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The Barker Code
of Color/Fabric Representation

In The Braille Monitor, December 2001 Edition, Curtis Chong, editor, and Director of Technology of the National Federation of the Blind, answers a question regarding the age-appropriate technology for a six-year-old. He ends his discussion with this comment:

“As your student progresses through school, I hope you will be able to consider how to provide him with tactile graphics—that is, raised-line drawings and tactile representations of three-dimensional objects. Many of us, growing up blind, had little or no opportunity to feel raised-line drawings, and as a result we find that we are not able to deal with such drawings when they become available. In my opinion, if blind students are constantly exposed to raised-line drawings and raised-line representations of three–dimensional objects, they will soon be able to use these representations to learn far more than some of us."


About the Barker Code...

Fabric textures represent colors.

    The primary colors are:
  • Red is silk or satin,
  • Blue is wool,
  • Yellow is flannel.
    The secondary colors are:
  • Orange is taffeta, or the rayon that outdoor flags are made of, or windbreaker jackets,
  • Green is velveteen, or sometimes plush from toys,
  • Purple is linen, or sometimes gabardine.
  • White to black is represented by cotton.
  • Brown in leather or suede.

The darkness of the color is signified by the firmness of the batting, ranging from cotton for light colors, to cardboard for dark colors.

The fabric picture is assembled like a quilt, with a color top, batting next, and a backing to quilt through. The quilting helps define colors and give additional texture. More about creating the pictures...

A simple picture of a tree in the four seasons. The seasons are listed in Braille under each of the trees, and there is cord to separate each picture.

More Pictures...

As you can see from the pictures shown here, my system is based on the belief that blind people can memorize the texture assignments I have made for the three primary and three secondary colors, and that the firmness of the batting signals how dark the color is (the harder, the darker the color).

Comments:

  • Yellow-flannel (easy to purchase new in many shades.)
  • Red-silk/satin (easy to find in thrift stores in many shades and textures.)
  • Blue-wool (not too hard to find but sometimes takes some looking; I have been most successful in thrift shops for the light, sky blue, and the quality of the other wool fabrics.)
  • Green-velveteen (very hard to find anything but dark forest green. Have used plush from Kermit the Frog toys in desperation.)
  • Purple-linen (have found several in thrift stores in ladies slacks. Have also bought linen and dyes, but haven't tried dying yet.)
  • Orange-taffeta/flag silk (not that easy to find, I have been using the orange material from jackets which have that same stiff feel.)
  • Brown and beige tones -suede, leather or chamois.
  • White/black is assigned to cotton because it seems to be in all pictures and is easiest to work with.
Other fabrics could be used in all areas that are not simple primary or secondary colors. Those pictures would need a more extensive description and an accompanying palette identifying the fabric and the name of the color. There is a world of color, and a world of fabric out there. As you note, I enjoy looking around thrift stores because of the wide range of colors and designer fabric that can be found there.

 

A copyright attorney told me that this concept was too basic, too primitive, too simple, to get a copyright on. Anyone can assign colors to fabrics and make pictures.

My goal is to encourage the use of raised-line representation and the use of a standardized color code so that the blind can experience some of the wonder and excitement of color, pictures, and great works of art that have inspired mankind through the ages.

The Inspiration: In my work, I had a client that was deaf, yet she enjoyed music. While visiting an art museum, I started wondering how a blind person could enjoy great works of art. (deaf/music, blind/art seemed to be the connection.) Then it became a personal challenge to find a way. I am not computer savvy; I am a 'numbers' person, not a 'word' person; I am not a chemist who can make various inks that have textures; but I learned to sew at my mother's knee, and knew that there are hundreds of fabrics in many hues.

The System: After trying several things, I decided the overriding theme of this effort was to be KISS: Keep It Simple, Sally! So I choose six fabrics that were common, and assigned them (rather arbitrarily) to the three primary colors and three secondary colors. In creating the first color wheel, I decided to work the fabric like a quilt (not glue them onto paper which would destroy the texture), and that the batting under the fabric would indicate how dark the color was: the harder the batting, the darker the color. That is the essence of the system. The fabric/color conversion table is: Red=silk, Blue=wool, Yellow=flannel, Orange=taffeta, Purple=linen, Green=velvet and white/black=cotton (and I just added Brown as leather). That is it. I felt that six or eight textures would not be too many to memorize if they were distinctive enough, and that the fabrics that I choose would be available to anyone who can sew.

There are many quilt clubs and seamstresses, and my vision is that each blind person would have a support group of sewers to produce pictures, or that the excellent sewers of Appalachia or the third world could be used for commercial applications. Couldn't Disney World have a portfolio of pictures of the park, and a family could stop by the office to pick it up and a father could enjoy some of the same sights that his children are seeing? An art museum could keep a portfolio of works that could be picked up and used by a blind wife as she and her husband go through the museum. Reproductions could be sold at the gift shop.

So Far: I am not a good sewer, but I have copied several 'great' works of art (Picasso, O'Keeffe, Miro, Calder, and Matisse). I have talked with people at the Ohio State School for the Blind and produced works to help them in their curriculum (pictures of shapes, fractions, 'Clifford, the Big Red Dog', and a maps of Ohio and of the United States).

I have made illustrative pictures: a) To capture a family outing, a picture of my son walking through a cemetery looking for his great-great grandfather's gravestone. This, to show that the blind could appreciate a 'scrapbook' just like sighted people do. b) To help a child learn about two-dimensional pictures, a picture of Winnie-The-Pooh, and a Peaceable Kingdom. I have learned that blind children have a difficult time understanding two dimensions when most of their world is three dimensional. I have the feeling that this is a matter to be learned by repeated exposure at an early age, and am discussing research possibilities with the graduate school program at Wilmington College. c) To include all members of a family, I have recently copied a piece of 'refrigerator art'. A student in a neighboring school system had his picture of a tree chosen for publication in the local newspaper. I am using this as an example of being able to share works with a blind grandmother, and for her to be included in the 'honor' of having his picture published. She can then share the picture with her friends and brag about her gifted grandson.

That is a brief summary of what I am doing. I am interested in your opinion. All blind people are different and have different goals. I see this as an option to be enjoyed if the person has an artistic bent. Also, I see this as something a mother of a blind child might want to expose that child to, in order to broaden the experience of the world. I remember a man telling that, as a child, he could not understand why there was such a fuss when his playmates saw a butterfly or a rainbow. It was not until he reached driving age that he discovered that he was severely colorblind. A 'poster' of butterflies hung in a child's room and sewn in this system (I call it the Barker Code, named after my husband of 42 years, and mark the upper right hand corner with a Braille capital B), would let him/her have a feel for 'what all the fuss is about'. Also, after experiencing red in several different pictures, a child would understand that Clifford is an unusual dog not only because he is big.

Contact Sally Barker for more information: (919)245-1561 or larrysally[at]gmail.com

The picture of Winnie-The-Pooh was done after the Picasso; I needed a break from the complexity of that painting. The placement of Pooh's hands and arms needs explanation for the first time viewer. the first time viewer.

The blind-since-birth man who looked at it exclaimed, "Oh, I had a Winnie-The-Pooh when I was growing up. In my mind, I am translating this picture into 3-D!"