String systems

Create a colourful woven artwork inspired by the ways scientists use colours to visualise information.


Illustration showing two circular shapes with lines crossing across the middle of them.

Scientists sometimes end up with lots of data from experiments. To help them make sense of the data and find connections, they can use different types of graphs, including circular graphs that look like these ones.

These circular graphs let the scientists see patterns in their data and find out more about the experiment they’re working on. The formation of patterns in science can tell us lots of important information. When we compare different versions of these patterns, we learn new things about the data they show us.  

By designing and making your woven artwork, you’ll be connecting different points in colourful ways, just like our scientists when they turn data into colourful designs.  

You'll need...

  • A5 white card

  • Different colours and thicknesses of string and thread (at least three)

  • Scissors

  • Glue stick

  • Sharp pencil

  • Ruler

  • Eraser

  • Tape

  • Something circle-shaped that you can draw around – or use your roll of tape!

  • Instructions

    A pile of different coloured threads

    1. Choose your colours and get your string and thread ready - in the lab, different colours can sometimes represent different types of information.  

    Paper circles

    2. Use a pencil to draw around your circle-shaped object onto a piece of A5 card. This will become the background for your string system. If you would like to make a hollow version, draw two circles inside one another (with a thick border) and cut out the centre circle.  

    Paper circles with lines drawn on them in pen

    3. Before adding your string details to your cutout circle, add line art in felt pens or pencils. This will add more colourful patterns to your design (see photos for further inspiration).  

    Paper disks with holes punched in them

    4. Once drawn / cut out, place an eraser underneath your card circle edge and use a sharp pencil to pierce a series of small holes around the border of your circle outline. Make sure the holes are at least 1cm apart to prevent the card ripping 

    Paper disks with holes punched in them, and string and thread going through the holes

    5. Now it's time to weave your coloured string patterns! To create patterns made with the lines, weave your first colour through your first hole - from the front side to the back, securing the loose end on the reverse side - either in a small knot or with patches of tape.  

    A paper circle with string across it, and small bits of tape holding the string in place

    6. Repeat this step, weaving in and out of each of your holes in different directions. Straight lines can be created by pulling on the thread tightly, and curved lines by letting the thread sit more loosely. You can use your fingers to help you move their position on your card base.  


    Display your string system

    Tie or tape a long piece of thread to the top of your String System and hang as a decoration!  

    String criss-crossing across a paper circle

    The science

    Scientists at the Crick use graphs to investigate lots of different kinds of data – one specific kind of graph is called a Circo Plot, and it’s used to connect together different pieces of information about genes or cells. 

    Circo Plots are often used by teams of mathematicians and computer scientists at the Crick – you can find out more about their work in this article, How computer scientists are helping beat cancer