Quilts and Quiltmaking

From the historic to the numeric

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Explore quilts, quiltmaking, and mathematical patterns and concepts identifiable within quilt designs.

General Learning Outcomes



Patterns & Relations

Shape & Space

  • Use direct or indirect measurement; identify transformations
  • Explore 3-D objects, 2-D shapes

Statistics & Probability

  • Problem solving, visualization, mental mathematics and estimation

English Language Arts

Explore ideas, feelings and experiences

Comprehend and respond to text

Manage ideas and information

Enhance the clarity and artistry of communication

Social Studies

Being together

  • Explore basic needs
  • Communication, time, work and resources

Connecting & Belonging

  • Explore personal identity
  • Diversity, rights and responsibilities, interdependence

Communities in Canada

  • Community groups, heritage and culture
  • Past and present stories of local community

Communities of the World

  • Rights and responsibilities
  • Connections

Living in Manitoba

  • Artistic and cultural achievements
  • Stories from Manitoba's past
  • Environmental stewardship and sustainability


What is a Quilt?

Quilts are bed coverings made of padding enclosed between layers of fabric and kept in place by lines of stitching. Quilts are composed of fabric pieces "patched" or stitched together, hence the term "patchwork quilts". Designs vary from traditional to modern and abstract, and variety comes from color choices and arrangements, as well as the types of fabrics, which can be new or used.

What is Patchwork?

Patchwork is an art form that is historically American. Inspired by economic times and expensive imported fabrics, patchwork enabled the use scraps of fabric and the recycling of discarded clothing. At first block designs were named, as each was unique to the person who crafted it.


Creating a Quilt

What is quilting?

There are three main parts to a quilt: the complete quilt top, the filling, and the lining, or underside. The filling is generally polyester batting, or wool batting, if more warmth is desired. The quilt is assembled by hand-basting the layers together, starting at the center and working outwards to the sides, then from the center to the corner, and around the edges of the quilt. Quilting can be done on a frame, on a hoop, by machine, or by the block, and the edges need to be finished. They can be turned under and hemmed or bound with bias tape or fabric strips.

What is the basic design of a quilt?

Many quilts have basic units of patchwork patterns, known as blocks, which repeat to form the design. Each block is made up of pieces of fabric called patches. Piecing together patches to form blocks or strips can be done by machine or by hand. Borders can be added to complete the design.


Image of 'Crazy' Quilt by Sarah P. Hamm, 1882

"Crazy" Quilt by Sarah P. Hamm, 1882

What is a Crazy Quilt?

The "crazy" style of quilting refers to a type of patchwork that features irregular pieces of fabric appliquéd or attached to a foundation material. "Crazy" quilts have a very whimsical appeal. Characteristically, every patchwork square is unique, resulting in a random and asymmetrical design. Regular, symmetrical elements can be added in, like the border in Miss Hamm's quilt, to bring order to the irregularity of the "crazy" style.

During Colonial times, out of necessity and practicality, crazy quilting was a way to recycle old bits of clothing and bedding.

Reflect & Discuss:

What is Asymmetry?

  • The "Crazy" style of quilting is a good example of asymmetry, a state of irregularity or imbalance.

Activity: (Grades 1-6)

Using white paper (8 x 8 cm) to represent a quilting block, try making your own "crazy" quilt patterns. As you make the patterns, think about how small scraps of fabric or recycled clothing dictate the shapes you might make. The areas can be colored with marker or pencil crayon. Assemble all the blocks together to make a "crazy" quilt sampler.

What is Symmetry?

  • Symmetry is regularity or balance. Traditional quilt designs are often symmetrical. Looking at classic traditional quilting patterns, try making your own symmetrical designs out of paper.

Activity: (Grades 1-6)

Using paper (8 x 8 cm), divide it into 16 squares. Experiment with different patterns that create a symmetrical, balanced design.

What is Ratio?

  • Ratio is the quantitative relationship between two amounts, a part-to-part comparison.

Activity: (Grades 1-6)

Using traditional quilt block diagrams or pictures of quilts, explore the idea of ratio. Looking at a 16-square block, compare the amount of one color to another.

Activity: (Grades 1-6)

Make up a sample 16 square blocks out of paper, and fill in the color patterns of your choice. Identify ratios of one color to another.

To demonstrate the ratio of 3 to 1, make a16-square block on paper and fill in colors with the following numbers of blocks: 12 red 4 black; 9 red 3 yellow; 6 red 2 green; 3 green 1 blue. Other ratios can be used.

What are Fractions?

  • Fractions are numerical qualities that are not whole numbers.

Activity: (Grades 3-6)

Using a16-square block, how many squares would you color to represent:1/4; 1/8; 3/16? Try this by colouring particular fraction relationships.

Activity: (Grades 5-6)

Using a16-square paper block, color in the following relationships: ¼ yellow, 1/8 red, 1/16 blue, ½ green, 1/16 orange. To increase the challenge, try working with a 100-square block. Examine different fractions, including 1/3, 1/6, 1/12.

Activity: (Grades 5-8)

Assemble a fraction quilt, using a combination of paper blocks of different fractions. Identify the fractional relationship on the back of the block.

Exploring Pythagoras's Theorem:

Pythagoras, born in Greece around 570 BC, believed that all relations could be reduced to number relations. He is best known for the Pythagorean theorem, which demonstrates a relationship among the three sides of a right-angled triangle.

The Pythagorean Theorem:

The square described upon the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares described on the other two sides or When the two shorter sides in a right triangle are squared and added together, the sum equals the square of the longest side or hypotenuse.

  • There are many right-angle triangles in quilting. The traditional "Shoo Fly" block design is a typical 9-square block. The corner squares, which are divided into two right triangles, illustrate this theorem nicely. An application of the theorem is to find the measurement of one side of a right triangle when one knows the measurement of the other two sides, (x) and (y). Here (q) represents the hypotenuse of the triangle. The hypotenuse is the side opposite the right angle.

Activity: (Grades 7-9)

  • Test this theorem, experimenting with a 9-square block of the "Shoo Fly" design. Solve for the hypotenuse of the 8 right-angle triangles as a proof for the theorem. Does it work?
  • Brainstorm how the Pythagorean theorem might be useful in other applications.

Additional Web Resources

History of Crazy Quilts

Using Fractions to Develop Quilting Designs

Quilts and Math

Patchwork quilts

Traditional quilt block patterns

Quilting instruction and activities to engage kids

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