Embroidermation Test 2

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 directly via an Embroidermodder file conversion program as DST files, stitched on canvas (which made the edges kind of jaggy) and photographed. No loose threads were clipped in the making of this video.

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THE SINGER FEATHERWEIGHT IS NOT A CHILDREN’S TOY!

It is a cat toy.

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

More Well-Hung

We went back to Sleepy Creek Vineyards to rearrange some things and hang Earth, Fire and Water next to Air/Nude. This is the first time all of my 4 Elements quilts have hung next to each other.

Speaking of Sleepy Creek, I finally tasted their tomato-jalepeño wine, Winey Mary. Yes I thought it was a joke too, but it actually exists and is actually made of fermented tomatoes and jalepeños, not grapes. And I actually liked it. Not as a wine – I don’t really like wine, or beer, or any alcoholic beverages – but as an unusual and strangely tasty sensory experience.

tomato jalapeno wineYou can try some at the official wine-and-cheese opening (cash bar, buy some local wine!) is this Saturday June 15, with a screening of Sita Sings the Blues at 8pm.

The quilts will be hanging all Summer. Whee!

Hangin’ at Sleepy Creek

Art Quilts & Animation at Sleepy Creek Vineyards

Today we hung quilts at Sleepy Creek Vineyards. Official wine-and-cheese opening (cash bar, buy some local wine!) is this Saturday June 15. The quilts will be hanging all Summer though.

double sided quilt

The small “This Land Is Mine” quilt is double-sided. Here Death watches over the bottom of the stairs. Symbolic?

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars) and Nude, along with a larger This Land Is Mine quilt (one-sided)

Shiva Natraj and the Shedus

More at the show – come check it out!

Dear Domestic Embroidery Machine Manufacturers

Your machines are amazing. There is so much I could do with one! I could render a vector-based animated movie, convert each frame into a simple embroidery file, and sew out a frame at a time as a quilt. It would be amazing. I want to do that so much! And your domestic embroidery machines could do it. They are reasonably priced – a few thousand dollars is quite reasonable for a machine that can do that, and many are priced even lower. Such potential! The artist in me is drooling.

But the software. For some reason you sell software for insanely high prices. All I need is software that converts common vector formats (like .eps or .ai) to an embroidery file, and allows me to size it to fit your hoops, and get it into your machine.

To do that would cost me a minimum of $900*. And is Windoze only. Brother’s PE Design NEXT (which is the minimal “level” of software I’d need for my simple vector-to-stitches conversion) appears to cost about $1,000.  But I’m not sure – Brother’s web site doesn’t say, and they don’t offer it for sale online, only through “dealers.”

I understand it costs money to develop software for your machines. It also costs money to develop the machines. That’s why you sell the machines. Here’s a tip: The more useful your machines are, the more you will sell! Under the current regime of ridiculous embroidery software prices, you are selling fewer machines. I am not buying your potentially amazing machines because of the software issue. And I really really want an embroidery machine and would be happy to pay many thousands of dollars for one. I’m a ready and eager customer! But no sale.

I would buy one if I could design my own stuff for it.

Imagine a sewing machine that shipped with a limited set of licensed Disney® dress patterns, with a few more online you could download for $5 to $20 each. But sewing your own dress pattern would require expensive proprietary software, closed-source of course so it can’t be improved or debugged or customized. Or how about a sewing machine that uses only proprietary fabric? Which the sewing machine company has a monopoly on, so they sell it for $500 a yard? Sewing machines are popular and diverse because fabric is inexpensive, widely available, and can be used in any machine. The cheaper fabric is, the more sewing machines sell. Expensive proprietary fabric would mean fewer machines would sell. But that is exactly the idiotic business model embroidery machine makers have locked themselves into.

The more useful your machines are, the more you will sell!

Sewing machines are great because you can sew anything with them. Computers are great because you can make anything with them. Computers+automated embroidery machines would be great if you could embroider anything with them, but you can’t. Embroidery software for my Mac is $2,299!

Functional, accessible software makes your machines more valuable. Expensive, restricted software makes them useless.

Let me repeat: functional, accessible software makes your machines more valuable. Expensive, restricted software makes them useless. Which is a pity because they have so much potential.

