1. State of the art, project management and documentation#

Documenting in GitLab#

In this course Fabricademy uses the open source online platform GitLab for the documenting and sharing of projects. A password will be provided for you by the Fabricademy ICT people. You can then login and start documenting. When you login, you find a directory. Under ‘docs’ you will find a folder with all the assignments. Under ‘images’ you can upload photos, pdfs and (zip)files (right-click on an uploaded image, copy the image location and paste this in your documentation). Under ‘projects’ you can log your final project. When you start an assignment, the content management system (CMS) will first lead you to the ‘consumer’s‘ interface, in which you more or less see what you get. It is better to go to the ‘nerd’s‘ interface (hit the ‘WEB IDE’ button) which is in code. This works faster. For the WEB IDE you need a special sign-in, which will also be provided for you by the Fabricademy ICT people. You need to learn some basic code in order to use the WEB IDE CMS. You can find all the necessary commands in the online GitLab repository and archive and in the online GitLab manual for the basics. You can also find tutorials if you Google them. It is pretty straightforward. Two tips. Because uploading images can take forever (it can fill your whole morning), be sure to compile and edit your images beforehand (make collages) and reduce the image-size to below 500 kb. When you upload (zip)files in the images folder and you want to have them downloadable in your documentation, you need to insert the ‘download url’, which you get by hitting the ‘downlad button’ on the right (cloud with an arrow) and then copying the url from your browser.

Documenting your Work#

It seems like a hassle and in fact, it is a hassle. But documenting helps you in two important ways. First it helps you to think better about your assignments because you need to be able to explain them to another person. This helps you to better understand for yourself what what you are working on and why. Second it helps you to remember what you’ve learned. It is easier to learn new skills and techniques, and to actually ‘acquire’ the knowlegde when you document what you have done. And surely, your information might also help others who are working on the same thing, like your fellow Fabricademy students.

Documenting takes time and effort but it is fun too. You can make a nice showcase for your work.

Telling a Story#

Documenting online is different from keeping notes in a paper diary. GitLab is a public space and everybody can see what you have uploaded. To do them (and yourself) a favor, you need to develop some storytelling skills. Sorry to break this news to you. But by bad or sloppy storytelling people will find your documenting boring and unimportant and also you will leave a none-too-professional impression, which is unjustified because you ARE a Fabricademy talent who is doing great work. So training yourself in better storytelling will do better justice to your talents and designs. Which, by the way, will also greatly improve your design efforts as well. Because good design is first and foremost a good story. How do you tell a good story? Be as specific and as personal as you can. Try to think of the reader as a good but critical friend you are talking to. Do not focus only on the how but also on the why - why do you think someting is interesting and important? Think of your documenting as a food blog: nobody wants to read just a list of ingredients and the recipe. People want to see the scrumptious meal, with tips about how and when to serve it, with some personal words from the cook and how her kids thought the recipe was yummy. Give examples from your own life. Be sure to upload nice images that show what you are writing about. Put effort into making intriguing titles and headings. Make jokes. Be light-hearted. And don’t worry about your English. There is always the spelling corrector and Googe Translate! As an example of storytelling, and also to practice my GitLab content management system-skills, I have done some documenting below about quilts.

And consider that there is a story in every failure too. So don’t believe you should throw away or not tell the stories (and pictures) that flopped. Cherish your bloopers. People love them.

The Quilt as Body Extension#

Schema of biological thermoregulation inside the human body during 24 hours.

Body heat in a sleeping bat.

Amish quilt.

I am participating in Fabricademy 2018 because I want to create an interactive quilt that helps a person sleep better. Put differently: I hope to design a cyberquilt, a piece of bedwear that literally acts as a second skin to the body, giving rest, comfort, safety and pleasure on all levels of sensing and perception. For example by regulating thermoregulation using body temperature, body movements and the outside environment as sources for an artificial negative feedback system that cools down or heats up a person whilst resting. A process of ‘bio-cybernetic exoregulating by quilt’, meaning that the quilt functions as a cybernetic skin or synthetic ‘fur’ that keeps the body balanced and suitable for deep and healthy sleeping, relaxation and recovery. In short: cyberquilt.

The Quilt as Technology#

Professional quiltmaker in the sixties. Basic quilting techniques have not changed since, even when sewing machines and materials have been modernized and designs have changed according to fashion. Currently quilting is a booming industry for handwork leisure and amateur artists.

