More Single Line Art

I am a better line processor than any algorithm we currently have access to. Behold what I turned into a SINGLE LINE by hand:

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Many people think we’re using Mathematica to do the drawings of our Quilt Money. We’re not! I am drawing all this stuff by hand. Theo uses Mathematica to route my drawings that contain T-intersections, but I’m learning to make my drawings single lines without T-intersections by hand, because they route much better that way. Everything below was drawn by me, by hand:


Only a few bits (the seals and part of the border) need to be routed in Mathematica. Everything else I drew as single paths. Which is quite a brain-hurter, lemme tell ya. Here’s a screen capture of me working on this same project last week:

I could do this much more efficiently now, using what I’ve learned since then. Which is good, because the better I get at this, the more I can help someone else create algorithms to automate this kind of work.

And yes, at some point we hope to offer an affordable $100 Quilt. But first I have to get the design right, and then our potential partner has to be able actually produce it without losing money. We’re working on it.

Our quilted money is one of the few things I don’t share source (in this case, vector) files for, because currency isn’t exactly like other culture, as I explain here.


Tree Applique Quilt


More raw-edge applique on the quilt plotter! About 94″ square. Cotton fabric, cotton-polyester batting, polyester thread. The process:

photo 4

Stitch all-over background design, including shapes where leaves, fruits and branches go.


Cut out pieces of leaf- and fruit-colored fabric. Lay them on the quilt (still in the frame) over where they’ll be stitched down. Return frame to quilt plotter and stitch.


When the leaves and fruits are stitched, lay a big piece of brown, tree-colored fabric over them where the branches go, and another piece where the trunk goes. Stitch.

greenlaidTrim the base of the tree and lay a piece of green fabric over it as above.


Stitch that sucker down per the digital design you’ve carefully prepared. Then fold the fabric over and quilt on the top.


When done stitching, remove quilt from frame and trim. Begin snipping.

NinSnipsTreeSnip snip snip.

TreeAppliqueDone3Snip until done, then  bind.


Here’s the back.



Et voila.


Czech Myself Before I Wreck Myself

My “Make Art Not Law” talk is finally online!

Text and slides here.

Polish Czech translation and subtitles here.

One Fish, Two Fish…

A friend recently refinished my Singer parlor cabinet (pix later) and asked to be paid in quilt. He’s a fish scientist, so naturally he wanted a fish quilt.

Niels fish 2It’s a little over 6′ by 3′ – I haven’t measured it actually. Also the photos are all a bit distorted because I couldn’t shoot it straight on. Instead these are all taken of it lying on my cutting table.

Niels fish 1The technique is Trapplique. The parts were stitched on the quilt plotter. I cut them out, then basted and satin stitched them down with my sailmaking machine.

fish stitchingIt has a sequined and beaded eye.

Niels fish eye


The quilt above belongs to Niels the fish scientist, but the most efficient use of materials with this design was to make 2 fish’s worth of trapplique parts in one stitching. So I assembled a mirror image fish for myself:



Fish2 tag

I stitched the binding on my Davis Vertical Feed, best binding machine ever.

Fibonacci Sequins and other news from PaleGray Labs

PaleGray Labs being the textile art collaboration of me and Theodore Gray. First up, we have a photo of Mathematician Ian Stewart holding up PaleGray Labs’ “Fibonacci Sequins” quilt Theo just gave him in London:

Fibonacci Sequins

Fibonacci Sequins

This was designed by me and Theo using a Mathematica tool he created for that purpose, stitched on the new quilt plotter, and bound on my 100-year-old Davis Vertical Feed treadle machine. I hand-sewed on the sequins and beads. This was a test, but we plan to make more of them, including large bed quilts.

What I call the “quilt plotter” is a Quilt Master IV Full Frame Quilting System. Actually the model IV isn’t on their web site yet – we’re early adopters! – but you get the idea.

quilt plotter 2

Below are some initial experiments with the quilt plotter. We’re still getting the hang of this thing, and working out some software issues that will require communicating through a Chinese interpreter some time in February after Chinese New Year vacations are over.

quilt plotter tests

All stitchcoding by Theo using tools he built in Mathematica. Above we have fibonacci spiral fractals, a big guilloche pattern, and a modified dancing Reena Shah cycle from Sita Sings the Blues. All just tests, because the machine ripped the fabric before we learned to let it “cycle” on before moving the head (a problem that could be fixed with improved software, but until we get the ear of the Chinese software company that controls its operating system we just have to be very careful and do a lot of work-arounds).

