Category Archives: Classes & Teaching

Fiber Art meets Technology Reading List

A close up of woven computer memory. So cool! (via

I taught a “textiles & technology” class last night.  We had so much fun and we will definitely do it again!  Soft circuits, moldable plastic, thermochromic paint and a bunch more.  I told the class that rather than type all of these in a handout that they would have to try to type in to find them, I would just make their handout into a blog post.  These are a collection of recent articles and posts about textiles intersecting with technology.  Interesting reading and full of inspiration.

Core Rope Memory.  It’s like beaded ropes of wire that are actually computer programs. Completely cool.  This article also talks about an awesome woman programmer who worked on the Apollo mission computers.  So there’s lots to love.  Watch the video at about the 22 minute mark.  This article, also about core rope memory, has some amazing photos of the woven wires up close.  SO COOL.

Embroidery patterns translated to music.  I have a little music box at my house somewhere that you can use with punched paper like this.  I wish I could remember where I put it.

Not specifically textiles, but fascinating.  The museum in Prado is 3-d printing paintings so that people with visual impairments can “see” them.

A t-shirt that reacts to people nearby and tells you what you have in common.

A 3-d knitting machine that adapts a pattern to fit your size and shape.  I think any good knitter can do this, but it’s still an interesting article.

A scholarly article, but some neat ideas about all different kinds of soft/wearable circuits.

An interactive fur mirror.  Or one made of stuffed penguins.

Weaving with conductive thread and LEDs.

An iPad game based on a William Morris textile.

How textiles have revolutionized technology.

Google’s new Project Jacquard initiative.

The future of fabric.  Fashion design meets some new textile technologies.

Laundry that can clean itself?

A whole blog dedicated to fashion and technology.

Bring your multimeter to the fabric store?

A 3-d printed dress added to the collection at MOMA.

Electroluminescent wire.  Cool.

She’s a knitter.  She just does it with glass.

Patterned knits via a voice interpreting knitting machine.


Attention Fiber Geeks: Amplify your Art

This week I am teaching a class at the Weavers Guild of MN called “Amplify your Art”.  It started as a question: “Could you teach a class about soft circuits?”  My answer to that was “No, not really.  But what I can do…”

Part demonstration, part inspiration. This session will give you dozens of ideas for how to incorporate technology into your fiber art projects. We’ll cover a range of techno-possibilities, from electronic components like LED’s and conductive threads; to digital, 3-D printing and laser cutting; to chemistry with thermochromic and phosphorescent paints. Becka will show samples, provide sources, and do short demos to show how you can incorporate technology of all kinds into your weaving, spinning, and sewing projects. Thursday, June 11: 6:00-9:00 P.M.

I’m not really an expert in soft circuits.  I have built a couple.  I get the gist of it.  But I decided to take the incorporating technology theme of the class and run with it.  Because that I do know a lot about.

George (up there in the video) is made with a little traditional wiring (in the box) and some felt beads and conductive thread.  He’s really friendly, but a little shy.  If you hold hands with him, his nose lights up.  We will talk about how he is made.  I have also made three really fun examples with thermochromic pigment.  That means it changes color when you change the temperature.  I have an embroidered elephant embellished with LEDs.  I also have some UV reactive yarn.  We are going to make some sticker circuits in class. That’s right a little hands-on fun!  We will watch some videos of other artists doing cool stuff.  We will talk about 3-d printing and laser cutting and digital fabric printing and what works and what doesn’t and where to get it.  It will be 3 hours of discussing, exploring and getting inspired.

There are still spaces available if you want to join us.  You can register online or call the guild.  If you are interested and can’t make it to class, I have collected a whole bunch of articles about how fiber artists are using all kinds of technology in their art.  I will post those here after class so you can join in the reading if you are interested.

Do you have any really great examples of technology intersecting with fiber art?  Share in the comments and I will add them to my resource list.


