There is now a standalone tutorial available for the Saturn Box!
The Saturn Box is a beaded geometric box I designed in 2020 for the Beadworkers Guild Journal. The tutorial originally appeared in issues 87 to 90 of the journal between 2020 and 2021.
At the time the Saturn Box was the most complicated piece I’d ever designed (or written instructions for!). It was during lockdown and I was really focussing on beadwork as a distraction. I’d never made a beaded box before, so wanted to try something new for the journal.
It combined a few different ideas I had been playing around with and thinking of how to incorporate into a bigger design – the ring of half-stars and the half-diamond finish to the edges of the bowl in particular. It’s also one of the few of my pieces that includes crystals as well. I tend to keep geometric pieces to purely peyote stitch and Delicas, but the inside of the bowl was just missing something, and that something was crystal bicones!
Of course, as soon as I included them Swarovski announced they were going to stop selling crystals to beaders – typical! Fortunately I found Preciosa made a bicone in a similar (and possibly slightly better!) colour to accent the Delicas.
The original idea for the box started off with a near-miss Johnson solid. These are polyhedra that don’t quite have regular polygon faces, so aren’t one of the 92 Johnson solids, but are so close to being so you can make them pretty well with regular polygons. Some of the known near-miss Johnson solids have unusual patterns of polygons on their surfaces which offer lots of design possibilities! The particular shape I decided to base the box on is a near-miss discovered by Robert Webb:
This polyhedron has hexagons at the top and bottom, and a ring of triangles in the middle of upper and lower rings of pentagons. This shaped seemed ideal to base a box on, as it has a clear top and bottom and could be split along the central ring of triangles to make the lid and base.
The ring of triangles would also allow me to incorporate the half-star idea I’d been playing around with into the design to form a ring around the box. I used to be an astrophysicist, and studied planets in particular, so that led me immediately to thinking about Saturn! That in turn led me to my colour inspiration – the false colour images of the aurora on Saturn:
Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, A. Simon (GSFC) & OPAL Team, J. DePasquale (STScI) & L. Lamy (Obs. Paris).
These images were taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2017, and show the aurora at the North Pole of Saturn. These aurora mostly emit ultraviolet light, rather than visible light like the aurora on Earth. The image above is actually a composite image – a visible light photograph of Saturn from Hubble combined with a false colour representation of observations of the ultraviolet light captured using one of Hubble’s spectrographs. The false colour representation shows the ultraviolet light emitted by the aurora in blue, and I just love this representation of the physics and had to include it in the box design, with silver-lined beads doing their best to bring to mind this image!
After a lot of engineering and even inventing a new component I ended up with the final design! The lid of the box sits on the ring of half-stars, standing on six “spikes” formed by the points of the blue stars on the lid. I was really happy with the final design!
I’ve been meaning to write a standalone tutorial for this piece for a while – the size and complexity of the project was a bit daunting though! I finally convinced myself to sit down and start it before Christmas, and I’m really glad to now have it available in my Etsy shop.
I’m also really grateful to the small army of pattern testers who stuck with me while I tried to get this all written down in a reasonable size document the last few months!
If you decide to try making the box I hope you will enjoy it – although it is a lot of work, it’s also a varied piece with lots of different types of peyote shapes combined together. There are triangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons and some others you may not be familiar and some new ones invented just for this piece!
Although it was challenge to design and document this piece it’s a challenge I’d gladly undertake again – in fact I’m thinking of doing a few more planetary-inspired boxes!