PaleGray Labs’ Marvelous Machine Quilting


Gear Threads Is The Mr X Stitch Machine Embroidery Column - Presented By Urban Threads!


Delightful things are coming out of PaleGray LabsOpens in a new tab., a collaboration between cartoonist/animator/quilter Nina Paley and scientist/author/software developer Theodore Gray. Based in Urbana, IL, this power duo is taking computerized stitching in creative new directions. They’ve done some machine embroidered animations, like these (and also this):


[vimeo 74884738 w=480 h=394]

Old-school embroidermation. Sort of.
Old-school embroidermation. Sort of.

And they’re putting their new quilting machine to great use in wonderfully geeky and challenging new ways:

Pale Gray labs specializes in creating stitchwork that is beyond the capacity of human beings; designs that can only be executed by robot. … Our speciality is the application of sophisticated mathematical techniques to the creation of single-line stitching instructions, starting from vector art (Adobe Illustrator, EPS, etc).

What’s that look like, you ask? There are these pretty Fibonacci spiral quilts:

Fibonacci sequins.
Fibonacci sequins.

And then there are the gigantic Thousand Dollar Quilts (full of more beautiful patterns, just like real money, and available at face value!):

Minting money on the quilting machine, named Behemoth.
Minting money on the quilting machine, named Behemoth.

The duo created these $1K bills as a more affordable version of Nina’s Ten Thousand Dollar Quilt (“Bargain”) — a snuggly commentary on the value of art and craft:

High-end art is a form of currency for elites. Art museums and critics encourage us peasants to believe the value in these “priceless art treasures” is based on utility (i.e., the more they cost, the more “genius” they contain). But the value of high end art is due to collectors attaching their surplus capital to it. …

Ironically (for ironic juxtaposition!) quilts are among among the most under-valued art forms. They also require more skill and time than almost any other art-making technique I’ve tried. The selling price of quilts seldom covers the costs of materials; quilters often prefer to give their quilts away. An “expensive” quilt usually costs more than the value of materials, but less than minimum wage for labor. I recently met a master quilter whose beautiful wall quilt, which took months of expert work and won many awards, was professionally appraised at $3,500. This is considered very high; had it not been widely displayed and won many awards, it would be “worth” far less.

A bargain.
A bargain.

Can’t wait to see what Nina and Theo will create next! In the meantime, check out the PaleGray siteOpens in a new tab. to see all the collaborations, take a closer look at those gorgeous Thousand Dollar Quilts, and peruse Nina’s blog for more of the stories and photos behind these unique creations.

PaleGray's first-ever design for a quilting machine.
PaleGray’s first-ever design for a quilting machine.


Urban Threads - Unique and Awesome Machine Embroidery DesignsGear Threads is brought to you from the offbeat gals at Urban Threads. Created by illustrator Niamh O’Connor, Urban Threads is revolutionizing machine embroidery one edgy, elegant, innovative, and/or offbeat design at a time. Discover the future of digital stitchery at www.urbanthreads.comOpens in a new tab..



Urban Threads

Created by illustrator Niamh O'Connor, Urban Threads is revolutionizing machine embroidery one edgy, elegant, innovative, and/or offbeat design at a time. Discover the future of digital stitchery at

Recent Content