Within soft, cottony folds of vibrant blues and a scattering of metallic sheen, the behaviour of subatomic particles has been stitched into place. This quilt, The Alice Adventure, depicts the ALICE detector in a patchwork of appliquéd fabrics surrounded by an artistic representation of its purpose through Feynman diagrams (the mathematical expression of particle behaviour). This is the latest piece in a series of fabric-based artworks by Kate Findlay, a textile artist and art teacher from Reading, UK, who has spent the last four years exploring the technology and physics of the LHC through the traditional craft of quilting.
Kate FindlayThe Alice Adventure
The Alice Adventure is Kate’s biggest quilt so far, measuring 4 m2, and took 3 months working 5 days a week to complete. “It has the most work in it of any piece I’ve ever done,” she says. It was constructed as a traditional quilt, in 3 layers, with cotton sheeting on the back, cotton wadding in middle, and the design pieced together on top. Kate used a huge variety of materials and fabrics and estimates that around 1000 metres of thread was required. “What I really wanted, was to capture the shiny metallic surfaces and create something that suggested a futuristic space station.” The most complicated section of the quilt is the surrounding of Feynman diagrams, which were screen printed onto various sheer fabrics. “These were then layered in various combinations to get the subtle variations of colour seen around the edge of the quilt.” Kate prices the quilt at £5000, reflecting the hours that went into making it.
The quilt developed from drawing up concept sketches and stitching sample pieces. “I spent quite a lot of time thinking too; just looking at the piece in development to consider the overall colour balance. What I wanted to get across was the scale and beauty of the detector, and through the Feynman diagrams, its purpose.” Kate admits that compared to other LHC technology she initially found it hard to understand what ALICE actually does. In the end she says, “It’s a homage to the mystery and majesty of this machine, and the engineers and scientists who have created it.”
Kate FindlayThe detail of the Feynman Diagrams
Kate’s interest for this series was first sparked upon seeing a photograph of ATLAS accompanying a 2008 newspaper article. “I wanted to build a body of work on a single theme that would have a bit of a ‘wow’ factor.” She has since produced several large fabric artworks and their level of detail provides enormous visual impact. The first artworks were inspired by ATLAS, but Kate has also created quilts based on concepts such as scale in particle physics and dark matter.
Kate has received extremely positive feedback from physicists. “They have all been very interested in my interpretations, and the general public have been equally enthusiastic. Quilting is a predominantly female hobby, but women who came to see my work have all said how much their husbands enjoyed seeing it!”
Apart from an O level, Kate has no formal background in physics. Instead she has learnt about physics in her spare time and tried to express certain concepts in her work. “What I have learnt has fuelled my ideas and is taking my work in new directions. In particular, super symmetry and string theory interest me. I am also getting interested in using light, in the form of LEDs or fibre optics, which I have started to experiment with.”
Kate will be exhibiting her quilts in several UK towns throughout 2012. She adds, “I will also be using the quilts in talks and workshops, and will be talking about the scientific concepts behind the ideas to an audience of quilters.” For full details visit: art.findlays.net.
See Kate's other work in our feature gallery.