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.


Collaborating: An artist and two museums

Last night I was the guest artist at a special event for the Hennepin History Museum.  It was an event to thank donors and the museum wanted to have me there to talk about ways that contemporary artists can work with and be inspired by museums.  The curator pulled out the feather fan that I photographed and created a skirt design from.  I also brought this skirt, which is a photograph of a woodwork detail at the museum.

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This isn’t my only museum collaboration though, and I am thrilled to pieces to be able to show you this one.  I have been keeping it under wraps for a while.

I was approached by a graduate student intern at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago with an inspiring opportunity.  They were trying to find a way to bring some modern relevance to their collection and had invited a group of contemporary artists and community members to create works in response to pieces in their collection.  They would give me photographs of a piece and then I could do anything to respond to it: write, create, curate.  They had a textile piece and wondered if I might like to respond.  YES!

Hull-House Sash

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They sent me several photos of the “sash”.  I am not sure what this piece is for sure.  It is woven and beaded and embroidered.  It is about 22 inches wide and 30 long.  In consulting with various textile geeks I know, our best guess is that it was a sampler type project, maybe using small samples or scraps of techniques used in classes and was meant to be decorative, like something to adorn the front of a podium.

My contact at the museum said,

“What is the role of the textile arts in an age of modern textile technology. Why do so many people make / construct their own textile clothing, garments, etc. ? In the early 20th century the HullHouse offered many textile, weaving, and sewing classes that were extremely popular at a time of tremendous factory expansion. The people taking those classes didn’t need to hand-produce their own articles, yet they did. What similarities exist between then and now? “

I decided to respond to the piece in two way: by making a contemporary piece and then writing a short essay to talk about the two pieces together.  I decided first to make a textile piece to reflect the parts of the sash I found striking:  the long fringe, the zig-zag trim, the gold sequins, the bold colors.  I wanted something that was modern and fun and wearable, but that had a real tangible connection to my inspiration piece.  I wanted people to look at it and immediately see the connection between the two.  I decided to go modern and make it from digitally printed fabric using an “all digital” design.  I very often work from photographs, but for this I didn’t want to print an adapted photo, but I wanted to use “modern technology” to create the design by drawing it all in a very virtual and non-tactile way, with vector art in Adobe Illustrator.


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I call this skirt “Sashay”.  I pulled colors out of the photo to create the design.  The zig-zag motif makes a yoke on the skirt and is echoed with a peek of ric-rac trim at the hem.  On each yellow bar on the design, I hand-stitched vintage gold sequins so there are subtle lines of sparkle.  It is digitally printed on to linen/cotton fabric.

The Hull-House Museum has put together a website to feature all of the response pieces for this project called “Look At It This Way”.  You can read my essay about the two pieces by visiting the site and checking out the other responses from musicians, poets and more. I am delighted to have been a part of this project and I had a great time working on it.

Deconstructing a New Logo


I decided it was time to give the blog a little makeover and it was a great excuse to do a little work on my own logo as well.  The template I was using for my blog didn’t have a really great mobile version, but they did have an upgrade to the template which has some really cool new features.  I have some tweaks to make to this one still (like none of my links are showing up in color), but it is getting closer and the mobile readability is much improved.  Which is good, because I read that Google is going to start penalizing sites in search results that are not mobile friendly and being searchable is pretty darn important.  Want to check your site for mobile friendliness?  Google has a tool.

Since I was in the mode of giving everything a refresh, I thought it was time to look at my logo as well.  I designed this little goldfish in 2008 and I have used it on all of my accounts, business cards and tags and so forth for all this time.  His name is Smee.  He is a simple recognizable graphic and didn’t tie me to any particular art form or technique. I didn’t want a logo with sewing machines or knitting needles because I really wanted the logo to work with whatever I was choosing to do and it has served me well.

Why a goldfish?  I have had a pet goldfish or two pretty much continuously since I was in highschool.  Dmitri and Gustaf lived with my younger sister when they outgrew my dorm room fish bowl.  Tigerlily and Smee were also dorm fish.  Andy and I had the retirement home for fish from the Biology 101 lab at USD.  Toby, Josh, W, T, F (what the fish), Harold and Henry have all lived in the living room aquarium and summers in the waterlily pond outside the kitchen window.  Does a goldfish represent my work?  Probably not, but it does represent me in a personal way.

But recently, I have started to develop more of a focus for my work that I have ever had before.  Everything I do now involves something digital, although still diverse – photos, digital printing, laser cutting, website design.  I wanted my logo to be able to communicate that in a little way and maybe remind someone “oh this is that girl with the digital stuff” but I didn’t want to totally move away from my little fish.

If you have ever taken a class from me in almost any subject, you will know that I talk about pixels a lot.  For me they are a really fundamental concept for understanding how all of this digital image stuff works.  So I thought “visible pixels” were a great representation of that digital concept in my work.  The fish swimming through the B in the logo shows it transforming from pixels into something “real”, which is exactly the process that I do, transforming digital into tangible. Is it nuts to have all of this metaphor and backstory?  Maybe.  But I remember reading a story about the FedEx logo and the “hidden arrow” and I think there are probably more subtle stories happening than most people realize.  The font for the B is American Typewriter, which I have license to use in this way through my Adobe software licenses.  (I didn’t know this about the font when I chose it, but it was designed in 1974 (the year I was born) and it is the font used for the I heart NY campaign.) I always just use my name as my business name, so B for Becka works for me.  Finally, colors.  It seems very corporate to think of myself like a “brand” with brand standards but I many years ago picked a set of colors that I used for everything so that it was all consistent, my brand colors.  My business cards matched my blog matched my Etsy shop.  I had 6 colors, now I have simplified to 4.  I dropped the purply-blue which was feeling pretty dated and picked up an almost navy.

BeckaLogo2015-02If you are curious, here are some of the old old versions of the logo/colors I have used.  They feel really heavy and dark to me now.

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I am just starting to switch everything over to this new logo and look.  Time for new business cards and the Etsy shop needs an update too, but it feels really good to do some spring cleaning and give everything a fresh new look.


This Weekend: Art-A-Whirl and Shepherd’s Harvest

GirlwithArtThis weekend I will be doing nothing but art.  And I mean literally nothing because I am participating in not one, but two great events and I am spending my time split between the two of them.

First, I will be at Art-A-Whirl, which is a giant open studio event in NE Minneapolis.  I am the guest artist in studio 401-B with my friends Ingrid and Eric.  It’s my first Art-A-Whirl and I think it’s going to be fun.  We are on the 4th floor in the Northrup King Building.  There are lots of good signs, just look for 401.  I will have all digitally printed fabrics there.  I have 3 dresses that are “show pieces” and a bunch of skirts, scarves, ties and hankies that are for sale.  I will be at AAW Friday, Saturday after 2pm and for just a bit on Sunday morning.

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I will also be at the Shepherd’s Harvest Festival at the Washington County Fairgrounds on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.  Thanks to my awesome booth mates who are helping me be at both events!  This is my 5th year (or something like that) at Shepherd’s Harvest and I will have laser cut jewelry and looms and some new really cute zipper bags featuring all kinds of knitting and fiber puns.  I even made a new day-glo pink laser cut loom just for this year’s festival.



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.