Laura Laing loves to sew and she also loves math. She writes a little about how the two are connected in today’s post on spatial skills and patterns, about using nets and math when you sew. Laura has a new book out, Math for Grownups, and writes a blog with the same name (math is where it’s at for Laura!). The book and the blog are full of refreshers for adults to help you use math effectively in real-life, every day contexts. Learn more about Laura in her introduction, and enjoy today’s post. It’s fun to think in a new way about the skills you use all the time. If you sew, you’re probably really good at using a lot of different math skills!

Nothing But Net
Patterns don’t fit me. And I resent the fact that, according to the pattern manufacturers, my cute, little size 10 body is actually a size 16. There, I said it. Who’s with me?

That’s the beauty of sewing. You can change collars, shorten waistlines, lengthen skirts, add pockets and even create your own designs from scratch. And if you’re like me, it’s easy to take risks, thanks to my BFF, the seam ripper.

Of course creating or adapting a pattern does require a lot of confidence in your spatial skills. In other words, you’ve got to be able to translate a 3-dimensional finished product to a 2-dimensional pattern– Or the fabric pieces themselves, if you’re feeling bold and skipping the pattern all together.

What are spatial skills? Basically, they’re what we all use to mentally manipulate 2- and 3-dimensional representations. If you’re good at reading a map, you probably have strong spatial skills. If you “see” the pieces of a dress, you’ve got it going on.

But if you can’t seem to find your way around your home town or if pattern pieces never seem to mentally translate to the finished product, never fear! You can boost those skills with a little practice. Being able to mentally transform 3-D figures to their 2-D equivalents– and vice versa– can be tricky, but there are no funny glasses required.

If you only recently graduated from school or have elementary-age children, you probably know something about “nets.” These are 2-D representations of 3-D figures. You know those boxes that you can buy flattened out and then assemble when you need them? Those are nets:

First it’s a net…

…Then it’s a box!

If you’ve ever made fabric stacking boxes like these, you’ve used a cube net– but without the top.

Sleeves, pant legs and even bodices start out as nets. When we cut them out of the fabric, they’re flat– and they may not look at all like what they’re meant to be. A cap sleeve may look like a semicircle at first. Attach it to the arm hole, and it curves over the shoulder.

It’s like magic! This pattern becomes this sleeve.

Zipper bags, eyeglass cases, and other little organizing do-dads work the same way. Take a look at this pattern for an eyeglass case:

When the cutting and sewing are done, it transforms to this:

But you don’t have to completely depend on your mental spatial skills to create or alter a pattern. If you’ve cut the pattern out of paper, just fold and curve it to see if it works. I often do this even if I think I know what I’m doing. Many times, the curved pieces of a pattern end up looking more like straight seams on the finished piece. That cap sleeve is a perfect example: the curve is actually the edge of the sleeve that touches the arm, while the straight side is attached to the arm hole (which looks curved to me).

And of course you can always resort to building a muslin. I do this when I’m trying a new pattern I’ve created or altered, or when the pattern is complex enough and my fabric is expensive enough!

So, if you’re resisting the urge to create your own patterns or alter one that you love, turn on your math brain, do some sketches and see how nets can work for you. Just remember, if your project doesn’t work out, your trusty seam ripper can help save the day.

What do you think about sewing math (spatial or other skills?) Do you struggle? Is it your favorite part? Never even think about it? Comment today for a chance to win Math for Grownups!