Math for Quilters FAQ

If you read this simple Math for Quilters Frequently Asked Questions page, it will answer most, if not all, of your questions about why you as a quilter should (or should not!) study mathematics.

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"Green Cheese Communications" by Dena Dale Crain

What is the difference between arithmetic and mathematics?

According to the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, arithmetic is "the process of making calculations such as adding, multiplying, etc., using numbers. "Mathematics is "the study of numbers, shapes and space using reason and usually a special system of symbols and rules for organizing them." Algebra, arithmetic and geometry are all mathematics, but not all mathematics is arithmetic.

Who needs to use math?

Quilters! Everything we do as quilters has to do with mathematics and numbers, whether we are aware of it or not.

How do you use math?

Our traditional block patterns are exercises in geometry. We often estimate, rather blindly, how much fabric we need to complete a project. We compare the dimensions of our quilt tops with those of our batting and backing. We buy fabric by a given measurement. We classify fabric by thread counts, the number of threads per square inch. We measure the lengths and widths of our machine stitches and count the number of stitches per inch. We sew with measured seam allowances, cut with rulers, and measure the size of needles by numbers. We live in a world of numbers!

Why do I need math?

Mathematics plays a large part in our everyday lives. We perform many mathematical activities at the subconscious level of our minds. We often rely on others to provide measurements and calculations of quantities, such as letting the shop clerk figure out how many yards of backing material we need. Working unconsciously and depending on others, we sacrifice our control over the work we do.

Knowledge of math empowers us to plan and design quilts as we want them, instead of always being dependent on others for quilting projects. Can you imagine how much more efficiently you would work if your understanding of mathematics was better than it is now? With what greater accuracy? Greater control? More flexibility? More creativity? These are the reasons you need math!

What can I do with math?

With improved math skills, you can:

  • Use any patterns available in your language by comparing and demystifying measurement systems
  • Plan bed quilts or wall hangings to fit any bed or wall space
  • Design and draft quilt blocks
  • Design quilts
  • Change the setting of a design from straight to on-point
  • Make correct patterns and templates with accurate seam allowances
  • Develop pattern layouts and rotary cutting plans
  • Calculate precisely how much fabric a project requires
  • Figure how much binding to cut
  • Learn how much it costs to make a quilt
  • Set a fair price for a quilt to sell it

How much math do I need to know?

The answer to this question lies with you. How much do you want to know? How much knowledge and understanding of mathematics do you need to be a better quilter? Your decision, of course, depends on what kind of quilting you wish to do and how far you want to go with it.

This course provides all the math you need for the cutting and planning that goes into designing, making and pricing a quilt. Many tables are provided so that you can easily access the figures you need, and blank forms are included for your convenience. Read and use this course, as and when you need it. You need not master everything at once.

When will I use math for quilting?

When you want to change the size of a pattern from a magazine or book, you use math. You use math to plan and design quilts. If you calculate how much fabric to buy or how much the fabric will cost, you use math. If you design a block, you bring plane geometry into play. You use plane geometry every time you arrange a set of blocks to make a design. As a quilter, and especially as a quilt designer, you use mathematics all the time!

Must I have a calculator?

No. With basic knowledge of how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, you are well prepared to perform by hand all the calculations needed to produce fine quilts. However, having a calculator certainly makes the calculating jobs faster and can be more accurate.

Luckily, most computers possess calculator software programs. Check your program or application files to see if you have one.

The most difficult mathematical task for you to perform is to calculate a square root. When you work with the long diagonal edge of a half-square triangle, you work with square roots. Figure these with a calculator.

What specific math knowledge do I need?

To design and plan quilts, you need a reasonable understanding and some practice with:

  • Basic functions of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
  • Your country's measurement system and possibly one other measurement system
  • Regular geometrical shapes: squares, rectangles, triangles and circles

In Math for Quilters, we explore fractions, decimals, ratios, proportions, scale and rudimentary plane geometry as they apply to quilting, as well as the Pythagorean Theorem, a gentle dose of algebra. Working with the information provided, you can become comfortable with the concepts and use of each mathematical tool you need for quilting.

I have never been good at math. Will the Math for Quilters class be too hard for me to understand?

No, but it requires some effort on your part. Expect to meet theories and practices that you may recognize, but perhaps do not yet appreciate their full potential. You may know how to do many mathematical procedures, but perhaps you do not know what they are called. For example, without ever thinking of them as math, you probably already know the shapes from geometry such as the square, rectangle, hexagon, half-square triangle and diamond. Math for Quilters helps you realize how much you already know and makes you better prepared to use your knowledge. You can learn by having fun with mathematics!

This brief FAQ came from Math for Quilters, an online workshop taught by Dena Dale Crain. If you want or need to know more about Dena's class, click here: Math For Quilters