Stab Stitch Bindings with XTech


For most of the month of February both of our XTech cohorts have been learning about and making badges and books from a tradition of stitching called Stab Binding. The method dates back many centuries to parts of China, Japan, and Korea and involves using thread to make double-sided images onto a material like fabric or paper. We covered our introduction to these making projects last month, and continued to use an app by a friend of XTech named Natalie Freed.

Having spent our last post discussing the iterations of the warm-up to stab binding with patch-making and mini-book design, we wanted to include some words and thoughts on what the actual book-making looked like for a few of our students. The project for us touches upon the idea of “intuitive mathematics” and sense-making using a linear material like thread to produce intricate and multi-layered designs that also function as book bindings. Clever use of this algorithmic thinking allows even complex shapes to come to life with a single piece of string. But, designs are always at risk of not getting made. Even with forewarning, some students found they had to retrace their steps and remove the string from some of the holes they’d stitched to take a different path. Often, it took actually experiencing these moments themselves in order to fully understand how to troubleshoot and proceed. Through the various ways we introduced stab bindings to the collective challenge of finally constructing books, we’ve been invested in learning how this embedded strategy manifests itself through creative planning and innovative decision-making. We continue to see some real strides in personalization and individualized tracts of methodology in XTech, and it’s incredible to see the students take on this fusion of technology and craft head-on.  


One of our Intermediates, Claire, took on the challenge of making multiple books each with designs of a single word, like “hi,” “cute,” or the names of friends, and even maintained the same typographic style throughout. (Over the two consecutive weeks over the two months we worked on stab bindings with her cohort, she was constructing books quick enough that she decided to gift her second and third to schoolmates.) On Girls’ Day in January, Claire had noticed one of the examples provided by Natalie Freed of a word, and pretty immediately got to work on the laptop to map out, animate, and stitch her own word design. The first book took practically the entire session, and involved some line/geometric work and the word “hi,” as a cheeky nod to the poetic platitudes on some of the example books we had shared and explored during the introduction. (Claire has an incisive wit, and wears it readily during our one-on-ones.) In conversation with her during the process of stitching, she shared that she had to troubleshoot constantly on both the app and in her stitching because the words had to come together in a particular way in order to look complete (since even one mismatched stitching could result in a line of the letter “h” being absent). Her lowercase “hi” ended up not having the dot over the “i” because Claire wasn’t sure how to include it. Still, Claire was visibly relieved that she reached completion of her first book in a day, and was happy with her design - even receiving a few callouts by her peers at her tenacity to do a grammar-centric design.


A comparison between app and book. The double-lines on the app reflect the double-sidedness of the finished book.

When we saw Claire again in February, it was clear she’d digested and reflected on her first project and applied those learnings to her next book design. The words she chose were longer and had letters that were relatively intricate (“t”s and “s”s), the designs larger so that the word occupied nearly the entire space of the spine, and the line work featured curvature. Her confidence with the project was evident, but not without some troubleshooting. When we discussed difficulties she’d run into, the question came up of which letter, specifically, had proven most troublesome to do. Without hesitation she said, “s,” and explained that it consists almost entirely of curved lines, which she determined were necessary to do or else it would look like a “5”. Saying this, Claire and several others chuckled, and it appeared this relieved some of the tensions of having struggled through this. Claire continues to be an awe-inspiring student to see evolve. She is very transparent about her work and willing to share her process.  I anticipate her becoming an even more valuable resource of ideas and support for her peers in Xtech and other spaces.


Notice how Claire decided to leave the “t” unfinished as she proceeded through the word. She finished crossing it on her way back because otherwise the stitching path would have become jammed.


Another Intermediate student, Wai-Kirn, has been developing a wonderfully whimsical aesthetic centered around arcade and old-school games, usually with a twist that conveys his command of scale and space. When we introduced the book bindings, Wai-Kirn spent a great deal of time on his first badge, planning and stitching, even when others had physically moved on to the tables with laptops. This is common for Wai-Kirn. His care and attention with the tools and concepts introduced in our warm-up activities is something to appreciate. Wai-Kirn fully immerses himself with figuring out tool use and tool limitation before starting anything else, and applies these observations into how he maps out his designs to sidestep difficulty later. Its also an area of his process that will be great to draw on once he becomes a Facilitator-in-Training and starts supporting our beginning students.


It is refreshing to see students diverge from expectation, and really exciting when we see deliberate abandonment of our recommendations in favor of risk-taking design. Even though Meg and I had offered mostly examples of stab designs that formed one continuous shape, Wai-Kirn used the laptop app to draw out a schematic with three separate figures that together produced a wink and nod to one of his favorite games, Pac-Man. His design involved the title character front and center along with two of the pellets forming a design that ran across the space of the spine still allowing it to function perfectly as a binding for his book. Wai-Kirn was focused and committed while on his laptop, and when I asked about his design as he stitched, he noted how simple each of the respective shapes was to make despite their collective appearance of intricacy. So simple, in fact, that he ended up making each of the three gaming icons three-dimensionally drawn with lines jutting out from them to give them depth. The approach Wai-Kirn took also seemed to influence others to experiment either with game-inspired designs or with designs that involved separate, distinct shapes. Sometimes innovation requires breaking with recommended pathways.  


Wai-Kirn’s Pac-Man-inspired stab book design, nearly finished.

Natalie’s online app once again proved essential for making these stab bindings and for the stitching process (Xtech used the app for last year’s Girls Day as well). But things could always be improved, and we had several suggestions by students for what could be done to have made their projects come out with greater ease. Knowing how much string to use was one consistently noted wish. When we had more string than we needed, it often became tangled and we had to come up with methods for keeping it tidy as we stitched. Another suggestion offered was to show the sheet of paper as a whole in addition to the available field on which to draw designs. This would allow students to visualize how much space they would take up with thread, and to better map out the design as a whole book cover. Natalie has already told us of her plans to make many of these changes including one that would really help particularly in classroom situations or when a project is worked on over several days. That is the ability to save your design and reload it in the app later, on a different computer or a different browser to be able to continue to use the animate mode until you’re finished stitching.


We have wrapped up stab book bindings with both cohorts and have begun a new project, but one thing I’d like to implement in later returns to this are how other, maybe unexpected materials like wood or conductive thread would do and be utilized in creative and personal ways.



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