Common Thread Project

“Through the Looking Glass”  2010

Digitally printed fabric and hand embroidery.  (Click to see image larger)

Awarded second place at “WWW” exhibition at Northfield Arts Guild in June 2011.


Welcome to the journal documenting the construction of this piece.  If you made it here via QR code scan, congratulations!

November 2010

“Through the Looking Glass” started with a note scribbled during a seminar about art and technology:

The lecturer was talking about using technology to add value to an art experience by showing something beyond the performance or behind the scenes; thinking about ideas to encourage people to use their phones not just to secretly snap pictures, but to engage with the art.  He mentioned QR codes (or quick response codes) as an easy way to get a website or document on to your phone.  Interesting.  So I wrote myself a little note and thought about it for a while.

I wanted to create a piece that incorporated a way to interact with the art right into the piece itself, and not just as a tag on the wall.  I have seen a few other QR codes rendered in fiber art:  here and here.  I didn’t want to make just a QR code on its own, but to do something where the code was only a part of the whole.

To start, I needed to create a unique code.  I went to this website, entered the address for this page that you are reading and it generated this image for me.  I am not really excited by black and white images, so I took it over to Photoshop to add some color.

Next step was to print it on fabric.  I bought some fabric that had been pre-treated to make the inkjet inks permanent.  Usually I send my fabrics off to be printed by the lovely people at Spoonflower, but I was working on a deadline (which I will tell you about later) so this one I printed on my printer at home.

The instructions for the fabric said to let it dry and then rinse out any extra ink on the surface.  So I ran it under some water in the sink.  (Cool bubbles in that photo!)

Another concept that came up at that seminar I was listening to, was the idea that you need to give people permission to interact with the art and show them how to do it.  The piece needed to invite people to scan it with their phones and see what happens.  So that became part two of the art, another layer over the QR code itself.

I needed my piece to literally say “Scan me”, so the image is inspired by Alice in Wonderland, which gave me the title for the piece as well.  Alice finds little cakes and a bottle with tags that say “Eat me” and “Drink me”.  Why not “Scan me”?

I laid a piece of tissue paper over the image and started to sketch a bottle with a tag that says “Scan Me”.  The plan was to embroider this image over the other, matching the colors so that both images, the QR code and the bottle, were visible.  In order for the image to be able to be scanned and read by a phone I needed the code to remain high contrast and sharp.  No stitching dark things in to the white areas and vice versa.

Once I settled on the images, then I was ready to transfer it to the fabric so I could stitch.   I ran in to a problem.

The washable marking pen I was going to use to draw the embroidered design reacted with the treated fabric and became not removable.  There is the wet corner of the fabric to prove it.  So much for that.

On to Plan B: Tear away stabilizer.  I drew my design on to that.

I wanted to stitch into something a little heavier than just a single layer of fabric, so I basted (with glue stick) this piece together with a piece of wool felt, which is a nice fabric to hand stitch and lets me work without an embroidery hoop.

December 2010: Time to start stitching!

I started with a back stitch in white thread on the white sections of the fabric.  This is 3 strands of cotton embroidery floss.

Once I finished all the white lines, I had to remove the stabilizer, because I needed to see the colors underneath to be able to match the threads to the fabric.  I little trickier to stitch because my lines went away with the stabilizer, but I could “connect the dots” between the white lines.

Once I removed the stabilizer, I started doing test scans with my phone to make sure nothing I was adding was going to interfere with the phone’s ability to read the code.  I wasn’t sure this was actually going to work and a little afraid that the embroidery was going to throw it off.  So far so good.  Then I picked out a set of threads to match all of the colored parts of the design.

I stitched with 3 strands in the colored sections but blended two or three colors together depending on what matched the best.

The back stitch was great, but I needed the lines to stand out a little more.  So I went over all of the lines of back stitch with a whip stitch, matching the thread colors once again.  This addition makes a great rope-like line and blends the individual stitches together more.  More test scanning with the phone between every step.

To finish it off, I gave it a press with the iron and mounted it on a piece of stiff cardboard.  I found a perfect sized frame although the wrong color, so I gave the frame several coats of matte white paint so it would make a nice finished edge without drawing attention to itself.  The QR code also needs a space of white around it, so this would hopefully add to the scan-ability.  I thought about many ways to “finish” this by making it a quilt like piece or giving it some kind of edge, but finally decided that a frame brought you back to the “looking glass” idea in the title.

Finished January 6, 2011.  Probably about 24 hours of work between stitching and documenting here.

This piece was exhibited at the Textile Center in “A Common Thread” January/February 2010 and at “www” at the Northfield Arts Guild Gallery from June 29 – August 6, 2011, where is won an award for second place in the exhibition.

(And if you are still reading, I promised the story about why I was working on a deadline.  My original piece for the Common Thread Exhibition was supposed to be this one: Enterprise Generation.  However, that piece was a finalist in the Space Craft Contest sponsored by NASA and Etsy.com and was traveling to New York for judging during the exhibition dates, so I had to remove it from the exhibition.  “Enterprise Generation” has been collected by NASA and may be on display at some point at one of their facilities, which thrills me to pieces.)

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