Sunday, May 27, 2007

Foreign Units of Measurement

I remember in High School we had a short "metric system" unit in a science class. I don't remember a thing about it, except the teacher warning us that someday the US would go to the metric system and we would need to understand it.

I know what a liter is, but that's because they started bottling soft drinks in liters rather than quarts. And, I know how big 3 mm is, because that's the thickness of most of the sheet glass I buy (unless I buy double-thick glass, which is, of course 6mm).

At any rate, I have no idea how to convert gallons to liters, or centimeters to inches, or Fahrenheit to Celsius. It's all foreign to me. In the same way, figuring out how much fabric I need for a quilt is just as foreign.

I was always good at math, but I didn't really like it very much. Knowing that there was a correct answer waiting at the end of a problem, and that the goal was to figure out how to get to that correct answer, was boring. I enjoyed the fuzziness of the humanities much more--the uncertainty of the ending, the possibility that more than one answer could be correct, the weighing of each possibility--those routes seemed much more interesting.

Which I guess is why I approach math in quilting in a similar way. Rather than crunching numbers to see how much of each type of fabric I'll likely need, I start with the possibilities; what if I piece this green with this purple? Oooh, how about adding these lovely floral squares? The problem, of course, is that I start throwing fabrics together and creating blocks, and quickly realize that I don't have enough of one fabric to finish.

When I head back to Jo Ann Fabrics for just "a little more" fabric to finish the project, I discover that those 4 flat quarters I bought just because I liked them really were the last ones in the store (maybe I could avoid this problem by shopping at a real quilting store, but I'm still boycotting all of them in the Austin area because they can't get their acts together enough to offer beginning quilting classes. I'm pretty sure that the first one who offers a decent beginning quilting class will have gained a customer for life).

At any rate, I swear at that point that I will never start another project until I know I have enough fabric to complete it. I head home and promptly start another project using those 4 flat quarters I bought just because I loved them.

I guess I'm an eternal optimist. After all, 25 years after that High School class, we still haven't converted to the metric system.

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