Scarves, scarves, and more scarves

DSCF7849Last summer I took photos of a bunch of my favorite paintings by Grandma Gladys (see also this article about her and this TV interview), and then turned them into fabric designs on spoonflower.com. I then turned a couple of my favorite designs into infinity scarves, and when I told Grandma about it, she requested one of each. It has taken me a while to make this happen, but with the help of Jen Primack of Upcycled Designs, I now have a big stack of infinity scarves ready to ship to Grandma. These were all printed by Spoonflower on performance polyester. They each use a half yard of fabric (so you get 2 out of a 1-yard cut). Fabric is folded the long way, sewn in a tube inside out, joined at the ends with a small opening, turned right side out, and the opening stitched closed.

I setup a tripod and took a lot of selfies so you could see all the scarves. Since I had enough fabric for 2 of each, I’m keeping the duplicates of some of my favorites for myself… but so hard to decide!

Tartan Tango, now in scarf form

Lorrie modeling Tartan Tango infinity scarf

A few months ago I got a request from the powers that be at CMU to design a scarf based on my Tartan Tango quilt design that they had commissioned when I was on sabbatical back in 2013. I was happy to oblige. I dusted off my Interleave quilt design software and produced a fabric design based on the quilt. After experimenting with the design in both a large and small size, we settled on the smaller version.

But they wanted 50 of them ASAP, which is well beyond what I could possibly sew in a week (or even a year given my current schedule). So I ordered a huge bolt of fabric from Spoonflower and subcontracted the sewing to Jen Primack of Upcycled Designs.  Jen cut the fabric and sewed it on her serger, and was able to deliver the first half of the order within a few days, and the second half not long after.

I also learned a bit about scarf packaging, and acquired suitable glossy white boxes and gold “stretch loops” for a finishing touch (yes, that is the proper term for those gold elastic cords, tied in a bow, that decorate small packages… I just learned that).

I have another slightly smaller project in the works that Jen is helping me with, and will sew a few more scarves myself with fabric I designed from Grandma Glady’s paintings.

25 Tartan Tango infinity scarves

25 Tartan Tango infinity scarves on my kitchen table

Password fashion and home decor roundup

Bad password fabric

I’ve been collecting images of all the cool things that I and others have made with my bad password fabric. The fabric is available from Spoonflower in three size and both with and without the naughty words. It has a purple background and includes 501 passwords. Spoonflower offers a variety of different kinds of fabrics, including a performance knit, basic cotton, and faux suede. They also will print this design on wrapping paper and wall paper.

Bad passwords dress (Security Blanket quilt in background)

Recapping for those who are just seeing this, I designed a series of bad password fabrics based on the most popular passwords stolen in a Rockyou.com data breach. First I made a “Security Blanket” quilt printed on basic cotton fabric in pastel colors. This quilt appeared in Science Magazine and was on display at the residence of the Carnegie Mellon University president for most of last year. Then I designed a purple version of the fabric and made a password dress with performance knit fabric. The dress has gotten some nice press on CNET, the Trib, and the Women you should know blog.

Then my friends started requesting other password apparel. Mary Ellen Zurko commissioned my friend Jen Primack of Upcycled Designs to make her a t-shirt from cotton knit fabric. Then Jeremy Epstein asked for ties, and we found Jen Knickerbocker of LoveCrushDresses and got her to offer regular ties and bow ties in her Etsy shop. The ties are made from cotton sateen.

Bad passwords t-shirtbad passwords tiesbad password bow ties (two)

Then Jen Primack bought an old chair and reupholstered it with my passwords fabric in heavy cotton twill. Doesn’t it look great in my living room?

password chair upholstered by Jen Primack password chair upholstered by Jen Primack

Kristin Briney emailed me to tell me she had made a password dress from cotton poplin. And I just made a password infinity scarf from silky faille (a woven polyester).

Kristin Briney's bad password dresspassword infinity scarf

Password baby quilts and couch throws made out of kona cotton are coming soon….

In the mean time, I’ve gotten many requests to wear the password dress to events. I wore it to give an invited talk at the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (where I was referred to as a “password researcher and fashion idol“). I also wore it to a couple of briefings I gave to Congressional staff on Capitol Hill.

Lorrie speaking about passwords at Grace Hopper Celebration Lorrie with Jeremy Epstein wearing password apparel Susie, Lorrie, and Roxana at NSF Congressional briefing

And for those wondering about the different types of fabric. The polyester fabrics are much brighter than the cottons. They are all fairly consistently bright with nice saturated colors. My favorite is the performance polyester, which doesn’t wrinkle and has a little bit of stretch and a nice drape. But it’s not really what you want to use for a quilt or a tie. The kona cotton is a little disappointing because the colors print a little dull. The basic cotton (which is similar to the kona but slightly lighter weight and less expensive), cotton sateen, and the heavy cotton twill produce brighter colors. They aren’t as bright as the polyester, but they are noticeably brighter than the kona cotton. The cotton silk also does not produce bright colors. I think the polyester silky faille might work well for ties and some other applications where you might otherwise use a woven cotton but want brighter colors. It’s a little slippery and harder to work with than cotton though. I got samples of the polyester faux suede and polyester eco canvas. They are both lovely bright fabrics, but I haven’t made anything out of them yet.

1/22/15 update: Von Welch, Director of the Center for Applied Cyber Security at Indiana University Bloomington wore his Password tie for a local TV interview. The reporters loved the tie and commented on it at the end of the interview.

2/6/15 update: Baby quilt in kona cotton finished!

DSCF7245 DSCF7251

 

7/16/15 update: I made a password bolster pillow for the CMU ECE department head’s conference room.

DSCF0090 DSCF0097

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.

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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 

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 (UPDATE: You can purchase similar fabric on spoon flower that I created and ties made from this fabric on Easy…. and read about lots of other passwords stuff made by me and other people) 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.

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

 

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.

 

 

 

This post is brought to you by the letter B

I finished a little quilt this week. No deeper meaning in this one. It is the letter B. Or if you rotate it 90 degrees counter-clockwise it is an autumn landscape with two ponds, or a pink crocodile winking at you in the water.

This is a 12-inch square made as part of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh‘s Artabet project. Members of the guild are making letters that will be photographed and used to create alphabet wrapping paper. There will also be an exhibit of the letters this spring. Some people asked to do their initial. I didn’t request any particular letter, so B is what I got assigned.

This quilt is mostly about shape and color. The negative spaces are as important as the positive spaces. I was aiming for a composition that was appealing even if you don’t care about the letter B, which I don’t.  I also wanted a quilt that demonstrates the techniques I like to use and my personal style.

This letter B is bright, bold, bodacious. It speaks with bravado. And yet, it is also playful (bouncy? that’s the closest synonym I can find that starts with B). When this B enters the room, heads turn.

I designed the shapes in Illustrator and printed a template, which I traced onto freezer paper. I cut out the freezer paper pieces and ironed them onto the fabric and cut around them loosely. The pink/orange part of the B is improvisationally pieced from scraps of pink and orange batiks. There are three light blue fabrics, one green, one violet. I assembled the pieces using reverse applique. For example, I loosely cut the B and layered it on the dotted blue fabric. I stitched along the edge of the B and then cut away the excess pink and orange fabric. Then I zigzagged over the raw edge. I couched (couching is sewing yarn or cord to fabric by zigzagging over the yarn) an orange and rainbow twisted yarn on the edges of the B. I filled the B with free-motion machine-quilted stipples and some random hand quilting. The blue area has straight-line machine quilting and french knots. There is some embroidery in the violet area. I attached a mitered French binding on the edges.

So there you have it: the letter B.

 

De-identification

When I applied for my sabbatical, I proposed to explore visualizing privacy concepts through art. It sounded like a plausible way to tie my research interests to my sabbatical plan, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to do that. Well, I have now finished my second sabbatical quilt, and it is actually about privacy. And there is a long story to go with it.

When I was at SXSW last spring, I saw a Japanese startup at the trade show that was handing out 30x lenses you could stick on your smartphone. They wanted people to use the lenses to take close-up photos of their skin problems and upload them to a social network called Beautécam. I was somewhat horrified by the concept, but happily accepted a 30x lens and hurried off to another booth. When I got home I stuck the lens on my Android phone and started taking photos. Once I got the hang of using it (it has a very short focal length) I was amazed at the detailed photos it took. I took a bunch of photos of fabrics and flowers with very nice results.

