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Patchwork Quilts

Created By: Marilyn Cimino, Dr.Howard Elementary School (Champaign, IL)
Grade Level: 4th
Content Area: Mathematics


To explore and apply ideas of pattern, symmetry, rotation, and reflection in the context of quilts.

Math Masters, p. 207

Throughout American history, women have worked together to make patchwork quilts. Because cloth was expensive and scarce, quilts were often made out of pieces of worn-out clothing or leftovers from another project. The quilters began by sewing together pieces of different colors, shapes, and textures to create a square pattern. Then they made more "patchwork" squares with the same pattern. When they had enough squares, they sewed them together to form the top of the quilt. Next they added a layer of wool fleece or cotton, called batting, and a cloth backing. They made a "sandwich" of the three layers - the backing on the bottom, the batting in the middle, and the patchwork on the top. They stretched the "sandwich" on a wooden frame and sewed the three layers together with tiny stitches.

The quilt was put together at a party, called a quilting bee. While cutting and sewing, the women would tell stories and share what went on in their lives. When the quilt was finished, the men joined the women for supper and dancing.

Many patchwork patterns have become traditions. Their names and designs have come from everyday lives of the people who created them. For example, the "Buggy Wheel" pattern was probably inspired by a trip in a buggy. Along with walking and riding horses, buggies were a popular form of transportation in early America.

Although early quilters may not have studied geometry in school, we can see geometry in many of their designs. Patchwork quilting involves the cutting of fabric into various geometric shapes and sewing them together into patterns. The pattern may be repeated over and over to form a quilt, or it may be rotated or reflected as the patches are assembled. Many patchwork patterns, such as the "Buggy Wheel" and "Does and Darts" patterns, are symmetric. Others, such as the "Crazy Quilt," seem to have been created at random.

The beauty of a quilt lies in its uniqueness. No two patches need ever be the same because there are many possible arrangement of fabrics and colors.

Materials Needed:

Project Information:

Students apply their knowledge of symmetry and rotations to making a paper quilt. Plan to spend about four days on this project.

During the first two days, students learn about traditional quilting patterns, examine the symmetry in such patterns, and practice creating patterns of their own. During the last two days, they work in groups of three to design a quilting pattern, and each group makes nine colorful copies, or "patches," of its pattern. The class assembles all the patches into a quilt. Then each group describes its work to the class. In addition to your observations of the students at work, the group reports will help you assess students' understanding of line symmetry, rotations, and reflections.

Students will need yarn to assemble their quilts. If you wish, collect colored paper or wrapping paper to be cut up for "patches." If you can laminate the patches, the quilt will last longer and look more finished.

After the students have read the article about quilts from Math Masters, p. 207, ask them to discuss it. Tell students that during this project, they will learn more about quilting patterns, and they will use this knowledge to make their own paper quilts.

Crazy Quilt Crazy Quilt Crazy Quilt