Diatom Jugglers

I love oceanography. It has been my favorite focus of study by far.
Even if you’re not an oceanographer, every surfer, diver, paddleboarder, or lover of the ocean needs to watch The Blue Planet series. It’s a 6 part series by the BBC and is essentially a short course in oceanography, specifically biological oceanography. Go- download it, rent it, whatever, do it now, clear your schedule. I’ll wait……

Did you see it? Doesn’t it rock?!?
For me, some of the most fascinating creatures are the smallest. Under the microscope, you’ll find another world of creatures that are occupying the water around you. Some of the most beautiful of the microscopic creatures are diatoms. These are delicate single celled creatures of silica, and can come in many shapes and forms, almost like snowflakes. A good website to read about diatoms is here on Berkeley’s website. They are also part of the formation of much of our oil- a hot topic these days.
I thought a fun craft would be to make diatom juggling balls. Yep, just that nerdy. I chose this type of diatom to model:

Diatom under extreme magnification

Diatoms like this are typically formed from two “caps” that fit together like a little round box made of silica. We’re going to make ours a bit simpler, like a plain cylinder, and out of felt (silica just doesn’t craft well for this project).
First, the example above is magnified quite a bit, so we’re going for very large scale for jugglers. I measured out a pattern circle with a radius of about 1.25″ to use as the top and bottom of the diatom. I proceeded to cut 3 sets of 2 circles out of green felt for 3 jugglers. For the cylinder body, I measured and cut out green felt 3″ by 8″:

Green felt cut for center of cylinder

First, I used some embroidery thread in a similar color to the felt, and blanket stitched the short edges together to form a cylinder. The blanket stitches can show on the outside, it’s OK. Next, I sewed one circle to the end of the cylinder using blanket stitch, then started to sew the other circle to the other end of the cylinder, but about 3/4 of the way through, I stuffed the cylinder with 1/3 poly stuffing, 1/3 poly weighted pellets (like in Beanie Babies), then the last 1/3 in poly stuffing, and closed up the cylinder.

Poly pellets I used in the jugglers to give some weight to the diatoms

Next, I needed to mock the overlap of the halves of the diatom, so I stitched 2 spaced lines around the center of the cylinder body using a lighter color embroidery thread:

First line of stitching

Next, I wanted to simulate the flagellates on each end, so I strung a bit of thread through, knotted it, and cut them short:

Making the flagellates

Once I made about 5 of these on each side, I was complete! I then repeated this process to make 2 more to juggle.

Finished squishy diatom

Now, to try my hand at juggling…..


Juggling action shot!

If anyone gives you a hard time over your new jugglers, and asks what the heck they are, just say:
“If you have to ask, you’ll never know. It’s an oceanography thang.”

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