Using the lens made me think a lot about privacy. Given my research area, I think a lot about privacy anyway, but this creepy skin-care lens seemed well suited for visualizing privacy concepts. I tried to understand why the intended use of this lens had such a high “yuck” factor for me. For one thing, 30x closeup photos of skin are actually not very attractive, even if your skin is flawless, which mine certainly is not. But most of us don’t get really close-up views of very many other peoples’ skin, because that usually requires being in uncomfortably close proximity to those people. We all learn to keep a certain distance away from people out of respect for their personal space. Just how far that distance is seems to vary somewhat by culture.

In order to be in focus, an object must be within about a millimeter of the end of the 30x lens. So using this lens to photograph skin requires pressing the lens against the skin. Taking pictures of flowers with the lens requires shoving the cone-shaped lens into the center of the flower, and in some cases, gently prodding the flower into the center of the lens. So, there is no way to use the lens without invading the personal space of the person or object you are photographing. Of course, flowers don’t care, but I like the metaphor.

The flower images and the privacy metaphor especially intrigued me, and I started thinking about how I might use them in a quilt. I assembled a panel of some of my favorite flower images in Photoshop and uploaded them to Spoonflower, a company that prints digital images on fabric. About a week later Spoonflower delivered a yard of Kona cotton fabric with my images printed on it. The images looked soft and lovely on the fabric, although the colors were not as intense as in the original. After I machine washed the fabric a little more intensity was lost. Clearly the images would need embellishment to regain some of the vibrancy of the originals.

After pondering the images on the fabric for a while I decided to take advantage of the lossy images and use the fabric for a study of visual de-identification. I selected nine of the images and set out to create a 12-inch block featuring each one. I went to my fabric stash and pulled out a large stack of fabrics (mostly batiks) that blended with the colors in the flower images. Each block has these ready-made commercial fabrics spliced together with my custom-printed fabric. On some of the blocks I overlaid polyester organza, a shimmery, translucent fabric. In some blocks, I retained large areas of the flower image, with small strips of fabrics spliced between. In other blocks the flower images are chopped into small pieces and interspersed among the commercial fabrics. I put each block together improvisationally, as a mini-quilt unto itself.

I assembled nine blocks and then sewed the blocks together into a very colorful 3×3 square. I pondered what color to use to bind the quilt, and eventually decided it would look better without binding. So I decided to try the envelope method of binding in which the front and back of the quilt are layered facing each other (with the batting layered on top), sewn around the edges, and turned right-side out through a slit in the backing fabric. The slit gets covered over in the end by the hanging sleeve. The result is a nice clean, modern-looking edge to the quilt, rather than a picture frame.

The next decision, was how to quilt the piece. I decided to use a mix of techniques — free-motion machine quilting, straight-line machine quilting, hand quilting, and embroidery –and use the quilting to both add color intensity and to further de-identify the flower images. Each block has its own quilting pattern that spills out into neighboring blocks. There are fun spirals, circles, petals, and stipples free-motion quilted in bright colors. There are yellow, red, and lavender French knots, liberally sprinkled throughout. And lots of hand and machine quilted lines.

Looking at the finished piece, I see a lot going on. There are nine separate compositions that are loosely tied together (not as well as I had hoped, actually, but perhaps that’s part of the point). There are flower images rendered difficult-to-identify by the unusual close vantage point from which they were taken. These images are further obfuscated by slicing and reassembly, overlays, and stitching. The edges of images are mixed with their neighbors so it isn’t always clear what pieces belong with which images. But if you saw the original flowers, you could probably eventually re-identify most of the images. (Perhaps I will do another quilt on “re-identification.”) It is a lot like personal data de-identification, in which data is removed and digital noise is introduced, but in the end the de-identified data might be re-identified given sufficient contextual information.

Improvisational quilting

Finished! While waiting for the storm to pass this afternoon I put the last few stitches into my first sabbatical quilt, and called it done. “Improv Quilt #2″ is (obviously) the second in my series of quilts that take more of an improvisational approach than I’m used to.

