Q&A with Lynne Swanson and Jean Schultz

This season, the Lansing Symphony Orchestra's visual narrative takes a groundbreaking leap by weaving together technology and tradition, a fusion made possible through our collaboration with Traction.

Utilizing artificial intelligence, Traction’s design team crafted quilt patterns that not only celebrate national pride, inclusivity, and optimism but also harmonize these themes into a cohesive visual story. Quilting, selected as our visual language, elegantly connects these thematic threads. 

This technological innovation led to a distinctive partnership with quilt artisans Lynne Swanson and Jean Schultz, who were challenged to bring an AI-conceptualized quilt design to life. Their craftsmanship has resulted in a tangible piece that perfectly marries modern digital techniques with the timeless art of quilting. 

In the following Q&A, Lynne and Jean delve into their transformative process from digital blueprint to textile art, showcasing how this collaboration symbolizes the blending of past and future in our season's branding. 

What inspired you to take on the challenge of translating an AI-generated quilt design into a real quilt? 

It was Cam Gnass’s suggestion that a quilter(s) might recreate one of the cool AI quilts that had been generated for the LSO. We, neighbors and fellow quilt makers, thought it would be a fun collaboration to work together on the project, and we took it as a challenge to draft a pattern and find matching fabrics. We found it exciting to take an image with no pattern, and make it into a real quilt. 

Can you describe the process of interpreting the digital design into a physical form? Were there any particular challenges you faced? 

We toyed with the idea of using a computer program to draft a pattern from the image, but neither of us had done that before. Jean has a projector, so ultimately, we used the projector to enlarge the small photo of the quilt onto large white paper, from which we traced the image to make a 60” x 60” pattern. We drafted the pattern in quarters. 

We had to make sure that when we drafted each quarter that it was the same scale as the others.  

After we were done with the pattern, we cut out the paper pattern pieces.  Then we used those pattern pieces to cut out the fabric, adding a ¼” seam allowance around each piece. Then we were ready to sew! 

We divide the quilt in half, then sewed it together to make the whole! 

How do you feel traditional quilting techniques and modern technology complement each other in your work? 

Neither of us have used “modern technology” in the past in our quilt making, nor do we make art quilts. We agree that the AI-generated patterns were interesting and innovative, but outside the norm of traditional quilt patterns. We think our traditional quilting methods combined nicely with the AI pattern to create a beautiful piece! 

What materials and techniques are you using to ensure the quilt accurately reflects the AI-generated design? 

We took the LSO brochure with us to the fabric shop to try to match solid cotton fabrics as closely as possible. Based on the quilting represented on the AI image, our quilter (Everyday Modern Quilts) is mimicking the quilting shown in the photo, which is vertical, straight-line quilting, about an inch apart. 

Could you share any insights or unexpected discoveries you've made while working on this project? 

There were elements of the design that were somewhat challenging to figure out how to do. For instance, we weighed how to create the circles - reverse applique, applique, or pieced - to ensure that they mirrored the image. Ultimately, we used two different techniques and gained some new skills. However, we were aware that the AI isn’t burdened with how to actually construct the quilt from pieces of fabric. Before starting the project, we reviewed all the LSO AI quilts, and chose the one we thought would be most straightforward to create a successful copy. 

What does this project represent for you in terms of the future of quilting and artistry in the digital age? 

For us we are pleased to have been able to bring the human touch, traditional skills and methods, and innate math skills to replicate the AI image.