My interest in quilt making, data, and technology means a discussion about AI in the quilting industry is a necessity today. I’ve been playing around with AI text to image generator ‘Midjourney’ recently and wanted to share thoughts on what I’ve been up to.
I’d wondered about using an AI image generator to produce some fabulous backdrops for my quilts. I love a quilt displayed out in the wild but hiking that quilt up a hill with my weary legs makes it unlikely to happen with any regular frequency. Also, the weather in Scotland means the odds are probably stacked against us anyway (certainly true for Summer 2023). I wondered whether Midjourney could just be the answer to this problem.
I’m not the only one with this idea of course. If you’re on Instagram, you’ll find @octopurse using Midjourney to do something similar. I’ll return to this later but let’s just marvel at a couple of my favourites..
Midjourney is also being used to produce quilt designs. Again, on Instagram, see @midjourney.quilts. If you search on ‘quilt’ within Midjourney you’ll find over 54,000 results.
So I subscribed to Midjourney with the intention of understanding a bit more about it and thinking about how I could use it. Mid journey(!), I found myself asking questions that reach (far) beyond my initial query.
What IP rights do I have (or give up) when using it? What are the copyright implications of incorporating my own images within the AI image generation process? What does responsible use look like if the model has been trained on images without the consent of image creators? What is the environmental cost of all that processing power? How might my approach to using AI image generation align with my approach to sustainability in other areas of my business? Who does/doesn’t have access to it? How are people included/excluded from using it? How are structural differences to access embedded in different AI software (OpenAI versus Midjourney or others)? What are the implications for teaching people to use AI text to image generators? What principles do I want to adopt if I choose to use it?
It’s difficult to get anything done when these questions are spinning around your head. For now, let me focus on what I’ve played with so far.
I've tried incorporating an image of one of my quilts into Midjourney and then imagining that quilt displayed within a specific backdrop. I've not been able to get this to work as anticipated (yet) but have some quite fun failures to draw on (the first image below - fairly obvious!). I got there with second image though I had to bring the Midjourney produced backdrop together with the quilt image using different software (Affinity Photo).
Prompt: /imagine (image file) 50% size, held vertically against a backdrop of romantic wedding venue, no people, photorealistic
Backdrop image prompt: /imagine a rustic barn roof held up by wooden posts, no walls, fairy lights, sawdust floor, flowers in the rafters
I've also used Midjourney to understand how I (we/it) might design a quilt based on a basic description of a quilt I’ve already designed. Taking inspiration from my Monadh quilt pattern, which is essentially a visualisation of Munro data (Scottish mountains over 3000ft), I used the prompt: /imagine a turkey red and navy blue quilt with triangle motifs displayed vertically in a valley with a backdrop of lush green mountains, photorealistic'
I might want to save time not having to create an image in reality. Midjourney will do that assuming I can articulate my instruction in a way that enables the algorithm to function as intended. If you’re not playing with AI text to image creation yet, a quick scroll through the Midjourney #newbies channel will show users generating many, many prompt iterations in order to create their desired image. Hence my question about the impact of processing power on the environment.
The prompt needed to kick the AI generator into action is ‘/imagine’. How people imagine in the context of using such tools will be a rich topic for discussion across the fields of AI, human-computer-interaction, education and copyright circles for some time. Understanding what’s generated is intricately tied to a user’s prompts. For that reason, from now on I’ll be sharing my prompts with the images I share and which I’ve created using Midjourney. I use the words 'I've created' carefully but tentatively in the context of ongoing discussions of copyright and AI. For more on this, have a look at the article below 'AI-generated art cannot receive copyrights' from Reuters (August 2023).
Creative commercial clashes
Beyond the sharing of prompts, I want to think more on when I will (or will not) use AI text to image creation in the context of showcasing my quilts or quilt designs.
The business case would suggest AI text to image generation is a fabulous playground for product promotion. As it happens, I attended a Business Gateway seminar recently where this exact point was made.
My designs embed meaning in quilt patterns in new ways. It would seem disingenuous to use a promotional approach that might (in some contexts) undermine those meanings.
If I’m able to create an image using AI that allows me to speak to the meaning of the quilt design perhaps the use of AI generated images make sense. In the context of the Reulanach quilt, which is about recognising special moments through quilt making, I can produce imagined visuals that highlight that meaning. I can use the technology to create special moments in a way that I can’t in real life (physically, financially, practically). In other words, creative and commercial objectives are aligned. Where the use of AI generated images becomes incongruous to the meaning of a quilt or quilt design then perhaps it’s not the most appropriate approach to use when sharing that design. The authenticity of the image-quilt interaction is something I will continue to reflect on.
My initial play, and the time it’s taken me to piece my thoughts together, indicates the use of AI image generation in the quilting industry is a topic in need of ongoing reflection, much as it is elsewhere. Discussion is really just starting to take place on the uses of AI in the quilting industry. Quilting Daily featured a blog post by Eileen Fowler exploring the use of Chat GPT to write instructions for piecing a 5” pinwheel block (link at foot of page). It didn’t work out so great. I'll keep reflecting on the issues outlined. In the meantime, you can be sure that just as Chat GPT needs more quilt data in it’s world, we need more quilt makers, and creatives across disciplines, to be playing with these technologies to see what’s possible, desirable and perhaps even beneficial - socially, culturally, ethically, financially and otherwise.
AI-generated art cannot receive copyrights, Reuters (August 2023)
Reulanach quilt pattern creator
Monadh quilt pattern
Artificial Intelligence and Quilting: Can ChatGPT Master Making Quilt Patterns?, Eileen Fowler for Quilting Daily