I have experimented with a lot of quilting techniques, but most of the quilts I have made were fairly well planned out before I ever started cutting any fabric. Indeed, many of my quilts have been drawn out in great detail in PowerPoint (because it is fast and easy to change color schemes), or sketched in pencil and all the pieces enlarged and traced onto fabric. I like having the ability to experiment with color and design before I “commit,” but it does make the sewing process less interesting because most of the design decisions have already been made. Piecing becomes just a mechanical process, and I start fixating on all the flaws: the corners that don’t quite meet, the squares that aren’t quite square, all the ways the finished quilt deviates from the plan. I’m not quite patient enough to take the time necessary to get everything perfectly lined up, although sometimes I rip out the flawed seams and try again.

So two years ago I decided to try being more improvisational in my quilting. In “2hip 2b square” I made freezer paper templates from an enlarged pencil sketch. But I selected the fabric as I went and pieced it without a guide before trimming it to match the templates. It was a transition piece for me: I was able to hold onto my templates, but still save many design decisions to be made while piecing.

Last year I decided to take improvising a step further when I started the improv quilt series with “Improv Quilt #1.” For this quilt, the only planning I did in advance was selecting the 10 “sunset-colored” fabrics. I made up the rules that all shapes had to be convex quadrilaterals and two shapes from the same fabric could not touch each other. So, basically all the shapes had to be four-sided boxes, but the sides did not have to be parallel. I cut and sewed, and cut up what I sewed, and sewed more things to it. And eventually the pieces got to about the right size so I trimmed them a bit so I could sew them together and the whole thing would fit into a square.

I enjoyed the improv technique and decided to try it again in a different color scheme. This quilt was designed around the blue batik fabric with the red dots. I selected 7 other fabrics from my stash that would collectively complement the red dot fabric. As it turns out, I selected all batiks except for some blue silk, which adds a bit of actual texture (the batiks all have a lot of visual texture). And I used the same rules as before and started sewing and cutting, but this time on the old Pfaff sewing machine I borrowed for the STUDIO. This project also served as a warm-up to get used to sewing on the Pfaff. Part way through I decided I needed more contrast so I added just one little strip of the yellow and green striped fabric.

Once the quilt top was pieced I started machine quilting lots of parallel lines on the Pfaff. While it is inferior to my Bernina in many ways, the Pfaff’s dual feed foot is actually a really nice feature, and perhaps better than the walking feet used on most other sewing machines to sew multiple thick layers without the layers shifting or bunching up. But as much fun as I was having sewing straight lines, the red dot fabric was posing a dilemma. I didn’t really want to sew lines through those dots.

Improv Quilt #2 detail with French knotsI went to a lecture by fiber artist Susan Brandeis, and was intrigued by her non-traditional techniques. She had brought several small pieces that were quilted with embroidery stitches. So the next day I watched a Youtube video on how to make French knots and then made a few rows of French knots in red perl cotton in the center of the red dots. My original plan was to make some French knots here and there, but I really liked to effect and making knots was somehow kind of addicting. So I started making more knots, and more, and more. And eventually every red dot in that quilt had a knot in its center. It creates a beautiful texture, and everyone who sees it seems to want to touch it. I used more red perl cotton to add texture to the red shapes with running stitches, placed strategically to match the grid design in the fabric. And I used purple perl cotton to add a stippled pattern to some of the blue shapes. I took the quilt home and did some free motion quilting on my Bernina before finishing off the last few shapes with more parallel lines. There a couple of shapes left unquilted to provide some contrast. This quilt has lots of texture, both visual and physical.

Usually I select one fabric for a double-fold French binding. But I couldn’t decide which fabric to use for the binding. I wanted more yellow/green, but thought outlining the whole quilt in it would be too much. So I opted for a binding pieced from leftover scraps of the fabrics in the quilt. I had a slight mishap when one of the seams ended up exactly in one of the corners, rendering it impossible to achieve a smooth mitered corner. I had to undo a couple of inches on either side of the corner and surgically splice in another piece of fabric after the rest of the binding was already attached (yes, this must be why I usually don’t piece bindings). Once the binding was attached I added hanging sleeves to the back, and then done! Another successful improv quilt.

As I was working on this quilt, I also realized how well it goes with the tiles I recently picked out for my kitchen renovation… perhaps I will hang it in the kitchen.