Geek Quilt

If you have read my about page then you will already know that I am a bit nerdy.  This post may remove any doubt.  My latest quilt project is the periodic table of the elements.   Mendeleev’s table puts into order the stuff of the world, the universe,…everything dammit! (OK, physics geeks, I concede, not everything, but the tangible stuff anyway…).  A thing of such beauty (sorry this post does not contain a single un-geeky sentence)- I was inspired to recreate it in a quilt.

Believe it or not, I am not alone in this.  A Google search reveals a profusion of periodic quilts – some very didactic and, well,  charty,  some eye-catching and colourful.  All admirable and, yes, a tiny bit nerdy.

I went down the colourful route – I had been saving a lovely set of striped cottons with this project in mind.  It is a work in progress – I have pieced it but not yet sandwiched and quilted it. Here is the quilt top:

I am pleased with the colours – representing alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, transition metals, poor metals, metalloids, non-metals, halogens, noble gases, lanthanides and actinides.  The stripes run vertically except for the elements which have only synthetic isotopes.

I wanted the chemical symbols on the quilt, but discrete – nothing that shouts “time to learn!” (and yes, I know I’m already halfway there with this choice of subject matter).  In the end I machine embroidered the pieces with small letters in multi-coloured thread:

Now I am wondering how to quilt it – do I simply quilt in the ditch along the chart lines or do I quilt a motif to the squares to add texture -maybe a circle?  I can’t decide.  Any suggestions gratefully received!

Every geek has a favourite element (go on – admit it – you’ve had a soft spot for one of them since secondary school!).  Here is mine:

Which is yours?



a bunch of bishops – how a bishop dress works

Spring is well under way which means I have been neglecting this blog in favour of frantic digging, sowing, weeding, shed building, rain-dodging and general catching up on our allotment.  Time now for a tiny breather, phew!  The sewing room has also been a hive of activity as I have been making sample bishop dresses to take along to a vintage pram fair.  I thought I’d take five minutes to explain how bishop dresses are constructed.

bishop dress front

Bishops are very simple – consisting of five pieces: 1 front, 2 sleeves and 2 back.  These are stitched together at the sleeves before pleating.

bishop dress sleeves

bishop back

bishop dress ready for pleating



















Pleating can be done by hand, but a pleating machine is much quicker and gives a more even result.  This machine gathers the fabric with rows of tiny running stitches.

running the dress through my pleater

the pleated fabric













Before and after smocking the dress must be blocked.  For a bishop this means fanning out the pleats in a circle to match the neckline of the garment using a guide, then setting the pleats by starching and steaming them.  The image is of a baby dress being blocked after smocking:

Once hand-smocking is completed and the dress has been blocked again it is completed by finishing the neckline, side-seams, button bands and hem.

I made two baby bishops in matching pink and blue butterfly fabric:







However the dress of which I am most proud is a christening or naming gown, smocked in ivory silk on silk dupion fabric with bullion stitch roses and pin tucks at the hem: