting in several sessions as I had time, doodling spirals until my hands got tired. I used several different thread colors to roughly match the color of the thread with the pixels I was quilting. I decided not to bind this quilt, and instead made an envelope and quilted all the way to the edge. There is a little bit of stippled hand quilting done with perl cotton surrounding my signature in the lower right corner.

So now the quilt is done and I’m pretty happy with this self portrait. Most people who have seen it do not recognize it as a self portrait, which is ok, and sort of the point. On the other hand, Golan said the blue and purple hair was a dead give away for him. I had not actually started out with the intention to make a self portrait, but ultimately I think the piece works better for me as a self portrait than any more accurate likeness would.

 

Self Portrait, machine pieced and quilted 23×30.75″

 

Computational thinking

I’ve been sitting in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry for months as the only artist not using a computer to create art. I’ve deflected the numerous suggestions from the STUDIO folks to add computer power to my art by attaching my old mechanical sewing machine to a robotic arm. I also haven’t laser cut any fabric or created any Arduino-controlled blinky quilts. I still might do some of those things, but I’ve been having too much fun just spending time making quilts. The truth is also that although I am a computer science professor, computer programming is not actually a great love of mine. I can program, but I would rather supervise student programmers than do it myself.

I’ve also been doing a lot of improvisational work this year, trying to be more spontaneous in my art. Rather than pre-planning an entire quilt up front, I’ve been trying to design as I go. However, when I started working on the Interleave series I realized that some planning was going to be needed in order to develop quilts in which a third design emerges from interleaving two separate panels.

For Interleave #1 I did some paper prototyping with tape and scissors. For Interleave #3 I decided I wanted to play with creating curves from straight lines. I grabbed an image of a sine wave and pasted it into a powerpoint file and started drafting quilt designs from dozens of thin rectangular strips. Each design variation involved a tedious process. Golan Levin noticed what I was doing and suggested that I create the designs in a programming language called Processing. I mumbled something about not knowing Processing, and Golan offered to get me started. In about 10 minutes he had written a simple Processing program that drew sine waves filled with color that could be adjusted by dragging the mouse. He emailed me his code, expecting me to finish what he started.

It took me, the computer science professor, another five hours to finish what Golan, the art professor, had started. Golan is actually a much better programmer than I will ever be. But by the time I had finished I was hooked on Processing and could see the utility of writing code to produce a quilt design, even if I was ultimately going to use a traditional quilting process to make the quilt. I added lots of parameters to the program and implemented slider bars to control them — frequency, amplitude, offset, number of colors, etc. By fiddling with the slider bars I could try lots of design variants in a matter of minutes, and save copies of the designs I liked the best (annotated with the parameter values so they could be reproduced).

I started out with nice symmetrical intertwining sine waves forming footballs, slender vases, and squat snake pots where the sine waves overlap. Then I discovered new shapes that could be created by offsetting the sine waves in each panel different amounts. These asymmetrical shapes, like flames in the wind, were even more intriguing and dynamic than the snake pots. So I experimented with asymmetric design variants and eventually settled on a design to render in fabric.

Next came fabric selection. I chose nine commercial batik fabrics and one shiny woven fabric from my stash. The visual texture of the batiks provides an added dimension beyond the flat solid-color image in the computer-generated design.

The next problem was figuring out how to construct this quilt. With two previous Interleave quilts under my belt, I was starting to get a feel for what techniques are most effective. However, this is the first quilt where I attempted interleaved curves. I considered piecing two panels with sine waves and slicing them — basically the process I used for the previous two Interleave quilts, but without any curves. But curved piecing can be tricky, and it occurred to me that this quilt could be created entirely from straight lines. My approach was to cut strips of fabric a little bigger than the width of the colored bands, and a little taller than the height of the quilt. I sewed them together into two tubes with five bands each. I then created a full-scale paper template for the sine waves and used it to cut open the tubes in a stair-step sine wave pattern. Then the tubes were ready for slicing into one-inch strips and sewing to the quilt batting and backing. This time I prepared the backing with half-inch marks, carefully aligned, to make it easier to align and sew the strips. I used Fairfield Soft Touch Cotton Batting as I had in Interleave #2.

With the backing properly marked, the sewing went fairly quickly. It was exciting to watch the design emerge one row at a time.

I think the end result is quite striking. My first foray into writing code to aid my design process was successful. I don’t think I will use this approach for every quilt from now on, but I am eager to try it with some other ideas on the Interleave theme.

Interleave #3: Waveforms, 2013
24.5″x24.5″ machine pieced and quilted cotton fabric

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Bright Pixels

This post is long over due. I actually finished this quilt around Thanksgiving, but I didn’t get around to sewing a hanging sleeve onto the back until a couple of weeks ago — so I couldn’t hang it up and take a photo until recently. But I got distracted with other projects, including some not-so-sabbatical-related projects. But now it is done, and photographed and posted.

I already blogged about this quilt while I was working on it, so just a brief update here. After my first blog post on this quilt, Aleecia McDonald pointed me towards Gerhard Richter’s Cologne Cathedral stained glass windows. My quilt takes a very similar approach to Richter — similar sized squares, similar colors. But besides the difference in medium (glass vs. fabric), the algorithm for selecting colors is rather different. Richter used a computer program to execute an algorithm designed to produce something that would resemble random static. My algorithm was less precise, and just executed in my head. My goal was to create something more like a color gradient with random variations. Nonetheless, these pieces strike me as rather similar. I love the scale of Richter’s windows as well as the use of glass as a medium.

So there you have it… Big Bright Pixels.

 

Auction Quilt

For the past several years I’ve donated a small quilt for the fundraising auction at the local public elementary school that my kids attend. I’ve just finished this year’s auction quilt, a small 24-inch square wall quilt called “Interleave #2: Sunset over water.” This is the second in my series of Interleave art quilts, and it seems likely there will be more. (See my last post for Interleave #1′s story.)  The quilt will be auctioned off on February 16. Contact me for details if you are interested in bidding.

Interleave #1 had a lot going on, with primary-colored improv-pieced panels spliced together before being sliced into 24 pieces and sewn back together again. For Interleave #2 I made the panels out of only six pieces of fabric each, and I sliced them into only 12 pieces. But there is still a lot of texture here, as most of the fabrics I used are multi-colored commercial batiks. I cut the slices 1.5-inches wide so that they would end up 1-inch after accounting for seam allowances. In order to keep everything lined up nicely with proper spacing, I had to cut a .5-inch strip after cutting every 1.5-inch strip. These narrow strips are not actually used in the quilt, but they do make for some colorful ribbons that are too nice to throw away.

This time I used Fairfield Soft Touch Cotton Batting. I found it made the quilt-as-you-go quilting a little bit easier than the Thermore I used last time because the fibers don’t puff up as much. I also marked the ends of each row directly on the batting with a fabric marker and used my new 36″ clear plastic ruler to make it easier to keep everything lined up. Unfortunately, I made a mistake while marking that I didn’t notice until I was almost done, so gave myself a bit of an extra challenge and wondered why I had to keep correcting things that weren’t lining up. The fact that the strips were cut on the bias (and thus fairly stretchy) added to the challenge of keeping everything lined up.

This quilt is finished with some meandering free motion machine quilting in a colorful variegated thread. I debated whether or not to add the quilting to this one. I think it looked fine without it, but the quilting pulls the whole thing together nicely.

Interleave#2: Sunset over water, 24×24″ machine pieced and quilted

Winter break projects

In between family activities I worked on some artsy activities over winter break. My mother taught me how to crochet (but I haven’t made anything other than practice pieces), and I worked on some Spoonflower fabric for a couple of future projects (stay tuned!).  I spent most of my time on a small wall quilt that involved cutting fabric into lots of small pieces, sewing those pieces together, cutting them up, and sewing them back together again.

