Inventionism: An Interactive Quilt Experience

Armanda Lewis

Inventionism is an interactive quilt installation highlighting innovations made by African Americans.


Classes Wearables Studio

“Inventionism” is an interactive quilt installation which highlights innovations made by African Americans. Combining 21st century wearable technology with millennia-old quilt making, “Inventionism” subverts the conventional representation of the inventor as well as expands the notion of what it is to invent. Composed of quilts dedicated to the fields of Medicine, Natural Sciences, Civil Rights and Engineering, “Inventionism” integrates various forms of technology—from writing to micro-processor-controlled circuitry—in order to engage and communicate with the viewer in a way which is not possible with traditional quilt art.

The Natural Sciences Panel is dedicated to inventors in Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. As audiences peruse the various names associated with these disciplines, peanuts begin to shake according to viewer proximity. The Medicine Panel is game-like and instructs viewers to match inventor names with inventions for a red light (incorrect match) or green light (correct match). The Engineering Panel also includes a matching game, but the two differences are that the quilt response is triggered by a servo motor which indicates a “yes” or “no” answer and the circuitry will be viewable on the top layer of the quilt (much like a see-through clock). The Civil Rights Quilt adopts writing as its technology and allows audiences to sign the panel with names of people they believe have contributed to the field of Civil Rights.

“Inventionism” is geared to the general population and is a museum-quality piece which diverts, educates and surprises people of all ages, cultures and philosophies.

Inventionism involved two separate strands of research, one for the quilt making and the other for the wearable circuitry. Discovering that quilting dates back to ancient Egypt was thrilling, and juxtaposed wonderfully with the utilization of the Lilypad Arduino, which just debut a year ago. Researching how to make a quilt was tedious but fairly straight forward. Integrating circuitry into a quilt, however, meant researching the latest in wearable technology and "interpreting" this information in order to apply to my quilts. Ultimately, it was a long but rewarding process.

Inventionism is meant for all people of all ages and backgrounds.

User Scenario
Since Inventionism was designed as a museum piece, I foresee audiences being able to explore the four quilts on their own and discover what makes each one of them interactive and how each relates the the theme of invention.

The Inventionism quilts are made of traditional quilt making materials (cotton calico and thread), and utilize the Lilypad Arduino and related components. The Medicine and Natural Sciences Quilts have embedded electronics, but the Engineering Quilt exposes the workings of the Lilypad Arduino and its circuits.

I learned that quilting is supremely difficult, that African Americans have contributed much to America, and that ITP is a wonderful place to explore and create.