Davis Vertical FeedHere’s my treadle-operated  Davis Vertical Feed, which I am in love with. It makes binding almost a pleasure, a physical game of skill, a kind of meditation. If it weren’t for the time it takes to cut and iron the binding strips, I could see binding all PaleGray Labs quilts with this. (I’m also experimenting with bias tape and a Suisei binder attachment on my Singer treadle and Featherweight, which have the necessary mounting screw holes but lack the genuine walking foot that quality binding needs). Behind the Davis is the new 20″ long arm zig-zag machine, designed for making sails but which I intend to use for trapplique. It’s a powerful beast but we don’t get along because something’s wrong with its tension. The company is sending me a new tension assembly which will hopefully fix the problem.

PaleGray Labs embroideryThe domain currently just reroutes to the “Quilting” category of this blog. Hopefully we (meaning I, helped by Webmaster Ian) will design a nice web site of its own soon.




University High School 1984

Super high-res (800 dpi) image at!

I recently dug up, scanned and restored this cartoon I drew in 1984 for the Uni High yearbook. It makes me nostalgic not for school (for which I still carry much resentment*) but for the glorious escape drawing provided those years. There were no art classes at Uni while I was there, for which I am eternally grateful. While my liberal friends are mostly “arts education” boosters, I owe my survival to Art staying beyond the reach of school, teachers, and institutionalization. School ruined math, literature, physical exercise, social interactions, and pretty much everything else that could be beautiful – thank doG it didn’t ruin drawing too.


*Dropping out of the University of Illinois at the end of my Sophomore year was the first Great Decision I ever made. My second Great Decision was freeing Sita Sings the Blues and dropping out of Copyright. I’ve only made two Great Decisions in my life, but they’re plenty. Dayenu.

Embroidermation du jour: twirling dancer

twirling dancer embroidermation

Today’s embroidermation features a rotoscoped dance outtake performed by Reena Shah about 7 years ago for Sita Sings the Blues. Theo coded the stitches and the animated sin wave loop background. This is designed for larger quilts, but this version is tiny as it was stitched on our embroidery machine.

I sewed the 16 panels together like so:

The cycle is actually 13 frames long – an annoying number for animation. The final 3 frames are repeats so it could be a 4 x 4 square. Finished size is 16″ x 16″.

Quilt Plotter

Last weekend Theo and I visited Central Missouri to look at a quilt plotter. We brought our own design to test. Here’s a video:

And here’s our finished test quilt:

Theo did all the stitchcoding, and made the graduated spirals in Mathematica.

This certainly gives us a lot to think about.

Embroidermation: Tree of Life

The source animation (a vector file sequence) was adapted from my short segment for the upcoming feature film “The Prophet.” That will definitely not be rendered in Embroidermation, but the Tree of Life is such a classic, traditional embroidery motif it was just crying out to be used in this test.


In addition to stitchcoding, Theo hooped and ran the machine on all 96 frames, and then he made them into a flipbook.

Theo hand-stitching 96 embroidered frames into a flipbook

Because he’s crazy, that’s why. He even crafted a copper rig to cut out the frames precisely, and register them for photography (he photographed them too).

embroidermation cutting device

All The Pretty Horses

I ran an inversion on yesterday’s horse Traveling Salesman Problem animation:

Again I had to take out a few stray lines manually. Here’s the same white on black:

Yesterday’s negative image and today’s positive image together:

The positive image has only 2,000 points, so it was faster to process. It’s still denser than the negative image (background) which has just under 4,000 points but covers a lot more area.

Here are both with contrast on grey:

and in yellow and blue on magenta:

Embroidermation Test 4

animated quilt, quilted animation

Really this is Quiltimation, the result of our embroidery/quilting/trapplique techniques. Here’s a single frame without all the .gif compression 8-bit color artifacts:

embroidermation Ziz single frameThe trapplique technique was a lot of work, requiring multiple hoopings for each frame, as well as precision cutting and placing. We probably won’t do more of that. Our next project is more traditional embroidery with just one color of fabric and multiple colors of thread. Whole lotta math required to make this work, which is fortunately Theo’s department. Meanwhile I’ll stitch together these 12 frames into some sort of viable wall hanging.

Original Sita Sings the Blues Paintings

Someone has been emailing me saying they REALLY want to buy an original Sita Sings the Blues painting. These have been in storage since I moved from New York to Urbana IL last year, but I just excavated them and took some crappy photos (reflective glass! Wide-angle pocket camera lens!) for her to choose from. Click thumbnail for hi-res jpeg.

If anyone else wants to buy an original painting let me know: nina underscore paley at yahoo dot com. The outside dimensions of the wooden frames are about 12″ x 14.8″. They’re about $1000 each, give or take for more or less complex/competent paintings.