How to be an Artist in Residence: Digital Fabric with 8th Grade

I have been writing a lot of “behind the scenes” posts here lately and I think that is kind of fun.  That’s the season I am in right now.  I am not making a lot of new work, but I am working a lot with others.  Spring is a busy time for projects with kids.  I know that from my years administrating those kinds of programs for Textile Center.  I am very fortunate to have made some great connections while I was there that have lead to a couple of neat projects for me this spring.  I posted an update to my Facebook page each day of this most recent residency (which I have quoted below) and I wanted to tell you a little about what it is like to be the artist who comes into a classroom.


8th grade residency: Day 1
This quilt got verbal “oooohs” from the 8th graders. I started a residency today doing digital fabric designs with the Fiber Art 3 class. I wasn’t sure they were really in to what I was showing them, but this was a hit.

Lesson One:  Bring good show and tell.

We didn’t do any hands-on projects the first day of this residency, but I talked about my art and what it’s like being a full time artist.  I talked about fabric design and repeats and border prints and we looked at a lot of examples of clothing and places you see patterns.  The classroom teacher told me that they might be pretty squirrely because they weren’t used to a “lecture” kind of class, but it was a great opportunity for them to practice taking notes.  They looked pleasantly bored for a lot of the time (as is completely normal for 8th graders) but they completely came to life when I brought out this quilt to show them and I had a mob around me at the end of the period as I pointed out the photo of Chester in the pool or my nephew with his bright yellow ball.  I didn’t know this was going to be a hit, but I am glad that it worked.


8th grade residency: Day 2
What’s cool today? The dress I wore that has a pattern of zippers on it was moderately cool. With the exception of The Table Who Whines, drawing was sorta cool. The fact that my sister is a computer programmer and a girl? Awesome.

Lesson Two:  Share.

It is tough to come in and not know names and know that I won’t be there quite long enough to learn them.  So I try to make any connections I can with the kids as we chat.  I tell them about my dogs and my favorite color.  I brought new show-and-tell every day by wearing something I made.  They picked up on the fact that I was doing that and started to ask me about it.  When they left the room at the end of day one, they were anxious about drawing the next day (What if I can’t draw?  I am a really bad drawer!).  So my sister volunteered to make a sample that I could show them from “not an artist”.  They totally connected with that and thought my sister sounded cool.  I told them about how I really hate painting and when I was going to school I didn’t want to study to be an artist because I thought I would have to do so much painting.  I gave them permission to call me Becka (instead of Mrs Rahn).  I let them chat all they wanted to while they were working (you can’t stop 8th graders from doing that) and I chatted too as I walked around the tables. The “I can’t draw” attitude totally went away once they were doing it.

I also shared some eye rolling with the classroom teacher about “The Table Who Whines” (which is her affectionate name for them) and a nod from across the room when the phones crept out, because although they are technically not allowed, the kids were using them to look for photos to do drawings from and we decided that was a good thing.

8th grade residency: Day 3
Collages are easier than drawing. Some people count their pieces to make sure that they only do the 8 minimum that is required. Lace doilies were a big hit. Especially when you got to peel them apart.

Lesson Three: Find your role.

This residency was a treat because the teacher I worked with is someone I have known for a while.  The kids love her and she genuinely shares the room when you come in to make art with the kids.  She is the best kind of teacher to work with.  As “the artist” you can be presented to the kids in many different ways:

  • The Babysitter. The classroom teacher spends the time grading papers at the desk or talking to the parent volunteer and you are on your own.
  • The Alien. The teacher constantly explains to the kids that she doesn’t know what you are doing either so she can’t help and we all better listen up.
  • The Treat.  No one has any idea why you are there or what you are doing, but they are ready with their desks cleaned off for you to begin the show.
  • The Afterthought. The teacher takes up half of your teaching time doing the daily writing thing and homework reminders, followed by lecturing the kids about how to behave.  Then you try to teach your lesson in half the time and nobody gets done.
  • The Assistant.  The teacher re-teaches everything you just said, or jumps ahead to an instruction you haven’t gotten to yet, and every kid in the room is asking her the questions instead of you.
  • The Goddess.  The teacher constantly points out to kids how amazing your sample is and how it’s ok if theirs looks bad because you are An Artist and they are just learning.
  • The Partner.  The teacher works with you, directs questions from the kids to you and asks questions on behalf of the group.

