Q-Buds: Mathematically Challenged
the GenQ Crew • August 01, 2011 • 27 Comments

I failed nearly every math course I took growing up. When my mother had exhausted her capacity for mathematical altruism, she hired me a tutor. After two lessons, the tutor quit, citing irreconcilable differences. I went on to drop out of my final high school math course altogether, and to this day remain unclear as to whether or not I actually finished high school on achievement, or if they just let me slide because they were tired of suspending me for smoking on the baseball field instead of learning the Pythagorean Theorem.

The silver lining through all of this was that back then, teenage wisdom assured me that I would never again, under any threat of death or dismemberment, have to use mathematical principles beyond the cluttered confines of the classroom. At graduation, I waved an insulting farewell to mathematics, certain I’d seen the last of it.

As it turned out, though, my problem wasn’t with mathematical principles at all, but with calculation, which was no surprise since I’d once deduced that adding two and two together could only logically result in the number twenty-two. What life I’d experienced until then spiralled into chaos when I learned that the answer is actually four.

Thus, one can imagine my chagrin when I learned that quilting involves significantly more calculation than the booze-to-ice ratio of the cocktail on my sewing table. And because I don’t like calculation, I do the only logical thing, which is to forget about it until I have no other choice.

Such was the case a few months ago when a member of my church asked me to make a quilt for our pastor’s office. I thoughtlessly agreed, and asked her what sort of pattern she had in mind. She suggested the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. I promptly looked heavenward and asked God what I’d done to deserve this.

After giving it some inebriated consideration, though, I told her that if she, an artist, could reduce each image of the Fourteen Stations down to symbolic representation using only squares, triangles and rectangles, then I’d be up to the task, figuring it highly unlikely that anyone, however accomplished at her craft, could reduce such powerful imagery into fourteen three-color pixelated blocks. I imagine you can see where this is headed.

The initial sketch was laid out to scale on a sheet of graph paper, which meant that my first calculation would be to determine how many squares, triangles and rectangles of each size I’d need. But graph paper squares are tiny, and frankly, I don’t like counting tiny things. Instead, I did what any other numerically-challenged person would do. I estimated.

Of course, the estimation led to another calculation to determine how many yards of each fabric I’d need. Here again, there seemed to be a lot of hypothetical. If these squares are 2.5 inches, and if these squares are 2.whatever-seven-eighths-looks-like-in-decimal-form inches, and if each fabric strip is 42 inches…hold on. I need a drink.

The final design consisted of twenty blocks in total; fourteen for the stations, and six to make up a centerpiece design. To make the project easier, I separated all of my squares, triangles, and rectangles into twenty groups, each one comprised of the thirty-six squares that would make up each block. Here I think it would be helpful for you to know that if there’s one thing I’ve learned in twenty-nine years of life, it’s that there really is no point in me trying to be organized in the first place unless I feel the insatiable desire to fail. Organizing the construction of my quilting blocks, it seems, is no exception. Despite having laboriously counted out each square for each block, when the sewing commenced, so did the sorting and slicing of leftover fabric to make up for all of the pieces I’d missed while “getting organized.” Apparently my trouble with calculation is rooted firmly in an inability to count.

When I ended up with my twenty blocks of oh-so-carefully measured squares, I sewed them together into strips. This is the point where I should have started to feel triumphant, but when two rows turned out to be nearly two-thirds of an inch too short, my sense of pride was forced to undergo an emergency evaluation. For better or worse, though, my sense of pride is overdeveloped to begin with, and instead of evaluating anything, I said to myself, “Don’t worry, Josh. Just keep sewing. It’ll all square off eventually.” For those who are curious, yes, this is the same mental tactic I use for balancing my bank account.

A few days later, my mother was at my Brooklyn apartment, a trip she’d already planned with my father for the occasion of meeting my fiancee’s parents for the first time. But that would have to wait. I had more pressing matters at hand. I had a rogue quilt, and I needed answers. I needed someone who would beat that quilt into submission. I thrust the quilt towards my mother and demanded an explanation.

“Well to start with,” she said, “your squares aren’t all the same size.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “You must not be wearing your glasses.”

“I’m sure,” she replied, “that you must have been drinking while you cut these squares, because even without my glasses I can tell that your squares are not all the same size.” My mother always knows just the right thing to say.

I’d like to think that with practice my numerical prowess will improve at least as far as I need it to for quilting, but I’m also fully prepared to go the rest of my life making grossly imperfect quilts. After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in twenty-nine years of life, and I think that even my mother would now affirm, it’s that I should have taken up bartending as a hobby instead of quilting.

-Josh Cacopardo


  • Sequana • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #1

    OMG do I ever relate to this!!!! I have little scraps of paper all over the place with numbers of some sort – mostly I don’t remember what those are even for. All I know is, with every project, something does not “add up” and I end up cutting off something, or adding something, and hoping it all comes out in the wash – so to speak.

    Of course, sometimes it DOES come out in the wash, as it wrinkles and shrinks. 🙂

  • Chris Warnick • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #2

    Oh dear God, I so resemble this. My husband will crack up when he reads this apt description of me. My sewing room is full of pages and pages of scribbled math problems and the thick stench of I-told-you-so from the ghosts of teachers past.

    Thanks for representing the common quilter and our shared burden of inchy fractions!

  • tarabu • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #3

    This happens at my sewing table on a regular basis. Perhaps we should trade vices – you take my coffee, I’ll take the rum, maybe things will work out better!

