Crossposted from Theo’s new stitchblog. We’re rearranging palegraylabs.com 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.



If anyone needs to download Sita Sings the Blues or copy Mimi & Eunice or anything from any of my web sites, including this blog, do it now because they’re all going dark for 24 hours in protest of SOPA/PIPA and the lobbyists and bought politicians who wrote them and will write the next stupid bills attempting to break the internet even after SOPA and PIPA “die” only to be resurrected zombie-like under new stupid acronyms.

Although I’ll truly miss Wikipedia while it’s down tomorrow, maybe I’ll use the time to get some actual animation done instead of just “research.”

Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom

I’m thrilled to be on the Advisory Board of the new Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom with such luminaries as Mike Masnick, Michele Boldrin, Julio Cole, Karl Fogel, David Koepsell, David Levine, Wendy McElroy, Jeff Tucker, and Roderick T. Long. The project is directed by Stephan Kinsella, author of the seminal Against Intellectual Property.

Because there’s only so much room in my bio blurb, I’ve rounded up a bunch of my
Related Writings:
Redefining Property: Lessons From American History
The Cult of Originality
Paley vs. Doctorow (a debate about non-commercial licenses)
Four Freedoms of Free Culture
Understanding Free Content
“Intellectual Property” is Slavery
Free as in Phreedom

Mimi & Eunice
IP Comics

Related Works: Animation
Sita Sings the Blues
All Creative Work Is Derivative
Copying Is Not Theft
Copying And Surveillance (a cartoon for the EFF)

“The Revolution Will Be Animated”, a documentary about Sita & Free Culture & me by Marine Lormant Sebag


Obfuscate You!

Sometimes I really need to use the word “ “. But if I type it out, it will trigger  web filters that will block my site from some users. So for those times, I’ve created this handy image file to use instead. You’re welcome to use it too! Go  crazy.

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Embeddably Yours

Huge thanks to Brett Thompson for adding embed code to Mimi & Eunice!  Now they’re easy to share by anyone. Just click “embed this comic,” copy the code that pops up, and paste it in your blog or web page. Use ’em to illustrate your own articles! Insert ’em into your arguments! Share ’em with your friends! Go forth and multiply Mimi & Eunice!

What’s wrong with “streaming” DRM?

Judging from comments here, at Techdirt, and at BoingBoing, there seems to be much confusion about why I don’t want DRM on Sita Sings the Blues. The simplest explanation is this: I am making my film available to all under an open license. Allowing a party to take the benefit of that license, but then limit the rights of downstream users is inconsistent and frustrates the original purpose of the open license — to promote and facilitate access and use of the work.

Some people seem to think DRM is irrelevant on “streaming content.” I was one of them, which is why I was initially so indecisive about the Netflix streaming offer. DRM encourages people to think of certain liberties as being impossible, rather than merely taken away. Already many people think that “streaming” means “cannot be saved on my computer,” instead of “optimized for real-time flow”.  People make this false equation entirely because of user-side DRM.

So along with its other problems, DRM is a kind of anti-literacy device for the digital age.  The more hobbled people’s phones and computers and music players get, the harder it is to remember what it was like when those devices served their users rather than the monopolists. The more deeply embedded DRM becomes, the more its restrictions will come to feel like “just the way things are”, rather than an impediment that could conceivably be removed or worked around.

I respectfully submit a typical comment:

Its not a download or purchase , its “Free Streaming” . From my Roku box to my tv why should you or I care if it has drm.

This is a perfect example of the kind of illiteracy mentioned above. “…we’re talking about a stream, which by definition is not saved on your computer”.  This commenter and others have bought the industry’s definition of “stream”, even though there’s nothing inherent in streaming that prevents saving. I can’t blame them; until last week, I didn’t think about what “streaming” meant either.

Here’s another typical comment:

You’re obviously making a symbolic stand here. That’s fine. But please at least be honest about that instead of claiming that Netflix streaming is “breaking” my home electronics. My computer and my Xbox work just fine and my rights have not been violated in any tangible or meaningful way.

If data is sent to your computer, and yet your computer won’t let you save that data, than an important function of your computer has been interfered with.  Who does your computer work for, anyway, you or them? It’s not just a hypothetical breakage, either.  For example, if you wanted to divide the same incoming stream to two different computers in your house, similarly to how a “Y” pipe would do with water, Netflix DRM will prevent that.  Normally, your computer could do that just fine, but not when it’s broken.

If the quibble is with the word “broken,” we can use the less-inflammatory word “disabled,” although people are eager to forget that “disabling” a computer means “breaking it in increments.”


My rejection of DRM is not a condemnation of Netflix (I like Netflix!) nor of those who use this very convenient service. I made this difficult decision as the author of Sita Sings the Blues. The only reason Netflix has DRM on its streams is because of pressure from the “content industry.” Well guess what – I am the content industry too, and I say no to DRM.


Thanks to Karl Fogel for contributing to this article.

Back to Illinois

I left my hometown of Urbana, IL, almost 21 years ago, with dreams of becoming a new age crystal-wielding hippie. I was 20 years old. Now I’m 40 (almost 41!) and will be returning with a feature film, for a film festival that didn’t exist when I was growing up. But first: the University of Chicago!

Who’da thunk back in 1988, that I’d be blogging about this in 2009? We couldn’t even imagine blogs back then.



A sweeeet letter

Dear Ms. Paley,

I had the pleasure of watching a showing of “Sita Sings the Blues” at the Denver Film Festival this past weekend.  I was thrilled by the insightful, witty, and often times hilarious telling of Sita’s story.