My inspiration came from some images of quilts by Kent Williams in the January 2013 issue of American Quilter. I like the way Kent creates the illusion of shape by sewing together thin strips of fabric and I wanted to try the technique. But thin strips of fabric are hard to sew precisely. I also recently read an article in the December 2012 Quilting Arts Magazine by Ann Brauer in which she explained her quilt-as-you-go approach for making quilts out of thin strips of fabric. It occurred to me that Ann’s method might simplify the construction of the quilt I envisioned. (I’m actually not entirely sure about Kent’s method. I’ve only found tiny photos of his quilts – not enough detail to reverse engineer his process. I did observe that the short edges of his strips are all butted up against the next strip at 90 degree angles, suggesting his technique for cutting the strips is different than the one I describe below.) I worked out that with 1/4 inch seam allowances, if I cut the fabric into 1-inch strips, half of each strip would be lost to seam allowances. Thus 1-inch strips from two panels of fabric could be interleaved, allowing the designs from the two panels to be superimposed without distortion. I decided to add improvisational piecing to the mix to add an extra layer of interest to the design, and because improv piecing is fun.

This quilt was a lot of fun to make but it required some courage to keep cutting up what looked like a perfectly good composition with the expectation that when I sewed it back together according to a vision I had in my mind, the result would be even better.

The first step was to make four 26-inch single-color square panels, each improvisationally pieced from about a half-dozen fabrics. The panels were each beautiful on their own, and lovely when placed together. I hesitated to cut them up.

I did some paper prototyping to convince myself that my slicing plan was going to work, and also to experiment with some of the details. I cut up photos of the single-color panels and reassembled them into red/blue and yellow/green panels. Then I tried positioning the red/blue panel perpendicular to the yellow/green panel, and sliced them both into 24 strips. I wasn’t entirely pleased with the results – the red/blue panel didn’t show strongly because the lines separating the colors got lost between the slices (left image). I cut up another red/blue paper panel, this time rotated 90 degrees. I liked the result (center image), but now the shapes in the two panels were superimposed and didn’t interact in interesting ways. In my third attempt (right image) I shifted the red/blue strips until they created an interesting overlapping pattern (and indeed this is the effect I love in Kent Williams’ quilts).

 

 

 

 

 

My next challenge was figuring out exactly where to slice the single-color panels to make the red/blue and yellow/green panels. Originally I was going to slice them at somewhat random angles, but my paper prototyping convinced me that I would get better results if I selected the angles purposefully and made the panels mirror images of each other. I figured out the ratios I wanted and actually did a bit of algebra to work out exactly where to make the cuts. I did the slicing and reassembly and had four striking bi-color panels. This time I was really hesitant to slice them up again, but I sauntered on and prepared to begin cutting up two of the bi-color panels.

But before I started slicing, I needed one more prototype to test out the quilt-as-you go technique. I grabbed some scrap fabric and sliced it into one-inch strips. But what kind of batting to use? I decided I wanted a fairly light batting, and nothing fusible (lately I’ve been enjoying the convenience of Hobbs Heirloom Fusible Cotton/Poly Batting). I had some pieces of Fairfield Soft Touch Cotton Batting and Thermore Ultra Thin Polyester Batting, which both seemed like reasonable choices for the project. I cut a small sample of each and tried both. The results were fine either way. The Thermore (on the left of the above sample) resulted in a lighter weight quilt that felt less stiff than the cotton (on the right). But both looked about the same once they were inside the quilt.

I decided to use the Thermore in my quilt, mostly because I had a piece already cut that was about the right size. I cut out some backing fabric for my quilt (blue fabric with primary-colored fish that I bought years ago to make baby quilts) a little bit larger than the batting and layered the batting on top of it. I had been planning to use the edge of each previous fabric strip sewed as a guide for sewing the next strip, but my prototype revealed that would likely lead to skewed  lines after a few strips. So I used a fabric pen to mark guide lines along the left and right edges of the backing fabric every half inch.

Then I setup an assembly line. I layered a red/blue panel over a yellow-green panel on my gridded cutting mat and made a one-inch slice. I then placed one fabric slice on the batting, used a straight edge to align the slice with the guide lines, and pinned it in place. For the first strip only, I did not immediately sew it, but placed the second strip in place and sewed them together. I pressed open the second strip, cut more strips, aligned the next strip, sewed, and repeated over and over again. I waited in suspense until I had sewn enough strips that the pattern started to emerge, and I could see the quilt in my mind take form in fabric. But it wasn’t until many, many hours later after all 48 strips were cut and sewn in place that I had confidence that this quilt was going to “work.”

Now, the quilt is finished and bound. Overall I’m pleased with the result. I like the interweaving images. I like the third layer of images from the improv piecing. I like the fact that it looks like you are looking through Venetian blinds. Sometimes when I look at it I think the contrast between the adjacent interleaved strips is too much and creates some visual dissonance. I would like to try this technique again with lower-contrast fabrics. I wish I had cut and sewn some of the strips straighter. Would a bigger rotary cutter, longer ruler, or different batting help? I wonder how it would look with fatter strips. What if they were cut diagonally? I’m contemplating a more purposeful placement of fabrics in the single-color panels. I’m pondering doing this with curves and with photos printed on fabric. So many ideas…. But first I have to decide what to do with the other two bi-colored panels.

Interleave #1: Venetian Lines – 23.75″x23.75″ Machine pieced and quilted cotton fabric.

 

 

 

P3P is dead, long live P3P!

I didn’t attend the W3C’s Do Not Track and Beyond Workshop last week, but I heard reports from several attendees that instead of looking forward, participants spent a lot of time looking backwards at last decade’s W3C web privacy standard, the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P). P3P is a computer-readable language for privacy policies. The idea was that websites would post their privacy policies in P3P format and web browsers would download them automatically and compare them with each user’s privacy settings. In the event that a privacy policy did not match the user’s settings, the browser could alert the user, block cookies, or take other actions automatically. Unlike the proposals for Do Not Track being discussed by the W3C, P3P offers a rich vocabulary with which websites can describe their privacy practices. The machine-readable code can then be parsed automatically to display a privacy “nutrition label” or icons that summarize a site’s privacy practices.

Having personally spent a good part of seven years working on the P3P 1.0 specification, I can’t help but perk up my ears whenever I hear P3P mentioned. I still believe that P3P was, and still is, a really good idea. In hindsight, there are all sorts of technical details that should have been worked out differently, but the key ideas remain as compelling today as they were when first discussed in the mid 1990s. Indeed, with increasing frequency I have discussion with people who are trying to invent a new privacy solution that actually looks an awful lot like P3P.

Sadly, the P3P standard is all but dead and practically useless to end users. While P3P functionality has been built into the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) web browsers for the past decade, today thousands of websites, including some of the web’s most popular sites, post bogus P3P “compact policies” that circumvent the default P3P-based cookie-blocking system in Internet Explorer. For example, Google transmits the following compact policy, which tricks IE into believing that Google’s privacy policy is consistent with the default IE privacy setting and therefore its cookies should not be blocked.

P3P:CP="This is not a P3P policy! See 
http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=15165 for more info."

Ceci n'est pas une pipeGoogle’s approach is both clever and (with apologies to Magritte) surreal. The website transmits the code that means, “I am about to send you a P3P compact policy.” And yet the content of the policy says “This is not a P3P policy!” Thus, to IE this is a P3P policy, and yet to a human reader it is not. As P3P is computer-readable code, not designed for human readers, I argue that it is a P3P policy, and a deceptive one at that. The issue got a flurry of media attention last February, and then was quickly forgotten. The United States Federal Trade Commission and any of the 50 state attorney generals (or even a privacy commissioner in one of the many countries that now has privacy commissioners to enforce privacy laws) could go after Google or one of the the thousands of other websites that have posted deceptive P3P policies. However, to date, no regulators have announced that they are investigating any website for a deceptive P3P policy. For their part, a number of companies and industry groups have said that circumventing IE’s privacy controls is an acceptable thing to do because they consider the P3P standard to be dead (even though Microsoft still makes active use of it in the latest version of their browser and W3C has not retired it).

