data rep: "all-american girls" (final project)

for my data representation final, i had an idea to create cross-stitch samplers based on the female vote during the 2012 presidential election. i was really interested in putting together the very stereotypically feminine craft of needlepoint with evidence of increasing female activity in american politics, something that women have had to fight for and in which sometimes it's been a struggle to get women involved.  since cross-stitch and needlepoint are at times very text-heavy, i decided to stitch text samplers. my initial idea was to create samplers for a variety of states indicating what issues were most important for women, and to size the text according to how important the issue was. however, the only issue polls taken were at the national level, and i strongly felt that part of what i wanted this project to do was to enable comparison between states.  when i met with jer to discuss this idea, he also got me started thinking about the importance of the unit of measurement in cross-stitch, and encouraged me to think about how each stitch could be compared to a pixel when writing code for this project.  so, that's exactly what i did.

i ended up creating 7 samplers, for 7 states, that depicted the female voting percentages based on CNN exit poll data.  the colored stitches represent the percentage of women that voted for each candidate in the state that the sampler depicts.

i started out by picking a pixel-based font that i thought would translate well to a cross-stitch pattern.  i ended up going with venice classic, which i felt both suited the aesthetic of the project and enabled easy replication in both pixels and stitches.  i then began experimenting in processing to see how i could start filling up the pixels in the text up to a certain threshold, first using arbitrary numbers.

it took a while for me to figure out that in order to get an exact representation in stitches, i had to consider the cloth count that i was using and scale the size of my sketch down accordingly so that 1 pixel was equivalent to 1 stitch.  since i already knew i was using 25-count cloth, and i wanted the size of my samplers to be approximately 8" x 10",  i ended up creating a super tiny processing sketch -- 125 pixels wide by 120.  i then created PNG files of my text, sized to 125x120, that i threw into the sketch.  if the code saw a pixel whose color was below a certain threshold (in this case, 150), it added the pixel to a counter; if that count fell within whatever percentage i wanted (in this case, the percentage of women that voted for romney or obama), the program drew a point at that pixel's location that was colored red or blue, and if not, it was colored gray.

i then sized up the resulting PNG to 720x576 (8" by 10") in illustrator, and threw the file into a second sketch that drew a grid around each pixel (using the ratio of 5.76 between the sizes of the two images).

i then stitched each pattern by hand.  i also (due to a miscalculation in my first sampler about how much room i would need below obama's name) decided to stitch little renderings of the state each sampler was supposed to represent above the names.  i did this manually by sizing a square image of each state down to 15x15 pixels, and then drawing the outline of the resulting shape in the actual pattern using photoshop.

all of this leads to the final sampler:

if i had to do this all over again, i would figure out a way to get the pattern generated in one sketch, rather than having to do so much work manually.  i also would have started on this a lot earlier (even earlier than i actually did) because i was working down to the wire getting all 7 samplers ready for the show and needlepointing every spare second of my day in order to do so.  i would also have thought to do a time-lapse of me stitching because so many people have asked me if i did one, and i think it would have been really interesting.

however, i think this was a pretty successful project and the feedback i've gotten at the show has been really great.  people keep asking me if i'm going to do all 50 states!  i've put the patterns for 11 states on my website (the 7 i did and then 4 i haven't done) and have been handing out patterns to people as they come by my space at the show, so maybe this is a project i can keep alive through crowdsourcing and getting other needlepointers involved.

finally, a link to the source code on github!

data repRoopa Vasudevan