December 18, 2009

Review: The Snowflake

The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty
text by Kenneth Libbrecht
photos by Patricia Rasmussen

I noticed this book at bookstores last winter. I thought it looked like a stunning coffee table book. The photography is just so beautiful. It was hard to believe that these are pictures of actual snowflakes, not glass ornaments. The quilter in me thought, "Quilter, you could make quilt patterns from these photos." And then I thought, "Quilter, you are so totally right."

Thinking a coffee table book would be a good choice for the Four Month Challenge, earning me 20 points, I checked it out of the library. Surprise surprise! There are words in this here book. Not just a few but many. And big ones at that. This is more than a coffee table book; this is a scientific text put into layman's terms. The author is a physics professor and head of the physics department at Caltech. He's been studying snowflakes since he was a young boy growing up in North Dakota.

Prof. Libbrecht explains what a snow crystal is, what the different forms consist of, and the conditions in which each type develops. There are plates and branching and high humidity... I won't pretend to have understood everything I read but what I read was certainly interesting.

For example, did you know that most snow crystals have 6 branches or plates? Occasionally you will find 12 sided crystals and rarely the 3 sided kind. But there was also columns, bullets and needles. The weather conditions must be very specific to create each kind. He deals with the commonly held belief that no 2 snowflakes are alike. I am now an amateur expert on snow crystal trivia.

Even if you don't want to read all about snowflakes, at least check out the book for the photographs. There are several of them, including one called a Photographic Album. They will make you appreciate winter and nature.

And that quilt idea? Plans are in the making.


Jeane said...

This is such a stunningly beautiful book. Even just looking at the photos you posted takes my breath away. Reading it was very interesting, too! If you ever make that quilt, I want to see!

bermudaonion said...

Those photographs are unbelievable!

Petunia said...

Jeane-as soon as I finish my VERY BIG QUILTING PROJECT I will start a snowflake one. Promise.

Bermuda Onion-I know huh. To think that so much detail is in a little falling fluff of ice that will melt in a minute is incredible.

Sherry said...

You will share pictures of your quilts, both the Very Big Project and the snowflake one someday?

Danielle said...

We got this book at my library last year and I enjoyed leafing through it. I meant to check it out when it had been processed, but it got lost in the shuffle of books. I will have to see if I can get my hands on it now. It's fascinating to read about--and as close to math or geometry I'll ever get! :)

Zibilee said...

I saw a photo spread of some of the pictures in this book online last week and I was just amazed by the intricacy of these snowflakes! They are amazing and beautiful and I would love to get my hands on this book. Great review, and thanks for adding so many pictures!

Anonymous said...


I got this book last year, and attempted Paula Nadelstern's snowflake piecing technique. Did not succeed well the first try, but I'm giving it another go. Happily, Nadelstern's Snowflakes and Quilts is once again available at its original price via

Melwyk said...

This is a gorgeous book - I looked through it when it came into my library. Love your idea for a quilt, also. Hope you will be able to get to it someday!