*P.S. Yes I know there is Embird, which would “only” cost me $309 ($164 basic module + $145 font engine, to convert vector files) to be minimally useful for me (maybe – I can’t even be sure of that). Plus the cost of a PC (which isn’t actually that much because PC manufacturers, unlike embroidery machine manufacturers, know the value of their product increases the more useful it is, and so they encourage lots of software and even support Free Software so they sell lots of PCs, thus driving the price down further even while their manufacturers’ profits increase – think about that!) But Embird only converts  EMF, WMF and CMX   vector formats, so I’d need yet another program to convert a .eps sequence (or .ai or .swf) first.

There is also this Free svg-to-pcs (Pfaff) converter which I tried with this pcs-to-pes converter a few times and it didn’t work. And also doesn’t have stitch editing or further control. But it is promising.

Even the mighty Linus Torvalds knows about the embroidery software problem, but it’s still not fixed.

 

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)  $10,000 quilt

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)
71″ x 31.5″
Cotton fabric, wool batting, polyester thread
Reverse applique and quilting

$10,000 quilt detail 1

“Why are works by Marlene Dumas worth millions and those by the stylistically similar Chuck Connelly worth next to nothing? Because surplus capital in the hands of a small group of moneyed types decrees it so, by fiat. Disparities between surplus capital and “normal” market behavior…create two distinct “markets.” The high-end market just described is the seeking of surplus capital for true value, which lands on a work of art, because that work of art is perceived as unique, often in a highly arbitrary manner that disregards questions of esthetics and connoisseurship. The news is not that a Picasso is worth $100 million, but that $100 million is worth the Picasso!”

Charlie Finch, A NEW MARKET THEORY OF ART

After reading this and this, I concluded that high-end art is a form of currency for elites. Art museums and critics encourage us peasants to believe the value in these “priceless art treasures” is based on utility (i.e., the more they cost, the more “genius” they contain). But the value of high end art is due to collectors attaching their surplus capital to it.

$10,000 quilt detail 2

A million-dollar painting has all the utility of a million-dollar bill. Its value is created not by the artist, but by the collector. When a reputable collector puts a million dollars into a painting, another collector may buy it for more than a million dollars. The art market forms its own economy, with its own financial industry:

“During the 1980s, Charles Saatchi started to corner the market by buying up the inventory of one artist, such as Sean Scully, and then dumping the work en masse, presumably for economic gain. Now, collectors such as Daniel Loeb and Aby Rosen also assemble dozens of works by a single artist (Loeb has close to 300 Martin Kippenbergers), but they have so much money that art collecting is a game for them that mimics their larger financial speculations. Using a hedge model, these collectors are able to manipulate the valuations of their holdings based on their internal financial realities, not on any outside demand per se. That is what hedging is.”  ibid.

$10,000 quilt detail 3

(This explains the prominence of collectors at art events. I used to wonder why collectors were such a big deal. Wasn’t Art about the work itself? If anything came second to the work, wouldn’t it be the artist(s)? Why so much attention bestowed upon the collectors? In my naiveté, I thought it was just cynical and desperate ass-licking by arts organizations. Now I realize that collectors are the prime – or only – originators of high-end art value. Anyone can paint, but only a tiny elite can buy a painting for a million dollars.)

$10,000 quilt detail 8

To recap: displaying a million-dollar art work is akin to displaying a million-dollar bill, but with a certain cachet (“disavowal” was Pierre Bourdieu’s term) that is part of its price. But there are no million-dollar bills. That’s one of the reasons collectors need million-dollar paintings. When you own as much wealth as a small nation you can commission your own currency. Or better yet, pick and choose your currency from an enormous market of would-be currency designers. (The 1970’s board game “Masterpiece” hints at this; “value” cards are randomly paired with painting cards, an amusing sendup of the Fine Art World that was utterly lost on me as a child, although I did enjoy looking at the pictures.)

$10,000 quilt detail 4

I wanted to make a quilt that looked like a million-dollar bill. Unfortunately the highest denomination bill I could find online at high resolution was $10,000. That’s painfully low, because

“increments of $100,000 are to today’s contemporary art market what $10,000 was in the 1980s and $1,000 was in the ‘60s.” ibid.

But that’s what I had to work with. In fact the $10,000 bill isn’t in circulation today. But it does look like “money” (unlike the $100,000 Gold Certificate) so in that way it fits the bill, so to speak.

