Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quilters and Math

This is a bit of a rant. I hope I don't step on any toes; I don't intend to be critical, just puzzled and a bit sad.

What is the problem with quilters and math? I've wondered that for a while, but it was brought to my attention again last night at guild when several people became practically hysterical at the thought of averaging three measurements of a quilt center to get a good border length. These are intelligent women; what's the matter?

I'm not a math whiz. I remember my high school math teacher, firmly planted on sturdy legs and arms folded on top of her massive bosom, announcing loudly to the class, "Kathy, they say you're such a good student. Why don't you know what 7 plus 9 is?" Actually, I do know what 7 + 9 is, but I have to think about it. I also can't remember numbers; I have to write down a phone number to dial it, and I have to write down the simplest measurement or I forget it. But there are calculators for people like me, and for everyone else too.

Actually quilters only have to remember a few simple formulas, like the square that is cut in half diagonally for half square triangles should be the size of the finished square plus 7/8 inch. (That sounds much more complicated than it is.) And if you can't remember, the formula, there are all sorts of charts available, and there is always Google. Otherwise, quilting is mostly just addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication, all easy to do on the most basic calculator.

Quilters Newsletter Magazine periodically has articles that try to help. There was one in the last issue about planning any block which was excellent. (I looked for it on the website and couldn't find it, but it's the January 2009 issue, I think.)

I think this problem of quilters is an example of the way many women have been treated by the educational system: girls can't get math, so they don't. "Math Phobia" was the popular phrase a while back. The sad thing about not understanding quilt math is that quilters are so limited in what they can do. They have to use patterns, they have to buy special rulers that put the right measurements in, they have to use pre-cut fabrics, they think they need a special calculator to figure yardage, and on and on. So, the next time you can't figure it out, don't panic stop, think, get the calculator, use Google, look in a quilting book. I bet you can do it. If someone who can't remember her Social Security number or doesn't know that 7 + 9 = 16 can figure it out, anyone can.

12 comments:

The Calico Cat said...

I "know" math, but those 1/4 inch seams trick my up regularly... I just can not wrap my brain around the concept... That's not 100% correct either...

Let's just say that I wanted to make a 9-patch variation where 2 sides are made up of a rectangle instead of 3 squares & I convinced my self that all I had to do was multiply 3.5 x 3 to get the measurement that I needed to cut. (You & I Both know that that is wrong, but I make that very mistake 99.9% of the time when I am not following a pattern.)

Oh & with that 7/8th bit, I cut bigger & trim to size - poor pressing & sewing skills to blame there... (I got Thangles for a HST pattern that I want to make...)

Debra said...

I think some of that "math phobia" is an attention getting show for women.

The other day I was at the thrift store looking through the fabric bundles. They were rolled tightly and taped with the measurements written on the tape. I can usually eyeball a measurement pretty well but in a bundle I am at a handicap. So, there were two bundles I bought and immediately opened. They were definitely not 4yards as stated on the label. They were actually 1 yard. When I brought it to the attention of the ladies at the counter, they got very defensive. Sure, it's a thrift store and yes, the price was low; but, my point had been to them to show whoever was measuring and marking fabrics what 1 yard really is on the yardstick.

It bothered me all day and into the next, especially since one of the bundles I left behind said it had 10 yards and I knew darn well that it didn't have that much. It finally dawned on me that the (from the handwriting) young person who had labeled all the bundles thought a 1/4 yard was 1 yard and had priced all the fabric by that standard. It brought to mind (again) that children/teens cannot read a yardstick/ruler and have no concept of distance/length (and the comparison to the ruler).

I remember when my boys were small and velcro sneakers were first popular. My mom quipped, "Be sure and teach them how to tie their shoes" and so when the digital clock showed up I was very careful to make sure my boys could first tell time from an analog before any digitals were allowed in the house.

OK, I guess I should have written my own post. But, I do understand your point and so agree with you!

Moonlit Goddess said...

I've never found "doing the math" for a quilt project hard, just time consuming. Especially when I make myself double check it to make sure it's right. I not done that a couple times and lived to regret it. It always amazes me to when people get frazzled about trying to apply mathematical principles to sewing. Applying it to quilting I can do. Applying it to fitting cloths or knitting is another situation altogether. I have an older book that I just love. It's called Taking the math out of quilting. Not sure of the author, but I sure wish they had one for knitting.
PS Kay are you coming to Barb's?

paula, the quilter said...