The problem with self-regulatory privacy standards seems to be that the industry considers them entirely optional, and no regulator has yet stepped in to say otherwise. Perhaps because no regulators have challenged those who contend that circumventing P3P is acceptable, some companies have already announced that they are going to bypass the Do Not Track controls in IE because they do not like Microsoft’s approach to default settings (see also my blog post about why I think the industry’s position on ignoring DNT in IE is wrong).

Until we see enforcement actions to back up voluntary privacy standards such as P3P and  (perhaps someday) Do Not Track, users will not be able to rely on them. Incentives for adoption and mechanisms for enforcement are essential. We are unlikely to see widespread adoption of a privacy policy standard if we do not address the most significant barrier to adoption: lack of incentives. If a new protocol were built into web browsers, search engines, mobile application platforms, and other tools in a meaningful way such that there was an advantage to adopting the protocol, we would see wider adoption. However, in such a scenario, there would also be significant incentives for companies to game the system and misrepresent their policies, so enforcement would be critical. Incentives could also come in the form of regulations that require adoption or provide a safe harbor to companies that adopt the protocol. Before we go too far down the road of developing new machine-readable privacy notices (whether comprehensive website notices like P3P, icon sets, notices for mobile applications, Do Not Track, or other anything else), it is essential to make sure adequate incentives will be put in place for them to be adopted, and that adequate enforcement mechanisms exist.

I have a lot more to say about the design decision made in the development of P3P, where some of the problems are, why P3P is ultimately failing users, and why future privacy standards are also unlikely to succeed unless they are enforced. In fact I wrote a 35-page paper on this topic that will published soon in the Journal on Telecommunications and High Technology Law. Some of what I wrote above was excerpted from this paper, and I’ve also posted a preprint of the whole paper for your reading enjoyment. If you are contemplating a new privacy policy/label/icon/tool effort, please read some history first. Here is the abstract:

Necessary But Not Sufficient: Standardized Mechanisms for Privacy Notice and Choice

For several decades, “notice and choice” have been key principles of information privacy protection. Conceptions of privacy that involve the notion of individual control require a mechanism for individuals to understand where and under what conditions their personal information may flow and to exercise control over that flow.  Thus, the various sets of fair information practice principles and the privacy laws based on these principles include requirements for providing notice about data practices and allowing individuals to exercise control over those practices. Privacy policies and opt-out mechanisms have become the predominant tools of notice and choice. However, a consensus has emerged that privacy policies are poor mechanisms for communicating with individuals about privacy. With growing recognition that website privacy policies are failing consumers, numerous suggestions are emerging for technical mechanisms that would provide privacy notices in machine-readable form, allowing web browsers, mobile devices, and other tools to act on them automatically and distill them into simple icons for end users. Other proposals are focused on allowing users to signal to websites, through their web browsers, that they do not wish to be tracked. These proposals may at first seem like fresh ideas that allow us to move beyond impenetrable privacy policies as the primary mechanisms of notice and choice. However, in many ways, the conversations around these new proposals are reminiscent of those that took place in the 1990s that led to the development of the Platform for Privacy Preferences (“P3P”) standard and several privacy seal programs.

In this paper I first review the idea behind notice and choice and user empowerment as privacy protection mechanisms. Next I review lessons from the development and deployment of P3P as well as other efforts to empower users to protect their privacy. I begin with a brief introduction to P3P, and then discuss the privacy taxonomy associated with P3P. Next I discuss the notion of privacy nutrition labels and privacy icons and describe our demonstration of how P3P policies can be used to generate privacy nutrition labels automatically. I also discuss studies that examined the impact of salient privacy information on user behavior.  Next I look at the problem of P3P policy adoption and enforcement. Then I discuss problems with recent self-regulatory programs and privacy tools in the online behavioral advertising space.  Finally, I argue that while standardized notice mechanisms may be necessary to move beyond impenetrable privacy policies, to date they have failed users and they will continue to fail users unless they are accompanied by usable mechanisms for exercising meaningful choice and appropriate means of enforcement.