Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Intersection of Sewing, Critical Thinking Skills, and Math

Hello lovely readers! Today, I thought that I'd delve into a topic that fascinates me just a bit. What do sewing, critical thinking skills, and math have in common? Lots, actually! You see, I am drawn to sewing for more reasons than simply the tangible results of my efforts. I find that I really enjoy the problem solving aspects, as well as the constant use of math.

According to The Critical Thnking Community,"critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying,analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action."

Critical thinking and sewing go hand in hand! All of the actions described in the very definition of critical thinking can be applied to the art of sewing without any true effort needed to adapt the definition to the task. From the planning stages to the final stitch, critical thinking must come into play if you wish to have a successful outcome. You must be constantly mindful of the task at hand, you must be constantly aware of measurements and other numbers that come into play, and you must be ready at any given second to find a "detour" if a problem does arise. When you sew you must be on your "A" game.

So, where does math come into play? First, foremost, and most obviously, math comes into play when you're measuring to choose the correct size or when you're sewing seams of your garment. But furthermore, math comes into play if you want to grade a pattern, when you're making fit alterations, or especially if you're "frankenpatterning" and you need all the pieces to come together. Math is everywhere in the sewing process, and you can't avoid it by simply opting for consumer math, instead of calculus.

It seems that society, particularly higher education academia, tends to separate the abstract and the physical. Many students are taught concepts and critical thinking, but are never given the opportunity to put those lessons into practice.Now, don't get me wrong, I think that concepts should be taught. I would wholeheartedly argue that higher math is critical, no pun intended, in teaching critical thinking skills. While the average algebra 2 student is most likely adamant that they will never need what they're learning , the truth is it isn't so much about retaining the proper way to complete the square as it is to learn how to think about how to complete the square. Higher math teaches critical thinking skills, and critical thinking skills help with life, as well as sewing.

The idea that different people learn in different ways, as in physical, visual, and audible, seems to be quite prevalent.I disagree, however, and I would cite sewing as an example to back up what I choose to believe. I think that it is reasonable to say that whatever is being taught inherently possesses a method that works best for it's delivery, and each person's particular learning style is secondary to that. Let me explain. In order to sew well, one must have, at a minimum, an understanding of basic math. However, one does not learn those math skills by sewing, but they can be strengthened by sewing. However, the math and sewing can be blended together in order to create a delivery method that teaches how to sew, while at the same time strengthening math skills, which in turn strengthens critical thinking skills. And with that, a beautiful cycle of learning and excelling has been created!

So, what I am saying is, the physical and the abstract must harmoniously work together when sewing. Sewing is so much more than creating a new dress, it is about using your mind, and solving problems using your creativity and your mathematical skills. Sewing is proof that you cannot put "physical" and "abstract" into to different categories. You must, instead, put them in a Venn diagram, with sewing firmly placed into the overlapping section. Sewing, math, and critical thinking are a match made in Heaven.
So, readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this! Chime on in!

P.S. Check back in a few days for part 2 of this post, if you'd like to hear about why I think sewing should be taught in schools again, and why I changed my major after 2 1/2 years in a teacher education program for high school math, and what in the world sewing has to do with it all.  ( I told you it fascinated me!)


  1. I <3 math! And I so agree with you about needing critical thinking skills. Kids today are on more of a memorize, ace the test, and then forget everything track than actually learning how to solve problems! My mom's a high school math teacher and I tutored college general chemistry students and kids are crazy...

  2. I also love the maths! I didn't really like math until I got into calculus in college though. My middle school teachers thought I was pretty helpless. The "integrated" math style of teaching did nothing for me... but once it got all separated out and taught in a logical manner, math was pretty lovely.

    I do like the math part of sewing, but I think I like the creative part more... Perhaps because it is not at all like the way I use math the rest of the time?

  3. Hi Rebecca! I really agree with you on your math concepts. I am in special education, and my kiddos for the most part can't conceptualize math theories without a hard example. Honestly, neither can I. I strangely excelled at geometry and feel that is what helps me most when I sew.

    Same thing with chemistry really, I didn't understand some of the principals until I started watching Breaking Bad. Now I wish I could take it all over again. You should have seen the science department when I made that correlation...

  4. My husband teaches High School Math.
    I (a County Extension Agent) sew, teach sewing, love sewing, taught my 2 daughters to sew - who now sew for themselves, and their families.
    We have enjoyed many dinner-table talks on the very subject about which you write.
    I, too, love the creative, and problem-solving aspects of sewing; but I believe that sewing IS a real-world, practical application of Mathematical, particularly Geometric, principles. The very premise of sewing is the challenge of taking a plane - a 2-dimensional object - and manipulating it through a series of angles (darts, pleats, godets or gathers) and/or curves (curved darts, shaped edges) to fit a 3-dimensional object: a human body. Sewing is Basic Geometry.
    Perhaps my math-nerd husband should weigh in on this.
    I shall forward this to him immediately.

    SO glad I found this blog!