Approximately 32″ square. Cotton fabric, cotton/bamboo batting, rayon thread. Machine embroidery, quilting, trapplique.
Each block of the quilt is a frame in the animated cycle above. I created the animation, exported as vector images which Theo Gray stitchcoded in Mathematica. Each block was stitched in 2 parts on our embroidery machine: first the Ziz (gryphon) figure, then the background. I cut out and applied the former to the latter and the machine “trappliqued” it down and did the echo pattern. Finally I zigzag stitched the blocks together, topstitched homemade bias tape over the seams, and bound it.
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:
I guess it’s happened – I’ve turned into a sewing machine collector. No one needs more than one sewing machine, but I just obtained my fifth. I’ve wanted a treadle machine since I started quilting a few years ago, and when I came across this beauty on Chicago’s Craigslist, I couldn’t resist.
She stitches! Came with one bobbin wound with ancient thread. No belt yet (I ordered one this morning) so I used the hand wheel. I’ve also ordered 2 additional bobbins, and some 100-year-old unused needles on eBay. I threaded the shuttle myself after reading up on it online. It’s a Davis, Long.
There were lots of dropped stitches and thread nests in the back, but as I adjusted the tension disc and whatever the screwpost thing on top is (foot pressure?) it got better. The machine was very well oiled before it was stored however many years ago. It moves pretty smoothly.
That’s what Theo Gray and I are calling our quilting/embroidery/stitchcoding/animation collaboration. PaleGrayLabs.com currently redirects to the “quilting” category of this blog, but hopefully it’ll get its own web site eventually. Mostly so we can use this logo I designed:
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.
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.
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).
Really this is Quiltimation, the result of our embroidery/quilting/trapplique techniques. Here’s a single frame without all the .gif
The 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.
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.
Sequel to Embroidermation Test 1.
Theo Gray and I bought a 10-needle embroidery machine to pursue a dream of embroidered animation. Existing embroidery software sucks too badly to do the automated shape-to-stitch conversions necessary, so Theo found a way to use Mathematica instead. This is his first full test, created in Mathematica, exported
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!