People have been asking how I made this, so I took some screen shots:
People have been asking how I made this, so I took some screen shots:
A wee taste of the progress Theo and I are making on our “Chad Gadya” embroidermation project.
Frames of the animation are stitched in groups of 6, arranged in a circle on matzo covers. We currently have 516 frames on 86 matzo covers, which I painstakingly finished by hand with multiple fabric layers and labels and everything.
We hired Theo’s daughter, Emma, to help. Here she is ironing away while I adjust a lining.
Here I am topstitching one of the 86 covers on a treadle sewing machine.
We have a lot of additional photography, stitchcoding and stitching to do, but we are making progress. When the film is done the matzo covers will be for sale.
This is a TEST of the One Thousand Dollar Quilt, conceived as a more affordable version of my handmade Ten Thousand Dollar Quilt.
This is a test, it is only a test. We stitched out two versions to see how the quilt plotter would handle it, how the thread density would look, etc. There’s well over half a million stitches here, and it took the plotter about a day to stitch. Then I spent half a day cutting, sewing, and ironing binding, and binding it.
It’s about 8 feet long. The front is high thread count unbleached cotton muslin, the back is regular thread count same. The batting is a mystery – either polyester or poly-cotton, not sure because it’s left over from another project Theo bought it for, and he doesn’t remember. The quilt is remarkably soft and flexible given all the dense stitching
Unlike the Ten Thousand Dollar Quilt, which uses reverse applique, this gets its color solely from the thread. The result is lower contrast, but I like all the stitch lines. Also there’s no way I could do a reverse applique version for under a thousand dollars.
The thread is polyester: the dark green and white are 40 weight, and the lighter green is 30 weight, which is significantly thicker. We may do another test using 30 weight dark green. Heavy thread works beautifully, but it’s very expensive. Then again for a Thousand Dollars we can use expensive thread.
Registration is off as expected, but could be worse. He have a strategy for improving registration in the next test.
The portrait medallion fill will be crosshatched in the next version. I didn’t like these curved shading lines at all, because the machine double-stitched some of them which ruined the gradient effect. The next version will also have fill lines on Cleveland’s face, along with a larger border with more of the swirly fill.
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:
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.
We had a little breakthrough at Gray-Paley* Labs, doing trapplique with the embroidery machine.
Theo improved stitch quality within the Ziz, but for some reason our registration between layers is always off. As you can see, the machine stitches the registration borders 1-2mm apart on the bottom, while they’re almost exactly lined up at the top. We can’t get our satin stitch quite on target, because the registration step is always slightly off from the satin stitch step. We discovered the machine thinks the files are slightly different sizes. It’s Theo’s challenge to figure out why, since everything is exported from Mathematica at the same resolution.
Even with these problems, the trapplique is a big aesthetic step forward in the project, and if we can work out the remaining technical kinks I’ll be able to make a 12-frame cycle/12-panel quilt soon.
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 Ziz. Automated 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.
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.
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 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!
My obsessive desire to create sewn tapestries is butting up against the incredible amount of work required to do so. Most of that work is non-expressive; it is carrying out orders dictated by the design; it is execution; it is craft. I may be discovering, for myself, where the boundary between Art and Craft lies. All Art has elements of Craft; all Craft contains elements of Art. But Craft, in its purest abstract conceptual form, is pure work; Art is pure emotional force, perhaps idea. You can’t have one without the other, but the proportions vary widely.
I want to be spontaneous and expressive. Quilting is sort of like those dreams where you try running through molasses. It. Is. So. Slow. I have much patience for art, but quilting is so slow my expressive force peters out before it reaches expression. It’s what writing would be like if writing consisted of carving the letter punch, punching the letter form, setting the movable type, and pressing the press. By the time I did all that, I’d have forgotten what it was I wanted to say in the first place.
Can I sew expressively? I hope so. Here are a few experiments.
Neenzilla, 5″ x 5″. I did this really fast, while showing some friends how to free motion quilt. I like it a lot. But it’s just a sketch; it doesn’t feel like a “real” piece to me. It lacks sufficient Craft.
Blind Stitch, about 10″ x 10″. In an attempt to free myself up, I stitched the outline of this with my eyes (mostly) closed! I’d do more of that but I’m afraid of accidentally sewing through my own fingers. I filled in every other space tightly with more thread, in the usual labor-intensive eyes-open free-motion quilting way. So it attempts to balance expressive freedom and labor, except expressing myself with my eyes closed doesn’t really satisfy me. I prefer to say something, intentionally.