I have never had any help with math/algebra/geometry in school and had to fumble around on my own. I get the correct answers but when I had to show or prove my work people (as in math teachers) were amazed. That said, math does not bother me at all. I like 'figurin' and I'll employ any tool that helps me. A former career was as a technical illustrator; guess what I used in that job? Geometry. O, btw, the book mentioned in the previous comment was written by Bonnie Lehman and Judy Martin

Libby Fife said...

Well, a sore subject for us all. Adding fractions is a bit tough-I have to remember how to do that-it takes me a minute. I cook and sew so fractions are not an issue. Geometry is tough-I was too young to grasp it in Junior High and I never took it in college. Math is just about foundational learning. It isn't rocket science right? Wait a minute...

I will get clobbered for this but oh well. I go back to the way that a lot of women are encouraged to speak-hesitantly, without conviction, and with pauses and "ums" and "ers" and "oh, I can't do this, that, or the other thing" Oh, and "I am afraid to TRY COLOR!!!!!!!!" There I said it!

Good post as always-rant all you want!

By the way-if you go to my blog, check out "Christmas In July"-the writer is a teacher and has A LOT to say on this very subject.

Paula Hewitt said...

well i have a problem with quilt maths - mainly because i think metric, so i find following patterns in imperial difficult. mainly because i can't 'visualise' the measurements. im ok now with inches and quarter inches - but anything beyond that is tricky. ive tried adapting patterns to metric, but that doesnt work either becuase my rulers are in inches. sigh. i do completely understand your point though - the maths is the same for working out borders or half sqaure triangle regardless of the measurements - in my case though I am so unfamiliar with the measurements the maths freaks me a bit.
when i was in grade three i could never remember 7x8= the teacher had me stand in front of the class every morning and say my 7 times tables forwards and backwards until i got it right. every morning i got to 7x8 and drew a blank. im rather good at my 7 times tables now, but rather more generally scarred, mathwise, for the experience! :)

Candace said...

Very thought provoking, Kay. I'm not sure why so many have problems with it, but it's so necessary to make your quilt come out "right". I have a friend who doesn't understand why her quilts don't square up or why she can't make a block properly - she refuses to take the math into consideration and then blames the pattern for being too complicated. (She doesn't read blogs, so no harm here.) I also think a lot of people have problems with the math because of a right brain/left brain thing, but I agree with you - a few simple formulas are all that's necessary and taking the time to get a little help makes a world of difference!
Cheers!

Liz said...

I think a lot of people are scared of the "idea" of math. One day, someone implied that math is HARD, and that idea just stuck! I did very well in math at school, myself - even landed in an accelerated maths class. Not sure what happened, tho. I am like Calico Cat - I always add wrong, or forget to add seam allowances or make a simple mistake (it's taken me forever to get that HST formula!). Fortunately I have accepted the inevitability of frogging!

*karendianne. said...

You're right. I just like to whine. I am, truthfully, an embarrassment to the quilty family. It's also a reflection of my laziness.

Good lord this is turning into a confessional. Well, it is Lent and all... Sheesh. Now my Catholic guilt is setting in, too...

Kim said...

I'm one of those people who like "math" with an actual degree in applied mathematics. However, I can still get befuddled when it comes to figuring out a quilt problem. Why, because I try to feel my way into a solution. I really have to stop and remind myself to approach the problem logically.

I do agree that not panicking is the first step!

floribunda said...

thanks for this post -- I also get frustrated answering the same questions over and over for a couple of friends in my mini-group. One of them barely knows that a square has 4 even sides! And one of the clerks at a local store doesn't realize that she can do whole numbers and fractions together on the calculator... she'll add up all the amounts (for instance a total of 4.5 yards) and then first multiply our the 4 yards by the price, and then multiply .5 yard by the price. Crazy -- she's been doing this for years!

The Calico Quilter said...

I am also completely impatient with quilters who groan about the not-very-complicated math involved in quilt calculations. Let's all banish that "OOOH, math is HARD!" thought from our heads.