Some stills from the Golden Calf scene


Still working on it, but I like how it’s coming out. Based on Exodus 32. These are all things Hebrews should NOT be doing! But of course it’s the most beautiful chapter in the film.









Chad Gadya embroidermation finished at last!

After a little over a year and a half, and many interruptions, we finally finished our embroidermated short, Chad Gadya. While we were working on it (actually I was working, Theo was procrastinating) this other embroidered short came out, but there are differences. Thanks to Theodore Gray’s stitchcoding in Mathematica, we weren’t restricted by (invariably crappy) off-the-shelf software. This allowed us to automate beautiful iridescent stitches and preserve them from frame to frame, so the resulting animation really looks like moving embroidery.

Every single embroidered frame you see here is available for sale, signed and numbered and one-of-a-kind. Only 9 months ’til Passover!

Chad Gadya will function as a sort of “intermission” in my feature film Seder-Masochism, marking the end of the Passover meal but just the beginning of the Israelites’ trials in the desert.

Update: Theo’s post on the technical side of stitchcoding embroidermation.

“It took a while to get all this code right, but of course it’s crucial that it cover every possible case, because when you’re doing animation, it’s not about getting one frame right, it’s about having an automated process that always gets every frame right, not just once, but every time there is an iteration of the animation requiring a re-render of the frames. We must have generated tens of thousands of frames (just generated the files, not actually stitched them!) before it was all looking good.” Theodore Gray

Update 2: All the stitching files we made for this are Free (CC-BY-SA) at! Download ’em and stitch ’em out as you please. They’re PES format; wish we had something better, but all embroidery formats suck.

Linoleum cut printimation


These are some lousy test prints (I have no skill as a printer plus I used cheap water-based ink and cheap thin waste paper) I made of some linoleum print plates I designed and “cut” with the laser engraver at the local Fab Lab. The plates are to be part of a larger project with many artist participants, organized in Germany; I’ll write about it when it’s properly printed and officially released. My understanding is it’s about how the advent of the printing press led to the explosion of  a unique kind of illustration: the wood-cut. Since I think the internet is in many ways analogous to the printing press, I saw a parallel in its own new kind of illustration: the animated gif. So my (linoleum) “wood-cuts” were designed to end up as animated gifs.  When the project is done I will use the final, better prints to make better versions of these loops. But patience is not one of my virtues and I am excited about the test animated gifs I made from my lousy test prints, and when I make an animated gif I can’t wait to post it, so I didn’t wait, so here:

DeathCut movie1

Here’s a phenakistoscope from another print, using the same all-purpose goat in our Chad Gadya embroidermation:


GoatCut closeup1

Some photos of the linoleum plates themselves:



The plate on the right is of the “Death” animation; on the left is my test plate, which I used to gauge the laser engraver. I also did some hand-gouging on it, confirming I’d rather use a machine.DeathLinoleum


Crossposted from Theo’s new stitchblog. We’re rearranging and will hopefully have a functioning blog there soon. –Nina

Welcome to my new Stitching Blog. It’s like my regular blog except all about quilting and embroidery. I’ve separated the two, because I get the feeling that people interesting in my science writing and app-making activities may find all the stitching a bit tedious, and vise-versa. Also, I have taken the liberty of using the same list of subscribers to my stitchcam as the list to be notified (via rss feed) when there’s a new post on this blog. I figure if you’re interested enough in stitching to get real-time notifications of a quilting machine running, you’re probably interested enough to hear about an occasional blog post.

So without further ado, my first new stitching-related blog post. I’m afraid it’s a rather technical one….

One of the big problems with fabrics and quilting is that fabric is not a proper engineering material. It’s stretchy and sloppy and never goes exactly where you want it to. The situation only gets worse when you add batting to the equation.

We’ve been experimenting with extra-thick batting, as much as two inches thick, and have had a problem with the resulting “quilts” not lying flat, because some parts of the pattern shrink the dimensions of the fabric more than other parts, resulting in a sheet that is internally stressed.

You might think it’s a simple case of more stitches equals more shrinkage (as it more or less is with embroidery), but this is not the case.

To see why, consider a cross section of a quilt with different spacings between the quilting lines. When there are no lines, the fabric on the top and bottom are flat, and the piece overall will be just as long as the fabric originally was. As you add more lines, the fabric is forced to go up and down, so even if the fabric isn’t physically compressed, the piece overall will get shorter.

Here is a schematic illustrating this fairly obvious fact. Clearly if the lines (the top and bottom fabric) stay the same length, the overall length of the quilt must get shorter.

But what if you keep going? There is a fallacy in this drawing: The thickness of the quilt is staying the same. Clearly the following is NOT what happens if you add even more lines:

These diagrams get more and more absurd, because of course what actually happens is that the batting gets hammered down, the piece gets thinner overall, and the fabric goes back to being flatter. And that means the overall piece should start getting LONGER again, at a certain point. That’s what I wanted to confirm and quantity, so I had Behemoth stitch twelve different test strips like these, each about a meter long:

Here is the diagram again, except this time the widths shown are real, measured widths from my experiment. (In the diagram below, the number of humps is real and the relative lengths are real, but the thicknesses are schematic, because I didn’t measure the actual thicknesses):

As you can see, there is a minimum length around 30 humps, and by the time you get to 200 humps (0.5cm line spacing) the thing is well on its way back to its original length.

Here is a plot of the lengths as a function of line spacing (the right-most data point represents infinite line spacing, in other words the original fabric length):

The interesting fact about this is that, because there’s a minimum, there are going to be two ways to get any given amount of shrinkage, a large-spacing way and a small-spacing way, one on either side of the valley. In order to get a quilt that lays flat, you don’t have to keep all the spacings the same, you can have zones of stitching width spacings on either side of the minimum.

These tests were all with lines in only one direction, but what if you add crossed lines in the other direction? I did a second set of twelve test strips with lines going in both directions, like these:

The following graph is a bit harder to read. The horizontal axis represents the line spacing in the direction of shrinkage (just like in the graph above). The vertical scale is again overall length of the piece. The lines connecting data points represent sets of similar spacing in the lines going the other direction. The bottom set has no cross-lines (i.e. it’s the same data points as the graph above, except a smaller number of them shown). As you go up, each line represents more and more closely spaced cross-lines. The data points are labeled with the line spacing in the shrinkage and crossed directions respectively.

The result is as expected: The more closely spaced the crossed lines are, the less shrinkage there is, regardless of how closely spaced the lines are in the shrinkage direction.

Now all we need to do is actually use this information to make something pretty that doesn’t warp…. In the mean time, we’ve been experimenting with the other solution: Stretching on a frame.

This quilt is “double-quilted”, using the term Nina invented for a thing I decided to try because why not. It’s basically a quilt on top of a quilt, so we can have a secondary level of relief that isn’t hammer down overall. I’ll write a full blog post about this technique later, but here’s a closeup that gives an idea of what it looks like:

Was all the quantitative measuring useful? Maybe…. So far I’ve used it only to create an interpolating function that I have used in some calculations involving how wide to make flaps that wrap around the wooden frame holding up stretched quilts like this. Hm, that’s probably another blog post too.

A new video about meeeeeeeee

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: