June 2000: “Peace out, suckas! Here’s to never doing math EVER AGAIN!” I holler over my shoulder as the tires of my cobalt blue VW Beetle squeal out of the high school parking lot, the dulcet tones of Fatboy Slim ringing from my open windows. It’s true, as far as classes go; I’ll be an English major at a state university in the fall, where they’ll let me take bullshit courses like Oceanography for Dummies for “quantitative reasoning” credit. Geometry, algebra, graph paper: what use will any of that have for me in the future? I’m off to study stuff that’s truly relevant to the new millennium, like 17th-century pastoral poetry!
You can obviously see where this is going. Fast forward a decade and a half, and I’m a quilter. Here I am calculating seam allowances and yardage, using rulers to make half-square triangles and hexagons. My aptitude for math remains about the same; the seam ripper is my friend. And I’m not alone: there is no shortage of specialized rulers and templates for projects, all designed to help former English majors piece their tops with minimal measuring.
Enter Quilt Lab by Alexandra Winston (2014: C&T Publishing, Inc.). Created by a math teacher who geeks out on science-themed designs, this book is a perfect blend of left- and right-brain thinking. Winston’s on a mission to prove that math can actually make your life easier, and that science is beautiful. It’s also modern: Winston’s bold solids, alternative gridwork, and geometric shapes hit the sweet spot between graph paper and sewing machine. Quilt Lab features twelve projects, each inspired by a scientific concept or occurrence. Binary code, fractals, molecular bonds, camera apertures, and more all make an appearance, each with a little “study hall” blurb explaining the science behind it. Some of the designs are simple, while others are really quite complex. All are unabashedly geeky, and they’re awesome. As I thumbed through the pages, I kept thinking of all the scientists in my life and how these projects would make treasured gifts for them. With the rise of “geek chic” (it’s now cool to love chemistry and Star Trek), this book is fabulously on-trend.
For those of us who are mathematically challenged, Quilt Lab is pretty much measuring and cutting boot camp. There’s a brief section at the front going over the general principles of geometry, and then the more difficult projects incorporate those lessons into the cutting of complex shapes. (That molecular quilt on the cover? It’s PIECED, people. Pieced right into that quilt.) Thankfully, Winston includes tons of diagrams and explanations, and encourages us to dig out protractors and compasses and mark rulers with the correct angles. She also prints lots of helpful charts for future reference; did you know there’s a mathematical formula for making HSTs?!
When I taught college English, I used to get students complaining about reading long articles. I’d tell them that the assignments were “English kale”: not the most fun to ingest, but healthy all the same. “That agony you feel as you’re reading?” I’d joke. “That’s your brain growing!” Winston’s book is healthy for those of us who are not naturally math people. I can feel my brain growing as I read about the scientific elements of these quilts, and it feels good to get a dose of geometry again now that I actually have a use for it. Thankfully, though, the kale is mixed up with lots of other tastier stuff. Quilt Lab: the mango-protein smoothie of quilt books. Yum!