Embroidermation Addendum

Adding to my post below titled Embroidermation: test 1, my co-lunatic Theo Gray shares an animation of the Chinese Postman traveling every path, instructing the machine how to stitch the design:

stitching pattern for Ziz

And here is a screen shot of what he did in Mathematica to get there:

Chinese Postman problem solved for embroidery in Mathematica

Embroidermation: test 1

You may have heard I’m working on this movie, and I am, but my contract prohibits me from blogging about work-in-progress. All the more reason to blog about my super-exciting other project that no one is paying me for and is motivated purely by madness and my crazy Muse: I want to make an animated quilt. Or rather quilted animation. Or embroidered animation, because the most common quilt plotters are actually embroidery machines.

I’ve already ranted about the shameful state of embroidery machine software. Having just bought a fancy new Brother machine that came with Brother’s “top-of-the-line” software, PE Design NEXT, I can now say the situation is worse than I thought. Not only is the software crazy expensive, it’s also woefully inadequate for automated line drawing conversion. More on that in a future post; for now I want to describe the steps required to make a single frame (scroll down to see it).

I began with an animated cycle I made almost two years ago: the ZizAutomated digitization of one frame of that design, in color, for embroidery, is well beyond what PE Design NEXT can handle, so I started by just asking it to do the outline, monochrome, in a simple running stitch. That was also way more than it could handle, so I went back into Flash and simplified the design:

Then I imported a frame into Adobe Illustrator and “merged” everything to eliminate background shapes.

Before: the Ziz above is comprised of many shapes. Even though they're not visible on the surface, vector files know they're there, adding unnecessary complexity.


After: "merged" in Illustrator.

I gave it no fills, only a 1pt stroke. PEDNEXT read it as several hundred separate shapes, with thread cuts between each; it wanted to start and stop every few stitches to cut threads, even with all the outlines abutting each other.

Clearly we had to convert the design into one continuous line, which PEDNEXT can’t do (it can sort of do it with bitmaps it traces itself, but it’s terrible at auto-tracing. One should be able to trace in a better program and get it to work with those vectors, but it’s biased against vectors for some reason). It’s an old math problem called the Chinese Postman, a variation on the more famous Traveling Salesman. The Traveling Salesman visits every vertex in the most efficient path; the Chinese Postman travels every path.

Fortunately my Significant Other and co-lunatic in automated embroidery machine experiments, Theo Gray, was a founding developer of Mathematica software. Just one morning of his fiddling with the files yielded exceptional results.

This was an .eps file in Mathematica, brought into Adobe Illustrator, exported as .wmf for Brother's software, and again as .png to be visible on this blog. It is a single line with many points, tracing over itself efficiently.

Then PEDNEXT refused to read the resulting single-line file, even after it was converted to .wmf (windows metafile – the ONLY vector file PEDNEXT accepts. It doesn’t accept .svg, .eps, .dxf, .ai, or any other vector file. Just .wmf. Which is what you’d expect from $2,000 embroidery software, right?) Thinking the line was too long, we broke it into smaller segments and imported them as separate files. Through a tedious process of elimination we discovered there was just one teeny segment PEDNEXT refused to read. We pinpointed it to two points (perfectly normal points! the files are fine, we have no idea why PEDNEXT doesn’t like them), deleted them from the master line, imported to Illustrator, exported to .wmf, imported to PEDNEXT, saved as .pes (Brother’s proprietary format) on a flash drive, and got it into the machine. And finally:

This took 8 minutes to stitch at 700 stitches per minute. Design area is about 8" tall by 10" high. I'd share other details like how many stitches it is and how much disk space it occupies, but I don't have them handy because PEDNEXT is windows-only and the windows machine I've been using for this is at Theo's house.

It's not real until a cat can sit on it.

This represents a huge step towards my dream of embroidermation. It took us a long time and much obsession to get to this single frame. Further tests with PEDNEXT will determine whether the whole 24-frame sequence can be automated, or if there are bugs in every new frame import. Meanwhile I’m even more committed to supporting EmbroiderModder2, a young FLOSS alternative to existing inadequate overpriced embroidery software (crowdfunding campaign coming soon!). I hope Brother supports it too – their machines are great, with better software who knows what people could do with them.

Update: see the Mathematica code and an animated gif of the stitching here!

“The artist sounds serious but sometimes it’s hard to tell when she’s joking.”

That’s me! Getting some local press for my art quilt show, which opens Saturday at Sleepy Creek Vineyards! Details and directions here.

Nina Paley quilt show in CU News Gazette