Please hang with me here as I’m going to share of my own failures in Junior High and High School, the moments where the dime dropped, and how I can now do a lot of quilty math in my head. I’ll begin with breaking down the question and clarifying my intent. While I failed math more than once I learned a few things.
I asked “Has anyone ever written an article encouraging quilters to do math?” on social media recently. The answers were really thought provoking. For me “encouraging” is the key word. Encouraging is the act of supporting and guiding a person through something that is challenging (my own definition). In teaching this is always my goal as quilting is downright difficult. There are a lot of moving parts and so many things to remember. It’s why when teaching free motion quilting I sit down at various machines to show you what I mean, or how to stitch out the motif. As I write I’m thinking about adding a problem solving check list to my handouts.
Many of us struggled in math at some point in our schooling, and had teachers and/or tutors that weren’t exactly supportive in getting through that struggle either because they didn’t know how to unlock that path in our brains, or were not exactly kind, more on that one later.
In the comments more several teacherly types reminded me not to shame quilters because of the struggle. That is not how I roll. Shaming belittles. There is more than one approach to quilt making and however you choose to get there is fine with me. Use patterns, kits, precut fabrics whatever. It’s fine with me as long as you are making the quilts that are making you happy. As a quilt shop employee I was happy to do the math for anyone who walked in the door, this came with the suggestion to “get this much more fabric” because sometimes stuff happens and I want you to have enough just in case. And there was a good possibility that the fabric wouldn’t be there when you came back.
Junior High math, seventh and eighth grade in my day, was terrible. During my eighth grade year I ended up having two very different teachers for algebra. The first teacher really trusted us to do the work, he would teach, we would do our homework and prepare for testing. I wasn’t quite ready for this trust, quite frankly, because there was other stuff going on in my 13/14 year old life that was overwhelming. I had to drop one class, and as a result had to change algebra teachers. This new guy was an absolute ass, humiliating me in class one day. I ended up failing because I never could quite catch up.
Freshman year I passed with little studying. Something clicked at the beginning. Sophomore year geometry was a breeze. I’ve spoken of Mrs. Hastings often on this blog. Loved her!
Junior year was another difficult year for the next step in algebra. When I would go for help this teacher would repeat verbatim what was said in class. I stopped going for help and took the loss of class. Which meant two things – one more failing grade on that all too “permanent record” and I lost the privilege of going home early at the end of the day during my senior year. Eh, whatever.
Senior year repeating the same algebra class with a different teacher was a breeze. When I would go for help the teacher would offer a different explanation or show me the process. It was again a year with little effort put into the work of the class. This allowed me to take calculus in the semester of college and put in some effort but again, easily passed.
I remember at some point my dad told me math is simply a different language. That helped. But the dime really dropped when during my first year of ministry at a Parish in New Jersey the 8th grade teacher and I were talking with a mom who’s daughter was struggling with math. The mom wasn’t really bothered by this (it’s okay we understand.) The teacher showed both of us that we’d been learning algebra since the first grade
1 + [ ] = 3
The mom’s mouth dropped open My mouth dropped open. We both realized that the thing we’d both believed was so very hard and complicated isn’t. Mom did a 180 and now had something she could offer her kid, encouragement to do the math and to speak with the teacher for help. Wow.
While it is true that personally I did better with women teaching math than I did males. I understand this is common. Women were not encouraged to pursue math/sciences because we were women. There is something I learned from all of them to take into my teaching quilting:
You can do this, it may take more work but you can do it
Repeating the same words in the same order is rarely effective
Being creative in explanations goes a long way
Questions from one person is often the question of others
Kindness goes a long way
Showing rather than using words helps
Over time I got comfortable enough with math, and figuring out how much fabric quilters need to make quilts that I can often do the math in my head. Not because it’s particularly simple but I’ve done it a lot. I can tech edit patterns (I’m available). Figuring out “how much” will they need to make this quilt is one of my favorite things to do.
I say again: Quilters make your quilts in whatever way makes the most sense to you. Use precuts, kits, cut all your own fabric, use die cutters (I do!), design your own quilts using a computer program, use patterns. And if you want to please know that you are capable of doing the math to make whatever quilt you want.
If you want me to do the math I’ll do it.