The Periodic Table of Elements

Where Art Meets Science

I made this piece for the City & Guilds Diploma in Creative Techniques and as part of an exhibition with fellow students for the Sewing for Pleasure show at the NEC in March 2012.

I was subsequently asked to contribute an article for “Workbox” magazine which was published in July 2012 and selected for their annual edition in December 2012.

Following that, I entered it at the Festival of Quilts show in August 2013 (the largest quilt show in Europe) where it was awarded “Highly Commended” by the judges.

The idea

Our theme for the exhibition was “Pathways” and I was inspired to design my piece for the exhibition by my love of science. 

The Periodic Table was first developed by a Russian chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869. Although only 65 elements had been discovered at the time, it continued to expand as more discoveries were predicted and made and today the Table contains all 118 of the currently known element in our Universe. Conversely, everything in our Universe is made from only these elements. This fills me with a sense of wonder. 

The elements are not arranged on the Table by whim, art or chance, but by their properties. What results is both a beautiful image recognised the world over, and the pathway to understanding our Universe.

I decided that I would attempt to construct the Table in textiles and to illustrate some of the elements through their particular properties using mixed media. Little did I realise how long this would take and what a complex construction it would be!

The Process

In blissful ignorance I started, as I often to, with an old white cotton sheet which I dyed using a range of natural dyes so that I could use a different colour to represent each of the 9 different groups of elements as determined by their properties. With these fabrics I constructed a 2 inch square for each element , comprising a piece of Decovil1, a piece of wadding and a piece of dyed fabric, onto which I free machined the chemical symbol for that element.

I selected 8 of these elements to illustrate and set about designing and constructing a tableau for each. This was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated! 

I used a wide range of materials and techniques in these tableaux and they are all very different as a result.

The scale was very small and I was working inside a box for each which would then be stitched into the framework. Each box is either 4 inches square or 8 inches by 2 inches. Most are 2 inches deep. 

Each is “hidden” behind an opening door.

Fe: Iron

Cu: Copper
O: Oxygen

Copper
Tungsten

Sodium

So much for the front, but what about the sides and the back?

Something I wish I had thought through at the beginning as this turned out to be another large and challenging task!

I decided that the Table should be viewed from all sides so I had to think of ways to decorate the back and sides as well as the front…another challenge!

To provide some basic information about the history of the Table and its development over time, I stitched text down one side of the finished piece. Along the top and down the other side I continued this idea, but described the properties of each of the 9 groups of elements.

In order to try and depict the immense body of discovery and research that has gone into our present understanding of the Periodic Table and through it, how our Universe works, I decided to make a mock blackboard for the back of the piece. I wanted it to look as if scientists had approached this blackboard over a couple of hundred years and jotted down ideas as they thought of them.

And it was finished!

Comments left by visitors to the Sewing for Pleasure Show, NEC, March 2012:

“A lovely way to express a scientific fact.  Absolutely beautiful, so glad I saw it”

“The Periodic Table was stunning, for a real science nerd, just brilliant”

“Really inspiring. A wonderful example of how art and science can come together”

“Never would have thought I would see an embroidered periodic table – absolutely fabulous!”

And from the judges at the Festival of Quilts (Quilt Creations section):

“Amazing piece, ingenious and creative.  Great use of materials.  Beautifully executed and excellent visual impact.  I love it!”

“Highly original and beautifully presented”

“Very clever piece of work with interesting use of materials.  Excellent embellishment”

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