About Quiltbot


About Quiltbot

I’m delighted to be (finally) breaking the silence on what I’ve been working on since the beginning of 2022 - the 'Reulanach' personalised quilt pattern creator, or Quiltbot for short.

This post builds on the morsels I’ve shared in previous posts (see below) and shares a bit about the development of the personalised (data-driven) quilt pattern creator. If you want to read these posts in order, they are:

Creative Informatics update 1

Creative Informatics update 2

Creative informatics update 3

My starting point was really an interest in seeing how data could be used to add (new) meanings to the quilt design process and to explore the opportunities for personalisation using data. 

The catalyst for this project was a successful application to join the 2022 Resident Entrepreneur Creative Informatics programme (University of Edinburgh). My ideas on designing quilts with data actually go back longer than that partly as a result of my work supporting a team to improve data literacy for young people in schools in Scotland, and partly as a result of seeing the magic of long arm quilting through a family owned quilting service business based in Stirling.

What is Reulanach?

Reulanach (pronounced ‘ray-lan-uch’) is Gaelic for ‘abounding with stars’. The name is a nod to an interest in sense of place as one of the inspirations for the patterns I’m designing. 

The pattern creator consults star chart data to visualise the stars in a given place (date and time) then transforms that information into a quilt pattern using 3 blocks (Lone, Le Moyne, and Half Square Triangle stars). The number of each block type and the position of each block within the pattern is assigned by an algorithm. Since 'quilt pattern creator' is a bit of a mouthful, those involved in bringing this project to life have come to refer to the algorithm as ‘Quiltbot’. 

When I developed my ideas for personalising quilt patterns using data I had a couple of options I thought might work well. Ultimately, I chose to bring the starscape pattern to life because stars are a popular motif in quilt making and because I knew that the ability to access the data to visualise the stars already existed. A quick web search shows there are a range of personalised night sky products available.

Imagining new possibilities

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that bringing together two specialisms (web development and quilt design) has meant trying to operate in the middle ground of different knowledge to achieve a shared goal. While this has been challenging at times, it’s also been a really positive experience. For example, I went into the project with a clear idea that controlling the number of each type of star within each quilt would enable me to clearly define the fabric requirements across quilt sizes. Indeed it would have done. However, while the first prototype operated as intended the relationship between the telescope image and the quilt pattern seemed to miss something. Changing the approach, with the algorithm assigning the number of each star type in each quilt (albeit with various rules and limits in place), increased the authenticity of the design (improving the coherency between the telescope image and the pattern). Tapping into the developer’s expertise and embracing the unanticipated possibilities has been a highlight of this project. 

Design-led development

Changing the algorithm achieved ‘better’ designs (in my view). However, two implications of this change are worth noting for those interested in doing something similar. The change meant that a lot (and I mean a lot) more time was needed to think through how variable fabric calculations would work. Related to this, further thought was needed to combine background fabric requirements in order to reduce wastage to a minimum. I’ve achieved this by combining fabric requirements across different star types and by reusing the fabric offcuts in various places across the pattern. 

Would I take the same approach again? In the development of the Reulanach pattern I’ve prioritised design over practicality. I think this has been the right approach to take in an exploratory project. It’s allowed me to embrace unimagined possibilities and gain valuable experience following through that decision. The next pattern may take a different (simpler) approach partly to learn from the alternative scenario but also so that I can get my hands on a completely new data set and start playing again!

Test, retest

Quiltbot integrates the design you visualise into a digital PDF pattern. As a result, the pattern testing process changes in a variety of ways. Rather than writing the pattern, passing it to testers, and amending instructions based on their feedback, the pattern testing process becomes more complex by nature of the order in which it needs to be completed (so the developer can be working in tandem) and because of the different things that need to be tested. 

Beyond construction testing (do the instructions make sense?), tests have included checking the limits on different star types and star combinations, looking at the design coherence across the different quilt sizes, cross testing fabric requirements with EQ8 (quilt software), manually testing fabric calculations, and checking how the user interface integrates information into the pattern. These are just a few of the tests..

All this testing (and retesting) has involved a systematic approach to generating patterns based on different locations (at different times), manually working through each, documenting the outcome of each test and unpicking what (if anything) I’ve found interesting or perplexing. Some of these tests have involved small amendments or additions to the code operating in the background to give you the pattern creator you can now use to generate a bespoke and meaningful star quilt pattern.

While the technical testing and the development of the pattern creator has been extensive, the pattern has also relied on the invaluable feedback and advice from all the fabulous people that have tried out block or full quilt instructions with me. Thank you all!

Creative collaboration

For the majority of this time I’ve worked in secrecy talking in general terms about what I’ve been trying to achieve. This was necessary because of the intellectual property involved in developing Quiltbot. While the Creative Informatics programme offered a supportive community to share ideas and discuss challenges, by nature of resident entrepreneurs working in different creative disciplines there have been limits to the sharing of experiences within the immediate community. Having said that I've also been fortunate to have worked with a mentor from the Creative Edinburgh community whose insights and enthusiasm have also kept me going. 

Last month, I attended a curated tour of the Kaffe Fassett exhibition ‘The Power of Pattern’ at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. One of the (many) reflections that have stuck with me since then is the importance of creative collaboration. The need for (and joy of) working creatively with others was also reinforced during an online stitching workshop with Ekta Kaul at the end of June 2023 (Break Out Of The Template). If you've followed those posts on Instagram, I'm still stitching! 

Having finally broken the silence on this project, I’m really interested in understanding the moments people recognise through the locations, dates and times informing their designs. While I can see Quiltbot being used to mark a special lifetime moments I’d like to hear about the places of rebirth or transformation, the patterns that pull people together and the ways that Quiltbot can be used in (as yet) unimagined ways...

Thanks for reading! 

-    Claire

Further information

Create your quilt

Frequently Asked Questions

Creative Informatics website

Creative Edinburgh website