As an engineer turned fine art student, I bring a unique body of knowledge to my BFA studies. My background in mathematics and computer programming originally seemed detrimental to my creative endeavors as I have an innate desire for structure, pattern, and balance that can result in flat, predictable artwork. Much of my research in the last few years has investigated strategies for creating “deliberately organic” patterns that are aesthetically intriguing while still being grounded in the comfortable familiarity of engineering precision. This dichotomy is an excellent analogy for my life and the constant tension between calculation and creativity that I experience daily.
One of the methods I currently employ to generate pattern is the use of different coding theories to embed specific messages into my handcrafted objects. Fibre and textiles have been used to carry information for millennia but the modern reliance on digital technologies for the communication and storage of knowledge makes the use of textiles to convey information unexpected. The intentional encoding of message into fibre craft has now become the realm of artistic concept and one that I am exploring in my fibre practice.
My senior research began with the use of 8-bit binary ASCII computer code to spell out messages in computer language in woven objects and embroidery. In an effort to “encode” textiles using more intuitive methods that did not require specialized knowledge, I explored cryptography and numerical ciphers that could be read more easily by a broader audience. I also explored concepts such as synesthesia, where musical notes are translated to color and the idea of written text as a legitimate code in its own right. My work stressed the point that no lines are needed between art and technology or engineering and creativity, they can all exist happily together to elevate artistic pursuits to new levels.
Lullaby. Def: A Comforting Song
The Lullaby quilt is a direct continuation of my cryptographic embroidery projects.. After working with square blocks of satin embroidery stitch, it became obvious that the geometry would also work well in a blocked quilt format.
I encoded a lullaby for the message in the quilt to play with the idea of a “comforter” being encoded with a song that is also intended to provide comfort and ease the listener into sleep. I chose a song that has significance to me, “Lullaby” by Josh Groban. A particular color and design of fabric was assigned to each letter of the alphabet with a plain, neutral fabric chosen to represent the spaces between the words. The alphabetic key is included in a separate area at the bottom of the quilt.
Pieced Cotton Quilt with bamboo batting.
Synesthesia refers to the response of multiple senses to a single given stimulus. A synesthetic person may identify a smell with a color as in “that water smells green” or “that perfume smells pink” and a phenomenon known as colored hearing refers to the translation of sound into sight.
I explored this phenomenon in a weaving project where each note in the musical scale is assigned a color, . The duration of each note is represented by the length of the woven section in that note’s color. This is very loosely related to the way music for a child’s xylophone is represented.
My goal was to represent the rhythm of the song and movement up and down the tonal scale in a scarf that would allow someone to "wear" their favorite song.
Synesthetic encoding of the melody of the first verse of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
The musical scale is represented with darker, heavier colors being at the bottom of the scale and lighter, paler colors being at the top.
There's No Place Like Home
After success with the small-scale embroidery projects in the Frozen series, I received the suggestion to try the same technique on a larger scale and with different materials. The larger format allowed space for more words to be encoded and I chose a well-known movie line that refers to domestic space. I have also completed messages utilized in traditional embroidered samplers such as "Home Sweet Home" and have experimented with more personal expression as well.
The aesthetic of this style of work is unique and intriguing even when there is no intent to spend the time decoding the message.
Variegated Acrylic Yarn on Needlepoint Canvas
"There's No Place Like Home" in 8-bit binary-coded ASCII
The Frozen embroidery series is an exploration of different methods of using binary-coded ASCII computer language to represent the words “Let it go” from the song in the Disney movie.
Computers use a series of 1’s and 0’s called binary code to process information internally. There is a convention called ASCII (the American Standard Code for Information Interchange) that uses 8 “bits” to represent each letter of the alphabet. Utilizing embroidery techniques to represent ones and zeros makes it possible to “encode” text-based data onto a textile. Each row in the embroideries represents one letter of the alphabet.
The colors for the project were selected based on the wardrobe of Princess Elsa who sings the song that is encoded.
Various materials on needlepoint canvas.
Over the holiday I received a volume of word puzzles as a gift. There are a variety of games in these magazines beyond the basic crossword and one of them, called a cryptogram, uses a simple substitution cipher where each letter of the alphabet represents another. The challenge in the puzzle is figuring out how the letters have been swapped in order to decipher the hidden quote.
This format gave me the idea to create cryptographic embroidery using a unique color of thread to represent each letter of the alphabet. This results in a random looking surface design which actually contains a carefully coded message that can be deciphered using the “rainbow key” included at bottom. This encryption is more intuitive and accessible than ASCII.
Embroidery Floss on Aida Cloth
There is a great deal of metaphor associated with weaving and the intersection and linking of threads to form cloth. The Cupid Plaid project explores woven cloth as a visual representation of the distinctive relationship between two people.
Continuing my exploration of encryption methods, a simple mathematical cipher (A=1 thread, B=2 threads...) is used to represent the letters in the alphabet. The name of one person is encoded into the warp and the name of a second person is encoded in the weft to create a plaid that is unique to those two people based on the letters in their name. The colors chosen represent the favorite color of each person. This type of cloth is an excellent analogy for how lives become intertwined in a relationship.
Each letter is represented by a number of threads, with A=1, B=2, C=3 and so on.
All letters are separated by 2 white threads.
Mine is the name in green. D=4, A=1, L=12, A=1, Y=25, C=3 and E=5.
Every combination of two names will give a very different looking plaid structure.