preservation x visualization

close up of a finished quilt crumbles into a pile

While I had the design of the front of the quilt more or less sorted since the start of the project, the back remained a question for a bit longer. Initially I considered just making a larger tree map showing the percentage each color was used in the poem, however I was really curious if there were ways the back of the quilt could *do* more. I was inspired by Deimosa Webber-Bey’s quilt “Maker Unknown” and how the quilt also functions as a preservation of the digital aspects of the project. She printed the code that runs her website, I believe, on fabric and used it to create the border around the quilt. This way as the digital version inevitably crumbles, the physical quilt provides a key to rebuild it. 

While I didn’t want to print code or something similar on fabric, this got me thinking about what more could I be doing to have the physical quilt be part of my preservation plan. I have been maintaining an OSF repository for this project; it has all my data, PDFs of these updates, and all of the other media associated with this project. But could I make the quilt a repository as well?  

the back of a quilt showing the distribution of colors through rectangular color-coded rectangles
The back of the quilt

I decided to make the back of the quilt function as both a visualization of my dataset and a more granular breakdown of my data, which could assist a future researcher rebuild my dataset if my repository failed. I displayed the colors sequentially in the order they appeared in the text broken up by book. While the quilt alone cannot be used to recreate my data, it does not show the line numbers or the actual words, you can see total counts easily and the breakdown of the distribution of the words. This way if you wanted to compare my data with a similar dataset you could easily see on the quilt back where those discrepancies are. 

As a visualization it functions to show how certain colors are consistently present in each book, or are more rare accents in the text. I really like how it demonstrated how the sixth book is so different from the rest of the text as the colors really do reflect changes in the narrative. 

One lesson I really learned from this portion of the project is the need to establish and define my units at the start of the project. Initially when I started this project I was using ½ inch seam allowances, and when I designed and calculated the fabric needs for the back of the quilt I used ½ inch seam allowances. However, as you may have seen, I took a little break in this project and by the time I restarted it and was sewing the back I had forgotten that and used ¼ seam allowances. This altered the final dimensions of the quilt back visualization, but luckily it still fit on the quilt top. But for my next quilted data project I need to really decide, and document, my parameters so that I don’t make these sort of mistakes again.

Updates and Next Steps:

I actually have finished the quilt! I am planning one more post about the project with some final reflections about what I learned about the text and the process of quilting data. I think it may include another video so that I can really show all of the details of the quilt.

a modern patchwork quilt hanging from a library shelf
The final quilt!

One reason for my mini-hiatus was I was in the midst of some job search hullabaloo, but I can now say I am the Digital Humanities Librarian at Sarah Lawrence College. I have been here a few weeks, and now that I am settled I am hoping I can start thinking about my next research projects. I am supporting some work on digital environmental humanities projects, so I am hoping I can tie my next quilt into some of those ideas.

New readings:

Guthrie, Laurin C. 2022. “Natural-Born Subversive: Dede Styles on Living and Dyeing in Swannanoa, North Carolina.” Southern Cultures 28 (1): 66–81.

Roizman, Violeta. 2022. “Sweeping Untufted Charts Under the Rug.” Data Science by Design. June 8, 2022.

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