I am a first generation Indian woman, and I was equal parts intrigued and wary about “Sita Sings the Blues” when I first heard about it.  I was intrigued because Sita’s part in the Ramayana has always bothered me and I was curious to see how her story would be told from a modern feminist perspective.  I was wary because, as an Indian-American, I have seen aspects of the Indian culture mutated and exploited in ways that are, frankly, offensive.  “Sita Sings the Blues” exceeded all of my expectations and I came away from the showing very satisfied.

My personal favorite part of the feature was the commentary about the Ramayana by the three puppets.  I felt a strange sense of deja vu, as I am certain I have had many of the conversations before with my parents and siblings.  From the apparent incongruity of Sita throwing jewels when she was supposedly in her Sanyasi clothing, to ruminating on exactly what happened when and what is the pronunciation for that demon’s name!

Every part of the story spoke to me.  It was apparent that you had extensively researched the Ramayana in the making of this film.  Thank you for giving Sita her much needed voice to sing the blues.

I have to admit, the only part of the movie experience that was annoying to me was trying to articulate to my friends the reasons why I enjoyed the film so much.   The experience was visceral for me, and it almost defies an intellectual, oral explanation.

I was saddened to hear that this film would not be released for widespread circulation or for DVD release.  This is a story that I would have liked to share with my family and friends and make a part of my lexicon of Hindu mythology.

If there is anything that I can do to enable this film to be widely circulated, please let me know.  I would be more than happy to write letters, start petitions, etc.  I don’t know enough about the film industry to intuit what needs to be done, but I’ll take whatever suggestions you care to give.

Again, a big, capital THANK YOU for making this film.  It is brilliant. 

 –Sima Patel
(blogged here with permission)

my next project

I’m finally ready to start my next project. It will be about freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and current threats to those traditions, especially our corrupted copyright system. As with Sita before it, “I’ve got a song in my heart and it’s gotta get out.” Also as with Sita before it, I have no idea at this point exactly what I’m going to make or how I’m going to make it, but I know it’s gotta be made.

Will it be another feature film? Or will it be a series of shorts, or a comic book? Whatever its form, I’m thinking it should be free by design. The problem with feature films is they’re still distributed through an old business model that runs counter to freedom of expression. It doesn’t have to be this way forever, but right now bad laws, media consolidation, and “gatekeepers” make the film world work against cultural progress. And I’m all about cultural progress, just like the US constitution:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”(link)

Unlike Sita before it, I am beginning from a place of financial ruin; I am broke and in debt. But I still have my computer, and I have as much time as the project needs. I do need a way to stay alive though. I need money, but NOT through suppressing speech or restricting access to my work, which doesn’t make money anyway. Suggestions? I could:

– ask for donations here
– partner with existing free speech organizations

If the latter, who can help? Where do they get money? Anyone want to partner up with me?

The copyright system has certainly failed me as a means to extract money from my art. Perhaps the old patronage system will work better, especially if distributed over thousands of supporters. Or maybe we should try this? What do you think?

Dear Apologists for Immoral and Unconstitutional Laws

Can you believe that lady? High ideals are all well and good, but she knew the rules. So unprofessional! She didn’t have to take that bus. If you don’t like the rules, don’t ride the bus. I’m an industry professional, and I give up my seat all the time – that’s what “professional” means. What if it were YOUR bus? You certainly wouldn’t want just any riff-raff riding it as they pleased. Plus if she’s so great, she should have raised $220,000 for skin-lightening cream – problem solved. Or buy her own bus! But no, she thinks she’s so special. What a whiner.


Too bad people forget the story of Rosa Parks – but then it’s been hard to see the documentary Eyes on the Prize over the past decade, thanks to unconstitutional copyright laws.

Where in the World is Sita Sings the Blues?

Please check the ever-growing show list. Sorry it’s not better organized; you have to scroll down in chronological order from past to future. It’s just me and my Momz trying to keep track here.

I’m leaving on Sunday for these two:

Sita and I will be bopping around other parts of Israel too, according to the US State Department (!), who is sponsoring my trip (how that was arranged I do not know). I’ll be in Athens Sept. 25-29. Whee!

Meanwhile, at Michael Sporn’s Splog…

…there’s a long rambling and somewhat provocative guest blog by me about 2D animation vs. live action, and the rise of 3D CGI. The comments are taking my mind off bed bugs for a few minutes.

Adios Encore

I’m off to France, Serbia and London, back mid-July. I’ll blog if I can, but posts may be sparse depending on internet access and free time. See you in Europe!

Return of the Stork


My short film The Stork went missing recently – in fact its entire host, clusterfunction.com, was alarmingly missing from the interwebs for a while. But it’s back now (whew!), and cluster-functional as ever. Nonetheless, here’s a link for another host, Channel13. (The clusterfunction link can always be accessed by clicking the little picture of a stork head on the right-hand column of this page. Click all the different pictures and see what happens!)

Channel13, like Frederator before them and every other corporate or commercial or just plain big web site wants me, the media creator, to direct my fans to their site for their benefit, throwing in a small bone – you can vote for my film, and if it wins it’ll be broadcast on Channel 13 next Saturday, and I’ll get $500. I can tell you that in spite of countless friends and family voting for the Sita Trailer, it failed to win the “Freddie Award” – meaning some other creator managed to send even more of their friends and family to the site (for free of course). So I’m not very optimistic about “winning,” and I’m pretty ambivalent about these contests, as they exploit small non-commercial fan communities. However, I want both the Sita Trailer and The Stork to be seen by as many people as possible, so I’ll continue to let bigger websites use them as hit-bait under the guise of a contest. I guess. Maybe.

Oh yeah, feel free to vote. Or not.

UPDATE: “Stork” didn’t win, but did lead for a while. Thanks to everyone who voted for it!