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Needlework for programmers

From GadgetLab:

pantone quilt

The movement brings together knitters, embroiderers and quilters who see parallels between the way they create their crafts and how open source software creators share their ideas. At the BildMuseet at Umeå University in Sweden, an exhibition — also called Open Source Embroidery — showcases artworks that use embroidery and code as a tool for participatory production and distribution.

“The idea of collaboration has been made cool by open source software,” says Carpenter, the curator of the exhibition. “But artists have been working like this for a long time.”

Even the differences between needlework crafts and open source software are alike, she says. Embroidery is largely dominated by women, while software is created mostly by men, she says. In embroidery, tiny stitches come together to create a pattern visible on the front of the fabric, while its system is revealed on the back. It’s similar to how software is created.

 The arguments about open source vs. free software can also be applied to embroidery, says Carpenter, where artists struggle with questions around borrowing and modifying patterns. “The Open Source Embroidery project simply attempts to provide a social and practical way of discussing these issues and trying out the practice,” says Carpenter.

The Open Source Embroidery movement, which started in 2005, says it will hold workshops to explore the idea further. “We are not all programmers,” says Carpenter, “but we are all looking to understand the shared philosophy and methods between craft and technology.”

Programming geeks, largely from the DIY community, are slowly acknowledging these similarities, agrees Becky Stern, an American artist whose work is included in the BildMuseet exhibition.

The exhibition will open in San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Folk Art on Oct. 2.

The Open Source embroidery exhibition also explores the history of computing as a craft. For example, the Jacquard loom is a mechanical loom invented in 1801 that used binary punch cards to design woven patterns. The loom is seen as the first programmed machine and one that inspired Charles Babbage in his design of the analytical engine.

See more pictures and info at GadgetLab.



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.

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