Individual snowflakes from Wilson Bentley's snowflake study between 1890 and 1903. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 31.

Crafting the Archives Way!

I’ve been inspired by the snowflakes Wilson A. Bentley photographed through a microscope in the late 1800's ever since I first saw them in the Archives. Bentley donated 500 of his photographs to the Smithsonian in 1903 (you can read more about them in a post by Archives colleague, Courtney Esposito). The images capture nature at its most creative, mathematical, and elegant. I can’t help but think Bentley was taken by their beauty, as well as by the science.

When I look at their patterns, they remind me of a spot on Sesame Street I loved as a kid—the cameraman would zoom into a plant in Bert and Ernie’s window box, and lo-and-behold; a world of tiny creatures (the twiddlebugs) dwelled with their paperclip swing and matchbox car.  The tiny worlds that inhabit these snowflakes inspire cloud-gazing associations as well. I love the tulips that encircle the center of this one:

Close-up of a photograph of a snowflake with six points.

I was drawn in by the beauty of these images, and I was feeling crafty. Plus, I needed something to crown our “tabletop” tree that was sparsely covered by the dozen or so ornaments we’ve collected over the years. So, my colleague, Marguerite Roby, and I secured some supplies and sat down this past Sunday to make a tree-topper for my tree, and decorations for the upcoming Archives Holiday party based on Bentley snowflakes in our collection. Below are some “loose” instructions (disclaimer: I'm not a crafting professional) as well as some free templates I made. I encourage you to download the templates and images, and let the shapes inspire you. If you do end up using them, please leave a comment and share some pictures. Happy snow-crafting!

Supplies

Craft supplies include the cutouts, paper, scissors, glitter glue, and cement.  

  • Scissors
  • Craft Knife
  • Craft cutting board (I happen to have one, but you can also use cardboard or one of those flexible plastic kitchen cutting boards)
  • Paper for printing the template and the final snowflake
  • Glitter glue
  • Rubber Cement (for attaching a tree topper base)

How to

1. Download one of the templates below (click on the image to the get large size, right-click, and "save image") and print them on paper.  You can shrink or enlarge it with a copying machine to get the size you want.

Craft template from Wilson A. Bentley snowflake. Altered from Image no. SIA2008-1394, Record Unit 31, Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Snowflake Study, between 1890-1903, William A. Bentley. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 31, Image no. SIA2008-1394.

Craft template from Wilson A. Bentley snowflake. Altered from Image no. SIA2013-09136, Record Unit 31, Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Snowflake Study, between 1890-1903, William A. Bentley. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 31, Image no. SIA2013-09136.

Craft template from Wilson A. Bentley snowflake. Altered from Image no. SIA2013-09170, Record Unit 31, Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Snowflake Study, between 1890-1903, William A. Bentley. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 31, Image no. SIA2013-09170.

2. Cut out the template. Feel free to add your own details.

Marguerite holds up one of the templates above.

3. Trace the pattern on the final paper for your snowflake (Don't forget snowflakes are symmetrical!) You can save time by cutting or folding your template in half) and tracing half of the template onto your final folded piece of paper (see below).

Effie traces on a green cutting board.

4. Cut out the final snowflake.

Someone used a cutting board to cut out a snowflake.

5. Leave as is or decorate with glitter glue.

Someone decorates a blue snowflake with glitter glue.

6. If you are making an ornament, punch a hole for string or an ornament hanger. Alternatively, if you want a tree-topper, roll a cone with your leftover paper. Glue the cone together with rubber cement and let it dry. When the cone and ornament have dried, glue the cone to the ornament. Voilà!

One of the races cutouts at the top of a lit Christmas tree,

You can learn more about "Snowflake Bentley" here.

Enjoy a new set of snow-themed photographs on the Smithsonian's Flickr Commons set.

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