None of these are bad necessarily, but you almost never know until you arrive which role you will be expected to play.  The best question I ever learned to ask right away is what the signal is for the kids to be quiet and listen.  With 8th grade this isn’t as essential, but with 3rd graders, knowing the clap-clap-clapclapclap sequence can make the whole day go much differently.  I can teach as any of these artist roles, although I enjoy some more than others, and I have learned to adapt.

8th grade residency: Day 4
Computers are a success! I was much nervous about trying to do a computer thing with 34 8th graders on Chromebooks (which I had not seen before today.) Technology cooperated and I think we got everything saved onto the thumb drives. Double checking, that is my afternoon project.

Lesson Four: Have a backup plan.

I always have an extra 10 minute lesson planned.  I am a complete nut and agreed to do this residency with kids on computers which I had never used or seen.  I like to live dangerously.  It worked out fantastically, but I did bring an extra simple hands-on project with me just in case we had to bail on the laptops and do something else.  I planned an extra day into our lesson plans in case we couldn’t get everything done in our 45 minute periods (which are really short!)  One day we got done a little early and there was a little bit of noisy chaos at the end of class.  One day they were total speed demons and claimed to be “DONE” after 5 minutes.  The teacher and I made up some new “rules” about their designs and that they had to try more things before they could say they were done.

I also did a lot to make sure I knew everything I could about the technology before I got to class.  I know the art form no problem, but I made sure I was extra prepared with the tools and things that were out of my control.  I had 2 other online graphics programs picked out and tested in case PicMonkey didn’t work or was blocked by the school firewall.  I had 8 thumb drives ready to save kids artwork, but I knew that PicMonkey could also email the files to me in a pinch and I had tested that out.  Which was really good because for some reason 3 kids couldn’t get theirs to save and we emailed them instead.  I made 2 extra “generic” versions of the original art work for each project (a pencil drawing and a paper collage) so that the kids who missed the day when we made the original art wouldn’t have to sit and not participate on the day we did the digital editing.

8th Grade Residency: Day 5
Monday morning. First period. 8th graders. Grey and rainy day. These things do not mix. We got it done. But it was a slog.

Lesson Five: Don’t take it personally.

In every class, there are 4 kids who are 100% into whatever you are doing, they do amazing work and you are completely blown away by it. There are 12 kids who do great work and are about 80% engaged and will give you a high-five on your way out the door.  There are 10 kids who are ambivalent and are having fun in the moment and will probably forget that they ever met you come next week.  There are 5 kids who never quite get it and need help for every step.  And there are 3 kids who don’t ever connect and although they probably do the project, they just really don’t care.  And that’s ok.

Sometimes you can look at the “I am so cool I am bored” attitude and not see a glimmer of that fact that they are completely in love with what they are doing.  I don’t ever get more than a moment with these kids, so I have no idea whether the lack of enthusiasm is the flu or just being 14.  As artists, we know that not all art forms appeal to all of us. There’s a reason I am not a painter.  I want them to try something new; they have my permission to not like it.  I try to always teach my classes with that in mind.

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Day 6 hasn’t happened yet, but I am pretty sure it’s going to be a hit.  We have collected and uploaded all of the kids art and I am ordering 2 fat quarters of fabric for each kid.  This is a tiny thumbnail of their abstract designs all together.  I will ask their permission to show you more detailed images at some point.

Our big show-and-tell day will be in a couple of weeks.  I saved their original paper artwork to give back to them along with the fat quarters so they can see the before and after.  This has been a really fun residency and it is a treat that the school got a “technology integration grant” that made this technique a perfect fit for the fiber arts class.


Digital Tea Towel Class: Supply List


If you are signed up for my Digital Keepsake Tea Towel class starting on March 25, you might not have gotten your supply list yet.  Sorry about the snafu!  Hopefully it is being emailed to you today, but you can also download it here.  DigitalKeepsakeClass

Looking forward to seeing you at class.

Upcoming Class: Digital Keepsake Tea Towel


This is a recipe written in my Grandmother’s handwriting, which I turned into a linen tea towel.  Cool huh?  This was inspired by a post a couple of years ago on Spoonflower’s blog and I have turned the idea into a class, which is coming up in March.  We will scan a recipe card and learn how to scale it up so it fills a fat quarter of fabric, perfect for a tea towel.  Don’t have a recipe?  You could also use a handwritten note, a signature, a quote, or a poem as long as it is something about the size and shape of an index card.

