Sunday, November 24, 2019

Guild Challenge: Tear, weave, quilt, applique, electrify!

Battery holders, alligator clips and LEDs may not seem like the traditional tools or materials used in quiltmaking... but with the technology advancements in soft circuits, it's very feasible to add electronics to quilts, wearables and other fiber art. I did!
Alligator clips and test leads hooked up to a battery and soft switch on my Challenge quilt.

My latest quilt, A Light Touch, was created in response to my guild's Challenge this year and it incorporates electronics along with traditional quilting materials such as cotton batiks, threads and batting. This is an overview of my process.
A Light Touch.
2019 Choo Choo Quilters Guild Challenge.
18" x 23"

Guild Challenge Parameters

As with all Guild Challenges, participants in the Choo Choo Quilters 2019 Guild Challenge were given certain parameters or guidelines to follow when creating a submission. Through a round robin fabric swap, participants received a total of one yard batik fabrics—7 different batiks in various sizes. A bit of each fabric had to be used in the final piece.
Seven batik fabrics required for the Challenge.

The Challenge was issued at the February guild meeting, and my thoughts were about creating something that was dimensional and had an unexpected element to it. My impetus was to employ aspects of a mixed media workshop with Michael Brennand-Wood I attended in June, but I must have also been influenced by samples I made for a Art Weave class I taught in March.
Weaving the top.
Since the original batik fabric pieces were torn, I continued with the frayed edge concept and continued tearing the fabrics into strips approximately 3/4" wide. My fabrics had a good range of values—lights, mediums and darks—so the plan was to create a woven gradation of color. Sometimes smaller strips were sewn together to get the needed length for weaving.

Preparing the Quilt Sandwich
After weaving the top, I had to figure out a way to keep the woven strips in place. The quilting would solve this. A variety of variegated threads [40 wt. and 50 wt. cotton] were chosen in colors to complement the light and dark areas of the weaving.
Auditioning thread colors for free-motion quilting.
A piece of batting was cut to the size of the woven top. The backing fabric was wrapped around the edges of the batting to enclose them and give the piece a finished look.
Batting enclosed with the backing fabric.
This batting/backing piece was layered with the woven top and pin basted.
Top, batting and backing pin basted.
The sandwich was free-motion machine quilted.
Free-motion quilting.

There was still one more fabric to incorporate—this orange batik with the circle motifs.
The final fabric to incorporate into my Challenge piece.
I anticipated appliquéing the circle motifs to the quilt top. In keeping with the torn edges of the woven strips, the edges of the applliquéd circles were pinked. Extra batting was stuffed under the appliqué shapes for a trapunto effect (satisfying the idea of a dimensional piece).

But I still wanted to push this piece to another level... This is when the idea to add electronics surfaced.

Adding Electronics
The circle motifs seemed an ideal place for LEDs (light emitting diodes). I had six appliqués to work with:

  • perhaps two or four could light up with LEDs,
  • maybe all of them would light up... 
  • maybe they could blink... 
  • could a switch be incorporated? 
It was getting more intricate... but it was exciting and I didn't want to give in... Once I entered the Wonderland of electronics, it was like going down the rabbit hole with Alice.

Appliqué motifs pinned in place.

Interactivity and Soft Switches
Thinking it would be *cool* to make the piece interactive, I was challenged with making a soft switch. Activating a switch (pushing a button or flipping a switch) would close the circuit and make the LEDs illuminate. It might be interesting if one switch illuminated two LEDs and another switch lit up the other two. Was I making this too complex?

The next step was to devise the schematic of the circuit—with 4 LEDs, 2 switches and the battery (power source)—to see if my plan could be executed. The composition and placement of the appliqué circles needed to be preserved, so I had to figure out the best placement of the power source and the traces (connections and paths for the electricity). I enlisted advice from friend and fiber artist, Geri Forkner, about the circuits and placement of the electronics. Geri has done extensive work with soft circuits and incorporating electronics in her weaving and felting art. [Thanks for your guidance and advice on this piece, Geri!]
Drawings of the circuit schematic.

Although aluminum foil could be used for the switch, with a week before the deadline, I found conductive fabric online and ordered it. Sewing with the conductive fabric was a better solution than adhering aluminum foil to the batik fabric. 
Testing the switch.
The soft switch was first tested with the alligator test leads and a battery. It worked well.
The LED lights when the switch is engaged.

LEDs were inserted into four of the trapunto appliqués. Two of the appliqués were un-stitched to incorporate the new soft switches. Actual buttons were stitched to these two circles (so viewers could "push a button"... get it?) . Then, conductive thread was used to hand sew the circuits (from the back of the piece). All circuits were go!
Button switches.

Do you push buttons?
Usually, educated viewers respect quilts and fiber art pieces and do not touch them when they are on exhibit. For the Challenge display at the guild meeting, however, I added a "Do you push buttons?" sign to encourage interaction with my piece. 
Viewer interaction at the Challenge exhibit. 

During our guild's Challenge Reveal, each quiltmaker gives a brief explanation of their piece. I talked about the LEDs, the coin battery, and stitching with the conductive thread (some people think wires are used). For me, determining the circuit and stitching the electronic components took more thought and time than making the quilt itself. 

But, this is what a Guild Challenge is all about: trying something different, expanding your skills and stretching your abilities.
Label for "A Light Touch."

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