“You’re Getting Warmer: Rising Global Temperatures 1850-2022”
By Lorraine Woodruff-Long 2023 32”x92” Cotton top, batting, back. Machine pieced, machine & hand quilted.
This quilt illustrates the global change in temperature for every year and month between 1850 (left) to 2022 (right). Each vertical line is a year reflecting temperature data for the 12 months of that year, January (top) to December (bottom). Blue represents cooler years/months and red, warmer years/months. Darker colors indicate more extreme temperatures in both directions. The color of each strip represents the temperature change of that year/month relative to the 1961-1990 mean (i.e. the average of the data during 1961-1990 is zero). Each block (2064 months) measures ½” x 3”.
The overall effect reflects a striking trend toward hotter temperatures in recent decades as a result of human-caused climate change. (Data Source: Professor Ed Hawkins MBE, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, UK www.showyourstripes.info)
What are these graphics? These ‘warming stripe’ graphics are visual representations of the change in temperature as measured globally in the past 172 years. These visuals are not meant to tell the entire scientific story of climate change, but are merely intended to get the conversation started in an efficient way that requires minimal scientific knowledge.
Warming stripes was created with the intention of making visualizing climate change easier for non-scientists. Warming stripes achieves this goal by using simple, vibrant, intuitive colors with universally understood meanings. Blue represents cold temperatures and red represents warm temperatures. Darker shades indicate more extreme temperatures in both directions. The graphics use color alone to convey temperature trends, leaving out specific details, numbers, labels and wording that may be confusing to people who are not climate scientists.
Why are there no numbers on the graphics? These graphics are specifically designed to be as simple as possible, and to start conversations about our warming world and the risks of climate change. There are numerous other sources of information which provide more specific details about how temperatures have changed, so these graphics fill a gap and enable communication with minimal scientific knowledge required to understand their meaning.
How have these graphics been made? The data comes from the Berkeley Earth temperature dataset, updated to the end of 2022.
In just seven decades, scientists say, humans have brought about greater changes than they did in more than seven millennia. Never in Earth’s history has the world changed this much, this fast. Never has a single species had the capacity to wreak so much damage — or the chance to prevent so much harm.
THE MAKING OF “YOU’RE GETTING WARMER: RISING GLOBAL TEMPERATURES 1850-2022”
My son, recently graduated from college and having started his first job as a Data Analyst, brought to my attention a data climate change data visualization image he came across . He shared it with me noting that it looked a lot like a quilt. I agreed it was indeed “quilty” and began researching who and what was behind the data. I became familiar with Professor Ed Hawkins MBE, from the University of Reading, an award-winning climatologist who created the stirring #ShowYourStripes visualization in 2019. Since then, the climate stripes have become a global phenomenon, raising intuitive awareness of the urgent climate crisis that we’re facing. You can learn more about #showyourstripes and the art of #warmingstripes here as well as read an interview with Professor Hawkins about his work.
I reached out to Professor Hawkins about obtaining a data set to use to create a quilt and he promptly and cheerfully responded to my inquiry. I was aware that while most of the #warmingstripes art I’d seen was by year, he also had the data available for the same time periods my month. Being an overachiever, and somewhat crazy, I opted for 172 years of data by month from January 1850 to December 2022 for my quilt project – ultimately sewing together 2064+ pieces representing each month for all years.
I obtained the data and put it into an Excel spreadsheet to sort and organize as needed. My first step was to create a #warmingstripes color spectrum using Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton Solids (left). I then noted each fabric color by numerical variance (right) for January – December from 1850-2022.
Unlike much of my wonky, improvisational quilt work, I wanted this quilt to be precise in every possible way. Each year would consist of 12 pieces (one for each month of that year, top to bottom). When sewn, each month would finish at ½” wide x 3” long and be sewn into a strip representing an entire year measuring 36” long. To ensure that once sewn each month and year would stay straight once cut and sewn, it required using some type of fabric stabilizer.
Having been warned that starch can attract bugs, I tried Terial Magic and was exceptionally happy with the result. It can be found in arts and crafts stores or online. I bought a jug of Terial Magic, poured a little into a bucket and dipped larger pieces of fabric until it was properly saturated, then wrung out any extra. I hung pieces to dry (but not completely) and ironed the fabric while still damp until the fabric was dry and stiff.
Once ironed and dried, the fabric had the consistency of a heavy paper card stock and and was very easy to cleanly cut into 1” x 3.5” pieces (each piece = one month).
I got some containers to fit and hold stacks of each color. I kept cutting until I was ready to start assembling and sewing together.
Going year by year with my data and corresponding color, I assembled January-December year by year. I added a gray “header” and “footer” to each year to ensure that after putting it all together, I wouldn’t risk having a stretched out top and bottom section and could cleanly cut it off once I quilted it and was ready to bind.
I pieced each year one by one starting with a gray “header” on which I wrote the year, followed by January, February…to December and ending with another gray “footer.”
To ensure I kept seams straight and flat, I made sure to “nest the seams” once I began to sew the years together.
New to me as a quilter was a Tailor’s Clapper. It’s a great tool to use after pressing seams to keep seams nice and flat. I LOVE THESE and now use them all the time. You can purchase them online.
As the piece was 36” long, the 92” width rolled up pretty easily so that I could quilt it on my domestic tabletop machine (vs. the longarm.) I quilted a line down the middle of easy year, resulting in quilt lines every ½”.
While I purposely did not want to have years marked or embroidered on the quilt, I decided to add hand quilting every 10 years (1850, 1860, 1870… to 2020) to give it a subtle frame of reference. It’s helpful for viewers to see what was happening during key years/months in their lives or in the past.
BACK & BINDING
I try to use repurposed fabric wherever possible, and used an old bedsheet for the back of the quilt. While I would have preferred to have no visible binding, the way I sewed it with the headers and nested the seams, it would have been bulky all around, so I added a binding instead. For this, I averaged the data for every decade and used the corresponding fabric/color on the top and bottom of the quilt.
THOUGHTS WHILE MAKING THIS QUILT…
This time-consuming project really provided ample time for reflection, especially as I moved through the making from cooler to warmer to hot along the fabric timeline. As I made more recent years, I reflected on what was happening at key months in my life, noting how it has become increasingly hotter.
Here is the month I was born:
The month I got married:
The month my son was born – the beginning of an El Niño year that lasted through 1998:
The month my daughter was born:
First three months of 2020 – beginning of the Covid pandemic. I had to purchase two additional darker red fabrics to take us through 2022.
I’m terrified to find out what 2023 and beyond brings with the global temperature rises. As I write this in August 2023, it is reported that:
Human-driven climate change pushed global temperatures to never-before-seen heights in July, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. The month is now officially the hottest July on record since record-taking began in the 1800s.
And it wasn’t even close: the month was a whopping 0.4 °F warmer than the previous record set in 2019, and well over 2.1 °F hotter than the 20th century average.
“Most records are set in terms of global temperature by a few hundredths of a degree,” says Russell Vose, a climate expert at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. But this one, nearly half a degree Fahrenheit, was “bigger than any other jump we’ve seen.” Source National Public Radio 8.14.23