Fractious about fractions

I just read this recent blog post from Sew Mama Sew about math in sewing, and specifically about summing multiple seam allowances, and actually said “well, duh,” out loud. Doesn’t anyone old enough to be left alone at night know this stuff? I’ll admit that I am not the quickest mental-arithmetic-er, but even I can figure out how much room six 5/8” seam allowances on a gored skirt will take if you give me a few seconds.

Before I get too “you kids get off my lawn,” there is something about the physical manipulation of fabric, the visual representation of space, that you get from sewing. I personally am a lot better at thinking in three dimensions now than I was before I started sewing. All that translating a 3D body into measurements which turns into a flat pattern which turns into a 3D garment which hopefully fits the aforementioned body…

It reminds me of how taking physics in college made me finally understand calculus. Calculus exists because of classical mechanics – to explain it, to allow all these forces and equations to be calculated. I think sometimes people forget that math is a tool – people didn’t make up all this stuff just to be complicated. It’s a way to understand the world around us, to manipulate it and see its internal patterns. The repeating divisible patterns that exist in seam allowances can be abstracted into math, but they truly exist in the fabric itself and the ways that pattern pieces fit together. It’s the same thing, just expressed in a different language.

The folks behind Make magazine and MakerFaire are working with some schools around the US to open Makerspaces in local schools – there’s more about their effort at makerspace.com. I think it’s an interesting idea, not just because it helps kids who have different learning styles and aren’t as academically advanced, but because I think a well-rounded person knows practical things as well as intellectual ones. It’s part of why I’m interested in sewing, gardening and cooking. I’m glad that there are people out there that spin their own yarn or bind their own books or build their own houses out of straw bales. I think it’s important for our society to know/remember these things, and for kids to understand that what they learn in school isn’t rote facts to be memorized mindlessly – knowledge is an attempt to understand the world around you and to be able to make your way in it more easily. That’s why I continue to sew even though I’m not that good at it and don’t want to do it for a living, because it helps me understand things I wouldn’t understand otherwise.

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