Threadsteading – The Sewing Strategy Game Played on an Embroidery Machine

Gear Threads Is The Mr X Stitch Machine Embroidery Column - Presented By Urban Threads!

Threadsteading is a unique fusion of machine embroidery and tabletop gaming, turning embroidery into a territory-control board game. In it, players deliver commands to the machine to take control of a hexagonal space, stitching a permanent mark on the fabric. In the end, the players will have created an embroidered piece for themselves – a tangible reminder of the game they played together.


Developer Gillian Smith is a design professor at Northeastern University, whose research is in procedural content generation, computational crafting, and gender issues in games.

Along with team members April Grow, Chenxi Liu, Lea Albaugh, Jen Mankoff, and Jim McCann, she took the rules of quilting and embroidery and turned them into a game. The team experimented with two different machines, one a thirteen-foot-wide long-arm quilting machine, the other a personal embroidery machine, featured in the photos.


So how is it played? A hexagonal grid printed on cloth is used as a board within the machine hoop. As players direct the the thread using the button module (a different pattern for each player is used for both players), they try to nab any of the six “town” squares across the map. Different colors of terrain use up different energy per turn, and the player only has four energy to use. At the end of the game, the machine itself tallies up the score per player and sews it onto the board.

What’ really interesting is the purpose and thought behind this piece. In an interview with Gamasutra, Gillian Smith explained,  “We’re all interested in programmable machines for crafts. They are typically used to automate work that would normally be painstakingly done by hand. I think part of why this project is interesting is that it looks at how we can make these machines more interactive and produce new kinds of art and interactive experiences.”


Quilting is a craft that’s predominantly and historically practiced by women, and uses some pretty specialized equipment and sophisticated programmable machinery. Gaming is a lot more balanced in the gender of participants, but societally still seen as quite masculine. So some of our interest is also in juxtaposing these two differently gendered activities.”


If you wish to play, right now it’s a bit difficult to get your hands on. It was on display at at alt.ctrl.Game Developer’s Conference this year, in an area dedicated to celebrating alternative controllers and ways of play. Even if you might not be able to play a game yourself, designer Gillian is hoping your chance is coming soon.

“I’m hoping that the rise of personal fabrication machines will also give us the ability to have games that need and produce customizable, physical objects.”

Read more about Gillian and the whole project over on Gamasutra.


Urban Threads - Unique and Awesome Machine Embroidery DesignsGear Threads is brought to you from the offbeat gals at Urban Threads . Created by illustrator Niamh O’Connor, Urban Threads is revolutionizing machine embroidery one edgy, elegant, innovative, and/or offbeat design at a time. Discover the future of digital stitchery at


Share The Love

Want More of the good stuff?