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Do you remember your math?

by Ramona on February 28, 2014


The other evening I was working on a project and had an absolute brain freeze! Some call it a “senior moment”, I call it a brain freeze. I think of it sort of like a computer that is searching for information it cannot find. It looks and looks. While it searches all its little bytes, it just sits there and looks like it is doing nothing. That was my brain that evening.

Why the brain freeze? MATH! Now mind you, it’s not that I don’t like math, I do. I did ok in school but was no rocket scientist by any means. I got through all the math classes I needed to get through for high school and college, but it was certainly not something I sought to accomplish on a grand manner. However, I did enjoy the college accounting classes so much that at one time I thought about that as a profession instead of designing and sewing. I’m glad it was only a fleeting thought because I just cannot imagine not being creative with fabrics, threads, and a sewing machine each and every day.

When stopping to think about it, it truly is amazing how much math is in sewing. In thinking back to elementary math classes, perhaps if the teachers had sewing as their hobby, then maybe the concepts of fractions would have been easier. Fractions are absolutely everywhere in dressmaking and quilting. Because I work with them day in and day out, fractions are a breeze.

I’ll never forget Mr. Smith, the junior high school geometry teacher. He would come into the classroom each and every day with a smile on his face and such eagerness to teach us all he knew about geometry. I think one reason I so enjoyed that class and captured the concepts so easily, is he taught us in such a creative manner by using colored pencils. We’d use all kinds of color for different lines. He taught us to shade cones and I remember one specific spring day we had to go out into the school yard and draw a tree, then use the shadow of the tree to measure its height. We all drew and colored our trees with our colored pencils, drew a line then used the darker pencils to shade the shadow of the tree, and a bright red line to figure the line/angle for the height. Such fun!

I must confess, Mr. Smith, my brain is failing me these days from what I learned in your class. I know I was taught how to figure the circumference of a circle, the parameter of a rectangle or square, and how to figure the diagonal of a rectangle. These are things I have used so infrequently over the years that the formulas have sadly not stayed with me.

The other evening I was drafting a simple pattern for a fabric bucket. I wanted the bucket to have a circular bottom, a side that went straight up from the circle, and then I wanted to add a handle. I searched and searched my brain to try and remember how to figure the circumference of a circle. Absolutely nothing came to mind! Ugh. How I longed for the days of Mr. Smith’s class where those formulas were second nature.

Thank goodness for the internet. I logged on, did a quick search on google, and within mere milliseconds, had the answer ( Good grief, once I saw it, of course I remembered!

That got me to thinking, if you know of a student who struggles with math, create or even find a simple sewing project on the internet to teach the concept. Math is everywhere in sewing. The machines now use millimeters for stitch lengths. Sew out lines of the different stitch lengths, measure the length of each stitch and determine how many millimeter stitches it takes to make a centimeter, so the visual fits the concept. Take the student to the fabric store and have them purchase a meter of fabric (can’t you just imagine the look on the cutters face as they now try and remember how to translate inches into centimeters! That in itself would probably be priceless.) Use simple quilt squares to figure and measure using fractions. After working with the math, sew the project together and the concepts become even clearer and the use of math makes more sense to the student (don’t forget to add the seam allowance using fractions).

I now wonder if the circumference formula would have stayed in my brain if I had been taught the concept with a sewing project when I was 12 and how that geometry class may have gone if Mr. Smith would have had sewing as a hobby.

Sew ‘til next time….enjoy the journey of sewing!



Sue S February 28, 2014 at 10:29 pm

I can identify. Several years ago a carpenter and I were trying to figure out what angle to cut to cover a display table with six different colors of laminate. We finally cut a circle, folded it and measured it. As soon as I saw 60 degrees I said “Duh! A circle is 360 degrees, one sixth is…” and we both had a good laugh. Oh, yeah, and I was a high school honors student with a background in finance…

Ramona March 7, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Isn’t it funny how quickly it all comes back! That’s too funny. I’m so glad the internet has math at the fingertips.

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