A Guide To Quilting Math


Before you run and hide under the bed, here is an overview of math in quilting and some suggestions for how quilt shops can help.

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A Guide To Quilting Math

Math problems in quilting organize themselves quite well into four categories: measurement, yardage, geometry, and proportion. Each of these categories has its own unique sets of problems and tools for solving them. For most of us, tool #1 is a calculator. Luckily, we have them on our phones.

A Guide To Quilting Math


Measurement questions ask about how to fit the quilt into a space - the space on the wall, the table needing a runner, or the size of the bed. A measuring tape will answer the wall space issue. A standard chart addresses bed size and a quarter inch foot addresses seam allowance. They also ask about seam allowances. We just need to remember that no two devices measure the same, so always make a quilt on the same sewing machine. A quarter-inch foot is a measuring device and a real blessing.


Yardage asks about the amount of fabric needed for a back, binding, borders, sashing, and corner blocks. Measurements and simple addition can solve some of these, but folks have created apps for your phones and tablets that will do these automagically. You can also find many charts and worksheets online that you can easily print out.


Geometry is obvious in the planning of blocks which use squares, rectangles, diamonds, circles, and triangles - so many triangles. Geometry has formulas for determining area and that can help us visualize the dimensions of these shapes.


Proportion is probably one of the toughest problems in quilting. We need algebra to enlarge or shrink the size of a quilt. The wheel shown here does the calculations for you to enlarge or shrink a dimension. I use it a lot for applique and for collage quilting.



Many quilters write online about the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci sequence. These are mathematical expressions that help with decisions about the size of borders that will enhance the appearance of a quilt. You do not need to be advanced in algebra to read about them online.


How can a quilt shop help with math? Even if they don't sell a lot of books or charts on quilting math, they can display a few near the cutting table. This is the place where most people need help. Having a proportion wheel displayed nearby is also helpful. The quilt shop can offer worksheets near the cutting table that demonstrate the information needed to make the desired calculations.


A quilt shop might also have a tablet near the cutting table that is loaded with appropriate apps that help with quilting math. The quilt shop can provide a great service by showing the customer how to use these apps to address their needs. Yes, you may have to keep the tablet under the cutting table for security reasons or chain it to the table.



A quilt shop can also offer a monthly math class free to their customers. The class can make customers more relaxed about their math problems and more willing to try to use one of the tools as a solution. Customers who become more comfortable in doing their own math are more likely to purchase enough fabric to complete the project and less likely to return to the shop to request more of a fabric that might be sold out.


As customers become more confident with math, they may also require less customer service time at the cutting table. Because the cutting table often has the longest line, this benefits the shop and the customers. A happy customer buys more fabric!


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Attaching individual pieces of fabric to a background to form a design.

Same As: Appliqué

See Also: Freezer Paper Applique, Needleturn Applique, Machine Applique, Reverse Applique, Shadow Applique
Binding is used as both a noun and a verb. As a noun it is the fabric that's used to cover the raw edges of the quilt sandwich after it's quilted. This edging fabric is referred to as the Binding (noun). As a verb it is the process of putting on this fabric, and it referred to as Binding a Quilt.
Accessories that are available for sewing machines and are especially made for quilting.
Quarter Inch Foot
Most sewing machine companies now offer a special quilting foot for their machines called a quarter inch foot which measures exactly 1/4 inch from needle point to inner edge of the foot to make sewing a perfect 1/4 inch seam easier. Some people call this a Quilting Foot.
Fabric that separates the patterns or blocks, framing them and making the quilt larger.

See Also: Strip
Seam Allowance
The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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