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How AI Could Impact Quilt Design – An Introduction

It turns out that computers and humans can design some pretty amazing quilts together—quilts like the world has never seen before. Design softwares have made this possible for a few decades now, allowing users to outline new quilt patterns and modify the blocks and colors with just a few clicks, but what’s happening today is altogether different. 

For the first time, everyday folks like you and I can easily harness the creative power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) through user-friendly platforms. And this could change everything. 

In this six-part series at the Quiltfolk Journal, we will attempt to scratch the surface in the discussion around AI, including its impact on art, creativity, and, yes, even quilting. There are many facets to this conversation—from the sheer magnitude of the technology itself, to the more nuanced discussions around the legal, ethical, and practical implications of its use—but it all goes to show that with the advancement in machine learning, we are entering a whole new era of content and design creation. Is it art? You decide.

Language to Image Generators

One such program is called DALL-E, created by Open AI. In early 2021, DALL-E was made available to the public as a demonstration of the capabilities of AI in the field of image generation, and it has received widespread attention for its ability to generate a range of pictures based on seemingly unrelated text descriptions. With this (or other) AI tools, non-techies can experiment by simply typing prompts into the program to begin generating never-before-seen images within seconds. Images of anything you can imagine, including quilts, if you so desire. 

Take a moment to imagine what it might look like to have a quilt designed by painter Mark Rothko hanging in an expansive art gallery…

Well, you no longer have to just imagine it. You can watch that vision come to life within seconds. By typing a prompt such as this into an AI program, you become an interactive collaborator with AI, guiding it along to reveal surprising results—no experience required! From these simple strings of text, AI will generate several matching images, presenting them to you in less than 30 seconds.

You can learn to get better or different results by slightly altering the prompt you use. You can even change the subject matter of the images completely by switching up the who, what, when, and where. But you can also dictate the image style to reflect anything you can imagine (or ask AI to imagine for you): minimalist, abstract, impressionist, cubist, pencil drawing, digital art, etc. 

See here, I’ve asked DALL-E to generate images as if Pablo Picasso himself designed a colorful patchwork quilt. Again, these results leave much to be desired, but type the right prompt, and the results might just blow you away—or even inspire a future project.

The AI image-generation process is unique because the resulting pictures do not exist prior to typing your prompt into DALL-E. Unlike a Google search, which will retrieve pre-existing images from around the world, AI-generated images are not simply retrieved. They are conceived. Created from whole cloth. Well, sort of. 

AI programs like DALL-E learn from tens of millions of daily inquiries and uploads from around the World Wide Web to get a better understanding of the ideas, objects, and art styles that you or I request. It then employs these learnings to deliver the images for which we’ve asked—sometimes with stunning and unexpected results, and other times, less so.

We could get more technical as to how AI image generators work, but the best way for everyday users to start understanding these programs is to give it a try! 

To start, create an account on openai.com, follow the links to the DALL-E tool, and get creative with 50 free prompts. It only takes a few minutes to register and then you’ll be on your way to creating images of original quilts—or whatever you would like! 

I can say that after playing with the technology myself for a number of months, I’ve found it to be incredibly satisfying (and a bit addictive). It returns colors and compositions that I am unlikely to imagine on my own, which provides me with a sense of enhanced collaboration, like the world’s best (or at least most eclectic) brainstorm buddy.

In Part II of this ongoing series into AI-aided quilt design, we’ll explore some of the practical aspects to using AI, and how it might just fuel your next big quilt project. 

Stay tuned as we explore these groundbreaking questions and more. In the meantime, we hope that you’ll weigh in yourself by using #quiltfolkAI on Instagram!

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