Threadsteading is a two-player, territorial control strategy game played on a Singer CE-200 Sewing Machine with embroidery attachment, with a custom-mounted controller. Players act as competing commanders of a team of royal scouts tasked with exploring a hex-gridded domain of varying terrain difficulty. The commanders are forced to journey together, but each want to take credit for the territory they find for themselves. Players must scheme and strategize to find the best path to take over the terrain to maximize the territory they each control while making sure to explore as much of the map as possible. As they explore, a physical map is sewn showing the paths taken by the commanders, who each have their own symbol embroidered atop the territory they are exploring. The winning commander takes home the map.
Threadsteading was born from our team’s shared interests in the storytelling potential for fiber arts and experimental game controllers. Players interact with a modified and reverse-engineered Singer embroidery machine that acts as both the input and output device for the game. Inspired by works of fiber art such as the Bayeaux Tapestry, playing Threadsteading produces--in real-time--a permanent, physical artifact that tells the story of each unique play experience.
Threadsteading’s design is heavily informed by the constraints and affordances of sewing. It is played on a hexagonal grid, as this is a motif common in both board games and quilt design. The requirement that players follow a single path is a constraint due to embroidery machines not easily supporting stopping and starting paths in new locations. The board layout and mechanics are designed to encourage full exploration of a map and minimal backtracking over visited spaces, to meet an aesthetic goal of having good coverage over the fabric and to avoid damaging the fabric by sewing over the same space too many times.
With its use of a customized, programmable embroidery machine and adoption of strategy game mechanics, Threadsteading explores the entanglement of gender, computation, craft, and play. Beginning with the Jacquard Loom of the early 19th century, which inspired Babbage’s analytical engine, programmable machines are frequently used in the fiber arts, and the programmers of these machines are frequently women. While computer games are still often societally seen as masculine, sewing is a form of play that is largely feminine. Threadsteading merges these gendered activities and uses the act of play to create a tangible, aesthetic, sewn artifact.