My recipe cards weren’t quite the right size ratio to fill the whole fat quarter – there was a little white space around the edges – so I made this simple gingham pattern to fill in the gaps and add a pretty border.  You will learn how to do that too!  This class is broken up into 3 class sessions.  There is a gap before the last session so we have time to order our fabric and then meet back one more time so we can show and tell (or troubleshoot) and then I will demonstrate how to hem them (with pretty mitered corners) and show you some more great designs based on this same scanning and scaling technique.

You can register at Textile Center.  Dates are Wednesdays March 25, April 1 and April 29 from 6-8 pm.

Design Tutorial: Creating a layered design

Often when I teach an intro fabric design class, the students and I create a collaborative fabric design during class, which I have printed and mail to them after class.  This most recent class played along with me and made this design using speech bubble shaped post-it-notes and wrote their favorite “clean” swear word.  I thought it would make a funny fabric, especially given the day I had before I got to class.  So I scanned our design and got ready to put it into a repeat and it just seemed sort of blah.  We needed a much more colorful fabric to match our colorful language.  So I added some color and after I sent the swatches, I told my class I would post a tutorial about how I did it so they could check back.  My screenshots for this are in Photoshop, but many other design programs have the same tools you can use.

We started with a scanned image of post-it-notes on black paper.  I scanned this at 150 dpi because I wanted to print it at the same size and that is the resolution I need for fabric.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.47.06 AMThe first thing I wanted to do was to move the speech bubbles to a layer all by themselves.  This way I could insert something into the background and have them float over top.  When I open the image in Photoshop, it automatically makes it a locked background layer. (See the lock icon?)  When I go to the Layers palette and double click the layer that says Background, it will unlock it and convert it to a regular layer (Layer 0), which is what we need.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.50.26 AMNext I want to remove the black background and leave just the speech bubbles by themselves on this layer.  Choose the Magic Wand tool and click anywhere in that black background.  You can see what’s selected because Photoshop traces around it with dashed lines.  Once you have it selected, hit the delete key.  Your black background will disappear.  The checkered pattern you now see indicates that this part of the design is transparent.  (It won’t show on your finished design.)

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.15.39 AM

Next I will add a new background layer back in, by choosing the new layer icon (looks like a page with a bent corner) to make Layer 1. Then choose Edit -> Fill from the menu to fill it with black.  You will probably also have to put your layers in the right order by clicking and dragging them in the palette to make sure the bubbles are on top and the black layer on the bottom.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.52.10 AMSo it doesn’t actually look like we have done much at this point, but what we have done is split the design into two layers so that we can now insert something in between them.  Next, I am going to add a Text layer, by clicking the text tool and dragging a text box to fill the design space.  Now I can type text into this layer.  I filled it with cartoon style swear words (*&%$!!@) to match our theme.  It doesn’t matter what color they are, we will change that next.  Drag the text layer so it is sandwiched between Layers 0 and 1.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.53.05 AM

Now the color!  If you double click the Text layer in the Layers Palette, a window will pop up giving you options for Layer Styles.  We are going to use a Gradient Overlay to add a rainbow to this text.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.53.47 AM

The last little tweak I made to the design was to add a black outline to our speech bubbles to help make them pop out from the background a little more.  That is easy to do with the same Layer Styles tool.  Double click Layer 0 with the speech bubbles and choose Stroke from the style options.  I added a 3 px border of black.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.56.48 AM

And this is the finished design.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.57.24 AMNow I understand that this is a pretty silly fabric and you aren’t probably going to run right out and order yards of it.  But by using the same steps you learned here, you can create fabrics like these:

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.32.00 AM

These sheep are drawn with a fine tip sharpie and scanned.  I cut them out from the background the same way and added a white Stroke to the layer so they have that white outline.  The background for this design instead of text, is a piece of painted paper that I scanned and added a Color Overlay (from the Layer Styles Palette) in green.

Or dancing sheep on a knitted background.

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