The quilting/algebra connection

Joy Webb and her math students are pictured with the quilt.

Joy Webb and her math students are pictured with the quilt.

Late last semester, I attended the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) conference here in Nashville. There were many interesting sessions for math teachers.

One of these sessions encouraged teachers to become a part of their students’ lives while also encouraging the student to become a part of their teachers’ lives. Another session endeavored to inspire teachers to make math real for students in everyday life.

As I pondered these sessions, I began to think of a way I could utilize this logic in my Pre-Algebra classes. Of my many hobbies, sewing, quilting, and machine embroidery are prominent. I was currently working on a quilt at that time for a friend. The friend had chosen a quilt pattern which had a cute moose and other outdoor characters. She opted for natural colors of greens and browns, and she also wanted wildlife bears included. The pattern was made for hand appliqué, not machine appliqué. In order to use this pattern, I had to reduce the two page moose to one page in order to scan the picture so that it could be loaded in my embroidery software. This procedure was necessary so that I could digitize the picture into an embroidery design. Once the picture was in my software, I enlarged it back to the largest hoop size I had available.
It was at this point that I started thinking of including my Pre-Algebra students. We had studied transformations of dilation, scale, scale factor, and proportions. I felt that this was the opportunity for them to be involved in my hobbies and at the same time see math being used in the real world. It would be necessary to transform the other appliqué pieces to correspond to the moose design that I had already completed. In class the students compared the original pattern piece of the moose to a print out of the digitized embroidery design. Using this comparison, they were able to come up with the scale factor which transformed the large picture pattern to the digitized embroidery design. This scale factor was then applied to the other pattern appliqué pieces to determine their size for the digitized designs. My friend wanted a bear on the quilt which was not included in the pattern, so I offered some possible clip art pictures and some other designs I had available. After some discussion, the picture was chosen which had to be reduced to the proper size. The class was very involved throughout the class period.
That night I stitched out the moose and brought it to class for them to see the next day. They were very excited to see the moose stitched out as an appliqué. As I continued to stitch out designs, I would bring them to class so they could see the progress from small individual pieces to one final large object. Along the way we had discussions about the spacing and colors, especially of how the center green with the moose would be homogenized into the other blocks of the quilt. I explained the construction techniques of using sashing and borders. With the top finished and approved by the class, it was now time to begin the quilting. The students started referring to it as the “moose” quilt. As time went on, they would often ask about how it was progressing. When it was completed, I brought the quilt to class for the students to see our finished product.
Throughout the course of this project, I felt a special involvement with the students, and consequently I sensed their connection to me. I accomplished both of my initial directives. I think the students especially enjoyed this project; one even asked if we could make another quilt!