Periodic Tablecloth of Elements

I love science.  What else in this world runs the perennial risk of turning an entire field of facts on their ear?  Science can make facts into fiction and fiction into fact.  It is hard to get more interesting than that.  However, I am a terrible scientist because I lack the necessary precision to repeat an experiment in exactly the same way time and time again to prove its validity.  As soon as I am done tweaking one variable, I immediately want to move on to the next one.

One of my favorite scientists is Oliver Sacks.  In his book Uncle Tungsten, Dr. Sacks waxes eloquently about his fascination with the periodic table of elements.  He writes of both the wonder of and the comfort he took in his regular trips to the British Science Museum:

…the real epiphany for me came in the Science Museum, when I was 10, when I discovered the periodic table, up on the fifth floor. Not one of your nasty, natty modern little spirals but a solid rectangular one, covering the whole wall, with separate cubicles for every element, and the actual elements, whenever possible, in place. Chlorine, greenish-yellow, swirling brown bromine, jet-black but violet-vapored crystals of iodine. I remember being struck that the iodine was at the top of the bottle. Obviously, over the years it had sublimed and recrystallized. Heavy slugs of uranium, pellets of lithium floating in oil, they even had the inert gases. They were invisible, of course, inside the sealed tubes, but one knew they were there.

The actual presence of these elements reinforced the feeling that these were indeed the elemental building blocks of the universe, that the whole universe was here in microcosm. I had an overwhelming sense of truth and beauty when I saw the periodic table. I felt that this was not a mere human construct, arbitrary, but an actual vision of an eternal cosmic order, and that any future discoveries and advances, whatever they might add, would only reinforce, reaffirm, the truth of its order.

Dr. Oliver Sacks

For most of my life, I was, at best, indifferent to and, at worst, dismissive of the periodic table of elements.  It seemed like a lifeless and flat representation that removed everything that was interesting away from chemistry.  Then I read Uncle Tungsten and I felt a need to give the periodic table a second chance.  So I read The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements which did a great job of bringing the periodic table to life.

I felt like I had treated the periodic table unfairly.  Out of some vague sense of guilt, I decided that I needed to do something, but I had no idea what.  Then one day, I just had the answer. I would embroider a periodic table of elements.  I don’t remember when I came up with the idea.  It just seemed to be in my mind one day seeming like it had been there all along.

Right now I am working on the design and transfer logistics.  I have done a couple of beta panels and have chosen my color scheme.  I am eager to get started on the real thing. I see this as a long-term project, taking many years if not decades. I imagine that I will work on in when I am stuck on another project or can’t decide what to start next.  And since I will be working on each element as an independent panel, it will be nice and portable.

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