Quilting and Math

We’ve all heard about the connection between mathematics and music, and much of my life has been proof of this. I never thought of myself as much of a visual artist, but mathematics has been the basis of much of my enjoyment of cross-stitch, needlepoint, crochet, knitting and quilting.

During COVID, this interest blossomed. I began working with numerical sequences as well as exploration of the golden ratio. That resulted last spring in a quilt that features a logarithmic wave on one side, and sets of golden ratio “rectangles” on the reverse:

Golden Ratio Quilt
Logarithm Quilt

I designed the golden ratio side, and my son helped me with a table of logarithmic values in Excel, to make the best use of one “jelly roll” of print fabric to fit a Queen-size quilt. I tried out both “walking foot” machine quilting for the stripes and long curves on the logarithmic side, and “free motion quilting” for the spirals through the golden ratios. I love having a reversible quilt, and it’s kept me warm all winter with its wool batting.

My next challenge was to combine my daughter’s love of Fibonacci sequences with her social justice advocacy. I had two “jelly rolls” to work with, with 22 rainbow colours. And here’s the result:

Fibonacci Rainbow Quilt

This quilt was machine pieced and then hand-quilted. I could have chosen to machine quilt, since the quilting is very simple “stitch in the ditch”, but I needed the meditative process this spring as to balance out my long days online as Principal. As the weather became warmer it was more difficult to sit under the quilt, so it was July before I was able to bind and complete.

Yesterday I went looking for more challenges, but was hoping for something that wouldn’t take months to complete. I have enjoyed playing with “disappearing” patterns, but had not actually constructed any yet. This is a technique of piecing a simple square, and then cutting it into quarters or ninths, and sewing it together with the pieces rotated. So I tried out the “disappearing hourglass” pattern. You create it by sewing all the way around a pair of squares, cutting them on the diagonal, resewing them into an hourglass shape, and then cutting again into nine-patches.

What do you think?

These were both machine pieced and quilted, so they worked up quickly, and make a bright pillow for my sunroom. They each began with a 10″ square from a “layer cake”, so I have 40 more possible “disappearing” squares to construct. If I can find enough background fabric for the contrast to these wonderful Kaffe Fassett prints I might just make this my next “mathematical” quilt.

Planning to “Grade Less” this September

Tote that says "Does this bag make my assignments look marked?"

It’s the first week of July, and perhaps a little early for our teachers to begin planning for September.

But, before the planning for September begins, I am hoping that I can plant a few seeds to help teachers move away from grades and marks, and towards a model of feedback-based assessment. Here are a few suggestions to prepare for this process:

Design “Backwards”

Begin with the curriculum documents, and list all of the main standards, or overall expectations.

Rewrite in Student-Friendly Language

This is a task that will be most valuable if done with your students, so begin be re-writing a few as models to use in September. You may choose to re-write all of the standards or expectations, but your students will buy in more fully if they have a voice in the process. These could be printed, and then cut into sections. Or you might put them on “post-its”: either physical, or within Jamboard.


Re-arrange your standards or expectations, grouping them in to related clusters. You may be able to label your groupings, and perhaps even write an over-arching expectation or goal. Prepare to facilitate this same process with your students; don’t assume that their groupings will be the same as yours. Remember, your goal is to have them invested in their learning, so try this process out for yourself, but leave the real work for your class in September.

Determine Evidence of Learning

For each group, decide what might be used as evidence of successful achievement of the expectation, standard, or goal. And then list both the task criteria (what will need to be done) and the achievement criteria (what knowledge, understanding and skills will be demonstrated). These criteria can then be used as the basis for feedback, single-point rubrics, or four-point rubrics.

Plan the Flow

Order your groupings in such a way that one leads to the next, and supports the skills and knowledge necessary for progress. Consider reporting periods, and ensure that you have paced your groupings and built in conferencing time so that you will have a mark to put on report cards, if required in your jurisdiction.

Bonus: Connect it all with a Theme

When I was in grade 11, our English teacher structured our course around the theme of “Love”. She was able to connect our study of “that Scottish play” to a poetry unit on ballads, and tease out references to “Love” in almost all of our readings. I still remember how eager we were to talk about “Love” (and then, of course, “Sex”) and make connections between our readings and our current, teenaged lives.

As I designed our first semester of “Introduction to Information and Communications Technology”, which was offered within the Ontario Business Studies curriculum I looked for a unifying theme that would inspire our grade 9 students to continue within the business program. So, we took a course that was heavy on technical skills, and united all the units through the creation of a “Business Plan”. Our students did Internet research to decide on a business. They built an Access database of computer equipment to equip their new business. They designed a style sheet, and then implemented their style in both Word and Publisher. A company logo was developed in a graphics application, and then converted to work both in print and on the web. Their financial projections were developed in Excel. They developed business websites, to promote their new business. And they created PowerPoint presentations to convince their class VCs to invest in their new business.

You may have a theme in mind, or your students may be able to see new themes as they work through the process of rewriting the expectations and standards in the first few days of class. Be prepared to (happily) throw all of your planning and hard work out the window if your students come up with something better. You never know what they might create, and how it might make your semester much more fun for all of you.