  • Lori • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #4

    Why stress over such minor details…just keep sewing and hacking off…and call it art!

  • Rebecca Merry • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #5

    Just say it was inspired by a Picasso you’d seen once, take another drink, and watch them all ooohh and ahhh over your genius!!

  • tarabu • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #6

    I’ve already come back to this twice and it’s not even lunch time. When your google analytics are skewed, it’s going to be because of people like me who are relishing in your apt expression of our woes!

  • Jill @ ThatMoxieGirl Designs • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #7

    This is why I just always OVER estimate how much fabric I need for a quilt. Then you can have scraps left over. Win, win.

    Plus, people who make perfect quilts are machines and should be shot.

    • mojo • 7 years ago
      COMMENT #

      Hahaha! I love your last sentence!

  • LindaK • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #8

    So that explains why I estimated that 47 yards of main fabrics and 13 yards of border fabric would be necessary to construct 1 baby quilt. Sadly I too am extremely math challenged. When I was in about 9th grade I distinctly remember telling my math teacher – I will NEVER need to know how to do math!!! Miss B. was NOT amused and stomped around on her little hooves until it was decided that maybe I should leave the room for a while. I would imagine she’s still chuckling from her grave – cackling “I told you so, I told you so”. RIP Miss B. (I went to school a looong time ago)

    • Cheran • 7 years ago
      COMMENT #

      …hooves… :::snort:::

    • mojo • 7 years ago
      COMMENT #

      Oh, crud! My oldest daughter just earned her degree as a math teacher. Will she develop hooves? She laughs at my math-challengedness.

      • LindaK • 7 years ago
        COMMENT #

        They went well with her hairy legs…Just sayin…

  • Monica • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #9

    *ignoring* ’cause Megan said so…

  • Sarah Craig • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #10

    What a hoot! I totally commiserate with you – but I have a secret weapon – a niece who is a math genius! Anytime I get stuck, I call her and she figures it out for me…….

  • Lisa • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #11

    You know… There’s an app or two that do the calculations for you… 🙂

  • Deb • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #12

    Oh, it is sooo nice to know I am not the only person who is mathematically challenged! It was always embarrassing for me to acknowledge that “yes, I am the daughter of an accountant…and no, I can’t balance my check book. Close is good enough for me.” Apparently, the bank does not share the same train of thought! And it’s amazing how just a teeny bit off miscalculation can grow and grow and grow with quilt blocks!

    Thanks for sharing!!

  • Lisa Sipes • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #13

    This is like my Bible. Except for all that “God” stuff.

  • quiltzyx/sue • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #14

    To heck with the maths….I wanna see a picture of this quilt.

    • mojo • 7 years ago
      COMMENT #

      Me, too!

  • rita • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #15

    Throw it onto the web. If I saw a picture of it, I might be inspired to do all this figuring. I love that kind of thing. It’s a puzzle, afterall. Picture!! I need a picture. You could even go so far as to commission the blocks out, they arrive, you sew them together. Voilà Padré, Le Quilt!!

    Btw, I think your password should be longer. Maybe add some special symbols too. NOT! Good Lord!!!

    • Generation Q • 7 years ago
      COMMENT #

      Sorry if the “password” is a bit unwieldy! It’s generated randomly. That is our spam control, and boy do we need it! We were being flooded with spam comments before we implemented the password, and all you have to do is copy and paste it – it’s even easier than those “captcha” things you see on other blogs where you have to peer at it and go, “Is that an I or an L?” 😉

  • Rosanne Derrett • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #16

    OK, so i am right up there with the mathematically challenged aspect, but with one difference. I am brilliant at maths so long as it has a point. I kept failing maths at school until I worked out that abstract maths ie algebra is really not my thing. Maths where I can apply it is fine geometry, basic maths, fractions, decimals all fab even down to simple and compound interest.

    What baffles me is the term ‘applied mathematics’ which you see in so many academic situations. It’s no different to any other form of maths when you realise maths is a language. We all apply maths in every day life – it’s just how high brow we want to make it. What would you want to read – a gossip mag or the Classics?

    Oh, yes – I’m English so our maths has an ‘s’ before anyone says anything!

  • Nurseli • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #17

    A toast to you, me, and other mathematically challenged quilters everywhere! And to our off kilter quilts. I love it!

  • Paul • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #18

    This made me laugh… Just last week my 10 year old daughter threw a fit over how “I’ll never use this stuff anyway! Why do I have to learn it?” (We were studying math with Fractions…)

    Later that night I was sitting converting a quilt design I had drawn into cut pieces required, and fabric required to make it a reality. My daughter walked into the room, saw a sheet of paper on which I had performed several calculations and she declared, “Daddy, why are you re-doing my math homework?”

    Seizing the perfect moment to explain a good reason she needed to learn her math, I told her that I use that math on every quilt I do. She stood there for a second and then said, “Oh, Well. I really don’t want to quilt anyway.”


  • Tsigeyusv • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #19

    hah! I actually kinda like doing the maths… that is, until I forget that each seam, at 1/4 inch, actually reduces the total size by 1/2 inch. Oh, to ever design a quilt without a mistake in it somewhere!

  • Katie • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #20

    Hahaha, this sums up how I do my quilts (all three of them) and I liked math.

  • pauline chapman • 7 years ago
    COMMENT #21

    Well I guess I’m another bitchy stitcher but don’t have the same loving sense of humour (canadian spelling.) Wanted to see the hilarity that everyone else did. What’s wrong with me? Wait. I don’t think my feelings could take the slings and arrows.

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