Quilt I made in 1990.

A conventional quilt consists of a minimum of three layers: top, filling and back. Usually the top is patched (made of little pieces of textile sewn together in an interesting pattern) and then quilted (stitched through all the layers) to bind it together. It has a firmly constructed edge on the side. Therefore a quilt has many options to integrate technology and cybernetics into it. For example an electrical circuit could be hidden inside or even used as a design element on the outside or edge. A cyberquilt that would support the body to thermoregulate probably needs several technological and digital applications. Moreover it has to be sustainable (preferably for lifelong use) and adaptable (for changes in someone’s circumstances due to developments in life, such as getting married or divorced, having a baby, becoming elderly or disabled, gaining or loosing weight, menopause, and so on). How can such a cyberquilt be assembled? How can a cyberquilt with electronics inside be kept for sustained daily use? How can it be washed and mended? Should it be modular, so that it can easily grow or shrink in size? Should it run on an external energy source (for example solar power harvested during the day?) or could it powered by kinetics and body energy, so that it need no batteries or plug for the power grid? These are profound design challenges.

The Quilt as Story#

Protest quilt.

The very famous Aids Memorial Quilt with 40 panels on display, many years after it was stitched together in 1987. The Quilt now contains more than 44,000 panels and 90,000 names.

Many quiltmakers have incorporated a story within the design. This can be very personal, like a widow who uses her late husband’s clothes, or very public, like a group of activists stitching political messages on sheets. My own dearest quilt is the one my mother made for me when I was a girl. I have used it ever since (and it is in dire need of mending). Being an individual object for daily use, almost literally a refuge for the night, a quilt is intimately and deeply personal. Traditional quilt designs tell all kinds of stories, sometimes personal, sometimes anecdotal, sometimes monumental, sometimes political and sometimes all of these things at the same time. What visual design should a cyberquilt have? What story should it tell? Should it be a token of hard work in someone’s waking hours, like the quilts of Gee’s Bend? Should it relate to the personality or psyche of its owner, like a Native American name, and if so, should it be able to allow for changes? For instance when its owner discovers he or she is transgender? (Which makes one wonder: do quilts have gender identity?) Or should it tell the big story of climate change as a constant reminder to care better for the environment?

The Quilt as Pattern Design#

The forever repeating triangle in Dutch traditional quilts.

Dutch plainness.

Flying geese by the Dutch artist and mathematician M.C. Escher (left) and flying geese by an unknown quilter (right).

Triangles are a recurrent theme in the Dutch landscape.

So many quilts, so many designs. Patchwork designs tend to be mathematical and tesselating, because straight lines makes the patchwork easier to sew. Quilt patterns often have more organisc curves, like leaves and flower patterns. Quilters throughout the years have named their patterns and shared them widely. So most people will be familiar with patterns called ‘flying geese’, ‘diamond in the square’, ‘monkey wrench’, ‘drunkard’s path’, ‘feathers’ and ‘wreaths’. The Dutch do not have this tradition. Traditional Dutch quilts usually have fairly straightforward designs, almost boring, with the ‘forever repeating triangle’ as the basic shape.

The Quilt as Zero Waste Design Challenge#

Quilters of Gee’s Bend used their own go-as-you-are designs, made from leftover scraps, old clothes and worn household textiles. For instance there are Gee’s Bend quilts made of old factory clothes (denim and corduroy) worn by the men of the village

Sewing patchwork takes brainpower. I like to break my head over how to fit in all those little scraps without losing any of the fabric.

Why not a wearable quilt?

Or a quilted suit?

Actually, I was quite surprised to learn how little innovative engineering and also how little fashionable design is currently produced in the field of bedwear. And I was even more surprised because of climate change and how people are – I think – in need of bedwear that can respond to the new nighttime reality of more heat and humidity, at least in The Netherlands and more specifically in Amsterdam. I know my dream to create an interactive cyberquilt is crazily ambitious. I have begun with sketching and experimenting, for example with ‘thickness-gradients’, quilting with conductive thread, creating ‘pores’ and trying to find out how a quilt could communicate with the body. (Patches? A special pyjama? A wristband? Wearable bedware? See below for some images.)

Some Sketches#

Inspiration from Other Artists and Researchers#

Interactive installation to create your own native quilt pattern.

FlexTiles. Quilted fabric used as a sensor.

Cosmic quilt.