$10,000 quilt detail 5

Ironically (for ironic juxtaposition!) quilts are among among the most under-valued art forms. They also require more skill and time than almost any other art-making technique I’ve tried. The selling price of quilts seldom covers the costs of materials; quilters often prefer to give their quilts away. An “expensive” quilt usually costs more than the value of materials, but less than minimum wage for labor. I recently met a master quilter whose beautiful wall quilt, which took months of expert work and won many awards, was professionally appraised at $3,500. This is considered very high; had it not been widely displayed and won many awards, it would be “worth” far less. Betty Busby is an art quilter I admire whose works have broken through the “high” end of quilt prices into the “bargain-basement low” end of art prices.

$10,000 quilt detail 6

Is it because quilts have so much utility (“use-value”) that they can’t get traction as high art? Is it because quilting is historically “women’s work”? Is it because quilting is often kitschy, popular in the middle-class Midwest that many aspiring art-worlders move to New York to get away from? Is quilting too white? (The now-famous Gee’s Bend quilters would be an exception to prove this rule.) Is it because many quilters are insane about copyright, going out of their way to restrict knowledge of their work?

Who knows. Meanwhile, here is a Ten Thousand Dollar quilt.

$10,000 quilt Nina Paley signature tag

P.S. This sucker was a ton of work. The Muse made me do it. A master quilter I ain’t. Quilt appraisers would scoff because I don’t properly tie off and hide my threads, and because there are some puckers and pleats in the quilting. But if I billed the hours I put into this as an animator, I would invoice more than $10,000.

P.P.S. Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars) will be on display at my upcoming Art Quilt Show at Sleepy Creek Vineyards.


My first solo Art Quilt Show Opens June 15 at Sleepy Creek Vineyards

Mark yer calendars! My first Art Quilt Show opens June 15 at Sleepy Creek Vineyards in hip, happenin’ rural-area-between-Urbana-and-Danville, IL.

Nina Paley Art Quilt Show 2013

Art Quilts will be on the walls June 15-September 15, 2013

Opening: June 15
Reception: 6pm
Screening of Sita Sings the Blues: 8pm

Sleepy Creek Vineyards is three miles south of Oakwood, Illinois, just off Interstate 74 between Danville and Champaign, IL.
Address:  8254 E 1425 North Rd., Fairmount, IL 61841
Phone: 217-733-0330
Directions

Want to see the place? Sleepy Creek has a funny webseries you can watch right now! My favorite is episode 6, it cracks me up.

Blogger’s Quilt Festival – Air/Nude

Update June 3: This is cool – it won the “Art Quilt” category!

Air/Nude is from 2011, and it remains my favorite piece of quilt artwork. So I’m reposting it for the Blogger’s Quilt Festival.

Air/Nude is 77″ x 23″ (yielding a life-size figure) unbleached cotton muslin, cotton batting, polyester thread.

She counts as “Air” in my 4 Eelements quilt series (my first large-ish quilts ever) because that’s what the model is wearing. Also, unless you look carefully you see nothing, just like air.

The photo above links to a super high res, 3,000-pixel-high version so you can zoom in on all the detail. These detail shots link to 960-pixel-high versions:
Evident everywhere is the influence of Leah Day’s Free Motion Quilting Project. In the section above you can see Free Motion Quilting basics like Basic SpiralPebbling,FeathersEcho Rainbow, and Stippling, along with some of Leah’s signature designs like Brain CoralSpaghetti and MeatballsFlame StitchOcean Current,WormholesGoldilocksChain of PearlsPebble MazeTrailing Spirals, and Circuit Board. I started filling in the quilt on the right side, just over the foot where those very dense spirals are, and worked my way around counter-clockwise.

By the time I got to the head I had internalized many of those stitches, which became part of my vocabulary. It becomes difficult (and probably pointless) to say which patterns are “mine,” which are “Leah Day’s,” which are derived from vague memories of pen-and-ink shading patterns and old Zip-A-Tones, and which are simply failed imitations. (“Originality is failed imitation” – someone on Facebook. Bill Benzon, maybe?). Some of the spirally flame patterns I used in Fire return for a cameo here.

I had bountiful opportunities to try new stitches and patterns. As long as the negative spaces were densely quilted, it didn’t matter what was in them. I tried various hexagonal-based “snowlflake” patterns, like the one above. In the midst of my experiments, Leah posted this Icicle Lights pattern, which is much easier than hex-based ones. Below it is an homage to DNA molecules, and a “scaly micropebbling” experiment.

As you can see, the nude depicted is a real woman-person, not a professional model. Who was the model, you ask? Suffice to say I will not be sharing the “pattern” as open source code. You’re welcome to copy this quilt, but you’ll have to reverse-engineer it, or use another model.

Here’s what she looked like before stretching. Maybe vanity drove me to it – I may be a little saggy, but I’m not that saggy. The subtle white-on-white quilting technique relies entirely on shadow to reveal texture and outline, and only works if light hits the surface evenly from the side. The quilt was professionally stretched on canvas stretchers by 567 Framing. It took 2 and a half weeks, but was worth the wait.

Here’s “Air” leaning against the wall with her friends EarthWater, and Fire, in my former apartment in New York City. I brought all these quilts with me when I moved to Urbana IL last Summer. Some of them will be in my upcoming art show at Sleepy Creek Vineyards – stay tuned!

 

My Tile Obsession Will Taper Off Eventually

I can already feel it slowing down, which means I’ll have to find something useful to do soon. Meanwhile I wanted to see the morphing tiles as a 2-color map. Easier said than done: Flash crashes every time I try to convert the various symbols making up the outline into “shapes,” so I had to export a PNG and use the clunky old paint bucket in Photoshop. There’s an ugly thick outline I added to close gaps, in order to make said paint bucket work. But at least my 2-color curiosity is now satisfied.

It reminds me of the far-more-awesome M.C. Escher Metamorphosis poster I had in college. And although the thick outline and various other flaws make not-print-worthy, yesterday I made a color version that is:

I ordered a few yards of it from Spoonflower. I can’t wait – once I start quilting this stuff I might get re-obsessed for days!

Il Gatto

cat quiltIl Gatto, approx. 36″ by 48″. (It’s actually well squared with nice right angles, the photo distorts it because I held my wide-angle-lens snapshot consumer camera out over a bed to take the picture.)

This is my first all-traditionally-pieced quilt, no trapplique or applique, just squares and triangles sewn together with 1/4″ seams. Since I don’t get excited about traditional quilt designs, but wanted to try traditional techniques, I designed this insane vicious cat. After Kaye England’s class last month I bought some of her fancy acrylic rulers, a straight stitch plate for my Janome, and some cotton thread. They paid off: although the top isn’t perfect, it came together pretty darn well and hardly required any trimming.

For the eyes I did curved seams, which was tricky and imperfect but sufficient for this project.

cat quilt backAnd here’s the back. I free motion quilted simple spirals all over because they’re relatively quick and contrast with the straight seams.

I’m getting a little tired of FMQ on my domestic machine. I tried a sit-down 16″ long arm quilting machine a few weeks ago and loved it: it was fast, and I could really see what I was doing. Now I really feel the constraints of my Janome, especially how hard it is to see past about an inch. I have yet to try an articulated long arm on a frame, but that’s next. Will it be even more like drawing? Can I get some longed-for spontaneity into quilting with one of those?

Quilted Silk

I quilted a 13″ This Land Is Mine silk pocket square.

This was my first time quilting on real silk – easier than polyester, and it feels amazing to the touch.

I included hanging pockets on the back…

but really I think it’s a matzoh cover.

Firsts

On Thursday I attended my first quilt guild meeting ever. In New York I learned to free motion quilt from the Internet, mostly Leah Day. But since I’m in Illinois now I can take advantage of the ginormous local quilting culture, and that means the Illini Country Stitchers. There were over 100 people there! And by “people” I mean “women,” as there was nary a man to be found.

The meeting’s main speaker was Kaye England, who was so funny and compelling I signed up for her class the next day. My first sewing class! Where I learned to piece traditionally, something I’ve never done before, yielding my first pieced block:

It’s not nearly as precise as everyone else’s, but it was incredibly satisfying just the same. I’ve long wondered what the appeal of patchwork piecing was. Now I think I know: it’s largely in the process, like doing a puzzle.

These quilters possess MAD SKILLZ that take a long time to learn. Kaye is on the left.

Later I free-motion quilted my block at home, my first free-motion quilting on patchwork. The quilting isn’t great, since I’m way out of practice.

I don’t plan to do much more traditional piecing; this is more my style. But it was great to learn something new, and learn to do it properly. The class was a lot of fun, and I may have learned even more about teaching than I did about sewing.