“The Bed We Made For You”: Earth’s Average Surface Temperature as a Baby Quilt

Primary author: Lisa Waananen Jones

Primary college/unit: Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
Campus: Pullman


The use of textiles as a form of storytelling and documentation extends to the earliest human civilizations. “Cloth relates to humanity is its mortality and transience—both cloth and our body can be cut, stitched, age, and decay. … It evokes memory. The child clings to their comfort blanket, and in times of crisis we too still reach for cloth and its human connections” (Nickell, 2015). As numerical data has grown as a form of documentation, recent textile projects shared and popularized on social media have incorporated climate and weather data.
This work of data art visualizes a widely used NASA dataset of Earth’s annual average surface temperature, 1880-2018, in this textile tradition as a half-square triangle baby quilt with color encoding. A diverging blue-red color scheme is common in temperature visualizations for a public audience, such as annually published news graphics using this dataset by The New York Times and Bloomberg News. This project makes use of the dual symbolism of blue and pink for temperature data and the symbolic colors used for babies. Each year in the dataset is represented by a half-square of fabric, with color representing the degree to which that year was warmer or cooler than the preindustrial average. The entirely hand-stitched quilt shows the distinct pattern of rising temperatures and invites contemplation about the role of generational traditions and heirlooms in a changing world.
Karen Nickell (2015) “Troubles Textiles”: Textile Responses to the Conflict in Northern Ireland, TEXTILE, 13:3, 234-251, DOI: 10.1080/14759756.2015.1084693