By now, you’ve probably figured out that I am a teacher. Any educator will tell you that our teacher hats never come off and we constantly view the world through an education lens. *This would be a cool project to try with my kids! This book is a perfect read-aloud! Of course I need to hoard toilet paper rolls just in case I decide to do an art project with them in eight years. *

As an educator, I am constantly thinking about myself as a learner to try to put myself in my students shoes. Sewing is a pretty intense hobby when you think about the amount of learning we do regularly. There are some pretty big connections between how sewists continue to develop their skills and how educators teach kids math and it has nothing to do with measurement, fractions or arithmetic. If you have kids in school, are an educator yourself, or are generally curious about what your brain is doing when you’re learning a new technique (spoiler alert – A LOT!), read on!

I don’t teach math and probably never will at this point (French-speaking teachers don’t teach math in my board), but I do have a general idea of the ever swinging pendulum when it comes to math pedagogy. Depending on how old you are, you probably learned the “old math” where we just memorized an algorithm to complete operation without having any real understanding of what you were doing (ex. you were terrified of long division: you just knew the steps but had no idea why you were doing any of them.)

Then came the “new math.” It was all about *strategies* and *communication. *Memorization became a bit of a bad word as many students could easily memorize without actually understanding. It was more important that students arrived at the answer in the way that made sense to them and then were able to articulate how they got there. What happened along the way is that kids began to struggle with quick recall things like addition and multiplication tables.

As a school, we are addressing this by working in a sort of combo method. Students work out and articulate strategies for learning their times tables, practice them over and over with these strategies until it becomes a question of quick recall instead of needing to work it out each time. The difference here is that if they have a brain fart (as we all do) and suddenly can’t remember 6 x 8, they don’t freeze completely and never remember the answer, but can change tack, use a strategy and quickly arrive at the answer.

We watched a video about the “math territory” students need to cover to achieve this and I was able to directly apply it to using the burrito method to out together a yoke. “Math territory” refers to the math ideas involved in a concept or operation. If a student memorizes an algorithm to solve a multiplication question and only ever does it that way? There is a lot of math thinking that they never do and their understanding stays surface level.

The first time or two I did a burrito yoke, I painstakingly poured over each sew along photo, making sure mine looked exactly like the picture because I knew that if I did one *teensy* thing wrong I would have no way of figuring out my way to a burrito yoke. This is like when a student learns a convoluted algorithm by simply memorizing a list of steps. If you miss one thing you likely don’t find out until the end and have no idea how to fix it. And it takes forever.

I found that once I started researching and trying different methods of attaching a yoke and going a little more off-script, I was better able to internalize the process. I would pin and flip to check so, so many times before sewing anything, and tried to figure out how the whole thing came together without needing to look at the instructions. Each time, I needed instructions less and it got a little bit faster. Now, I can do a burrito yoke in minutes without needing to even refresh my memory. I’m like the kid who has used every strategy in the book umpteen times to multiply 6 x 8 that I just remember that the answer is 48. I understand what it means to say 6 x 8 = 48 and can confidently tell the teacher my answer. I know that if I suddenly blurted 84 that it would make no sense and that if I forgot for any reason, I could do 6 x 7 and then add another 6.

Now that I think about the way I’ve learned to sew, this is absolutely how I have been able get faster and better at sewing. Once I stop looking at a technique as a series of steps but as a process that solves a problem, I am not only able to do it, but better and faster the next time without looking.

I’m curious to know what techniques or processes you’ve been able to internalize after trying and practicing a hundred times? What’s one technique you will never be able to forget or unlearn?

I found this so interesting! I’ve definitely found that as I advance in my sewing skills I’m able to think spatially in ways that I couldn’t envision before. For me it’s not so much a skill that comes to mind, but as I sew a specific garment I develop from following each step in sequence to understanding how that garment comes together and just being able to decide how I’m going to approach that garment without referring to the steps. (Very much like when I first follow a recipe, eventually I’m able to put together a favourite dish without ever referring to the recipe and being able to apply variations that I wouldn’t have initially attempted).

Hello Samantha, I’ve just discovered this article and found it really interesting – thank you! As a high school maths teacher (UK), I can very much relate to what you are writing and I would agree that understanding fosters thinking and therefore the ability to solve problems. In my sewing, I find that if I work to understand the methods rather than blindly following instructions, I build up a repertoire of possible solutions to a problem. I can then choose what seems best in the circumstances: pattern, fabric etc. If that isn’t a success, I can try something else. In fact that’s just what I encourage my students to do when they’re stuck on a maths problem!