We all learn and think a little differently. Some people’s brains absorb images easily, while other people work in words. Still other people process numbers nimbly. But rarely do I ever hear of someone who hates pictures or hates words. They may say, “I learn more easily when I can see it done.” Or, “Pictures confuse me, but when it’s written out, I can get it.”
Frequently people from all kinds of backgrounds say, “I hate math,” or “I can’t do math.” It’s absolute, not just an expression of preference. Often they give an excuse, such as, “I’m an artist … a writer … a musician … just a mom … ” or “I had bad teachers in grade school” or “I never learned anything I would really use.” Often the math-aversion is expressed as a boast, rather than a regret.
Consider, many people are willing to say, “I can’t do math.” Few of those same people would proudly admit, “I can’t read.” Why do you think these lead to different responses?
Perhaps you wonder why this discussion belongs on a quilt blog. It belongs because quilting is full of math. Begin with buying fabric. How many yards do you need? Why do you need that many? Do you need to worry about shrinkage? (YES.) How many patches or strips can you cut from your purchase? How much will it cost? Do you know if the clerk rang up your purchase correctly?
Then move on to more complicated stuff, like when you’re designing your own projects. Maybe you have a bunch of blocks you’ve made or collected in swaps or purchased at an estate sale. How big of a quilt can you make from it? What if you use sashing? What if you turn them on point and use sashing? How many blocks do you need to make a queen-sized quilt? Or how about very complicated stuff, like how much should you charge for a quilt you are selling?
There are various ways to answer questions like these. Alternatives for the quilt size question include laying out all the blocks in various configurations and estimating how much disappears within seam allowances. Or you can draw it all out on graph paper or in quilt design software like EQ7. You can look it up in charts, if you happen to have the right resource and understand how to use it. Or you can do the math.
Very little of the math is actually hard to do. Almost all of it is very simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, stuff we learned to do in grade school. There’s some geometry with shapes and areas, and a little algebra from time to time. But I’ve never had to write a geometry proof to quilt. And all the formulas are easy to find, and easy to calculate with your handy dandy electronic calculator (or computer or smart phone app.)
A few days ago I read a question from a quilter about how many blocks she would need, given a few assumptions. I wrote out the process she could use to calculate it. It’s a few steps, but by doing a few steps she can use the same process regardless of size of blocks she has, or size of quilt she makes. She can figure it out. SHE HAS THE POWER.
When you add basic quilting math to your set of quilting skills, you make yourself more powerful. You are less dependent on someone else’s patterns and instructions. You are freed to be more creative. You can figure out whether the remnant in your stash is enough for the patches you will cut, or if you’ll need to find something else. You can charge a fair price for your work when you sell your quilts.
Are you a math hater? What math quilting skills do you need to improve? Do you want to improve? Are there formulas or processes you would like to see here?
My previous blog posts with mathy stuff in them include:
Let me know how you see yourself in the math arena. If there is interest, I can build some tutorials on quilt math, and help you be more powerful.