Synesthetic Alphabet

Synesthetic Alphabet {Blogger’s Quilt Festival – Original Design}

Blogger's Quilt Festival

The quilts I am entering in to Blogger’s Quilt Festival this season are ones that my regular readers know well, so thank you for bearing with me if you have read all about these quilts before. If you are new to my work, welcome, and I hope you enjoy my entries!

My submission for the Original Design Category is Synesthetic Alphabet. Below I have a short synopsis and finished photos of the quilt followed by much more detail on the inspiration and process I went through to create this special quilt.

Synesthetic Alphabet

My husband has multiple forms of what is known as synesthesia. Synesthesia is an interesting neurological phenomena where sensory experiences are combined. Many synesthetics associate vivid colors with things like letters, days of the week, or smells. In addition, my husband visualizes 3D shapes associated with many things. I designed this quilt to represent his view of the alphabet. The rows left to right, top to bottom, are his letters A through Z. To help represent the 3D way he sees letters, I quilted the outline for each of the letter blocks and surrounded them with dense, square meander quilting.

Synesthetic Alphabet
Synesthetic Alphabet
Synesthetic Alphabet Detail
Synesthetic Alphabet Detail

Creative Process for Synesthetic Alphabet

This quilt project is very personal as I used the design process to understand my husband better. In the end, I think we both learned a lot by working together to create this quilt.

To start, my husband described in detail what a single letter of the alphabet looks like to him when he focuses on just that letter. For instance, when he thinks of the letter “A” it has a color (yellow), and it appears as a 3D shape of the letter “A” in a black to gray gradient space in the upper left of that space. It is as if the letter is tipped and rotated isometrically such that the letter faces the upper right and the left edge and lower edge of the letter are visible. One thing that I did not really know is that he can see this overlaid with what he really physically sees with his eyes, so if the object he is thinking of is super bright or annoying it overwhelms his senses and can really bother him.

From a quilt design perspective, that meant I needed to find a gradient fabric that worked with his vision. We spent a lot of time trying to find the right fabric, and in the end, a black/grey gradient by datawolf from Spoonflower was the best choice. I ordered 5 yards of the fabric and fussy cut out the portion that I am going to use for each alphabet letter block.

Synesthetic Alphabet - Grey Gradient Fabric
Synesthetic Alphabet – Grey Gradient Fabric

I also spent several evenings with my husband working to select the correct colors for each letter of the alphabet. This turned out to be harder than either one of us was expecting! We found that some letters of the alphabet are a lot more “shy” or under-toned, and it was difficult for my husband to tease out what color to use to describe them. And associations with words that start with that letter do not really help; instead they seemed to make the process harder, so he would have to focus on one letter at a time and move on to another letter if he got stuck. We would come back to difficult ones later (even weeks later) before finally deciding on all the correct colors.

I started a spreadsheet to track the colors and see if there was any color association changes happening from day to day. It turns out that the colors are completely repeatable and the troublesome letters are always the troublesome letters! After rough sketching what the correct color for a letter would be, I pulled out my Kona solids color board, and my husband picked the correct color value.

Synesthetic Alphabet - Alphabet Color Pallet
Synesthetic Alphabet – Alphabet Color Pallet

From L to R: Amethyst (G), Baby Blue (F), Blue (D, J), Blueberry (E, Y), Bone (O), Buttercup (A), Canary (T), Cardinal (Z), Citrus (L), Eggplant (Q), Kumquat (R), Lipstick (H, K), Red (X), Ruby (N, S), Sky (I, P, U, V, W), Surf (B, M), Tomato (C).

To be honest, the colors are a lot more beautiful and vibrant than I pictured when we were going through the mapping process. After we had finished and before I placed the fabric order, we looked over the color pallet to see the colors not used (greens, tans, softer pastels) and we were not quite sure how the individual letter concept would map into a full quilt top.

Synesthetic Alphabet - Alphabet Blocks
Synesthetic Alphabet – Alphabet Blocks

After cutting the fabrics into blocks to represent each letter and arranging them into the alphabet, a few patterns become clear. The letters that were hard for my husband to conceptualize are grouped together (the lighter blue fabrics). Vowels are all pale values of their color.

Piecing this quilt top was another great learning experience for my husband and I. I had a plan to randomly place the letter “blocks” within each gradated background block. After I made the first two (“A” and “B”), I asked for feedback from my husband. It turns out that objects that are important or that are sharply in focus hang out in the middle to lower portion of space for him. As things become unimportant or if they are hard to define, they float up in space. I tried to keep that in mind as I worked on the blocks. If my husband had previously described the letter as ‘shy’ or if it was difficult for him to select a precise color, I tried to move the block a bit higher in space.

Synesthetic Alphabet - Pieced Top
Synesthetic Alphabet – Pieced Top

After the piecing was done and we stepped back from the quilt, I was pleased to see how the extra shading really made the colored letter blocks have a 3D feel. I was starting to also be a bit nervous about the fact that the letters are represented as 3D blocks and not the shape of the letter itself. My husband, however, reassured me that this is a pretty good representation of what he “sees”. The letters are 3D objects with color and a 3D effect being the most important. It takes him a lot of effort to see the shape of the letter or sometime even the exact color of the letter.

I am also really pleased with how your eye jumps around if you try to track quickly across the alphabet. Reading is very difficult for my husband because of this visualization for him, and I was happy that the placement of blocks and selection of color gradation alternation worked to create a similar effect.

When discussing how to quilt and finish the quilt, my husband and I agreed that outlining the letter blocks with dense quilting all around will help enhance the 3D effect by allowing them to pop and puff up a bit more. He also requested “robot” as the quilting pattern. I used a variegated black and white thread for the top and a variegated multicolored pastel thread for the back.

Speaking of the backing, I cut much larger blocks of the colors for the letters of the alphabet and arranged them in A through Z order for the back. To finish out the backing, I used the paler portions of the grey gradient fabric selected for the top to border the letters.

Synesthetic Alphabet - Backing
Synesthetic Alphabet – Backing

Creating this quilt was an amazing process, and I loved how it allowed me to learn more about my husband.

Blogger's Quilt Festival, Fall 2014
Blogger’s Quilt Festival, Fall 2014


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