Monday, December 1, 2008

Color Counts

This math challenge really got me thinking! I had lots of ideas, but couldn't settle on one until I thought about how I've always been fascinated by the Abacus. Little round beads, a graphic look, things to slide and play with -- what's not to like? I am also interested in things with a connection to China, so this seemed like the perfect solution for me.
A typical Chinese abacus has two sections -- the top is called "heaven" and the bottom is called "the earth." (Isn't that wonderful?) Each rod represents a decimal place, with the "earth" section representing a unit of one (ones, tens, hundreds, etc.), and the top row representing corresponding units of 5. You can read the specifics about how to use an abacus here.
I started drawing sketches of abacuses, and even spent time working on an image of a little girl counting on an abacus. That subject proved a bit too challenging for my drawing skills, and besides, I realized, I wanted to stay with the simple graphic look and idea. Somewhere along the way, I started wondering whether I could make a working abacus about of fiber... And here we are.

I started with felted wool beads, and strung them on bamboo skewers. The frame is made out of balsa wood, wrapped with fabric. (To get the balsa wood, I stopped into a local hobby shop -- a place geared toward big remote control airplanes and just humming with metal parts and testosterone -- and as Caroline and I left, she said, "I'll bet they'd be really surprised to find out that you're buying this for a QUILT!") My little Dremel drill came in very handy for assembly.
The black backing is, in fact, a quilt sandwich quilted with sort of wonky vertical lines. I wrapped the fabric covering the four outer frame pieces around to the back and finished them sort of like a quilt facing. The whole thing is very lightweight and very fun to play with! This picture shows the number 1957.

The horizontal rows of beads on top and bottom are decorative only, although the beads do slide back and forth.
As I made this, I kept wondering if this was sufficiently quilty to suit this challenge.... was it too "assembled" as opposed to sewn? But I decided that it involved a lot of sewing, in fact, and not only represented mathematics in terms of the abacus itself, but making the thing involved a lot of calculation to make it all fit together.
I really had a lot of fun with this. Thanks for this great theme, Nikki!


Nikki said...


I think it definetly fits as a quilt. Wood is made of cellulose, the same as cotton or bamboo, so it would count as fiber batting.

The beads and interactive nature, along with the bright colors, are so fun. Now you will have to teach us how to count with it.

Unknown said...

Fabulously bright and tactile! Funny - thought about an abacus at the begining but steered away because Brenda said she had the same thought. But no way I would have made it as good as this!

Deborah Boschert said...

Wow. I just love it. So intricate and interesting. I bet Caroline enjoyed helping too. This certainly falls into the "math" theme. Those side pictures really do a great job of showing the dimension. Excellent!

Kristin L said...

It's so bright and cheerful -- it would make counting fun! I too, considered an abacus because of it's graphic look, but would never have gone 3-D. Yours is wonderful!

Karen said...

Diane, this is so cute and I love the background black with the colors on it. What a great interpretation of the theme

Terry Grant said...

What a fun quilt! And a brilliant interpretation of the theme. Funny I didn't even think of the abacus, though I gave a really neat abacus as a gift to my husband when we were dating. He was a math teacher at the time and loved it.

The background fabric makes me think of hash marks, which is sort of the same concept that the abacus uses.

Terri Stegmiller said...

Oh my gosh!!!! I want to play with this. I just love it. All the color and the three dimensionality. Brilliant!

Gerrie said...

I love, love those felt beads. I have lots of roving and I just want to go and make some beads and string a necklace! Argh! Something to do in January, I guess.

This is one of the genius interpretations of the theme that puts me n ase of being part of this group!!

Gerrie said...

That was meant to say puts me in awe!! Dar!

kirsty said...

I dunno, Gerrie - "ase" was pretty funny :D

And, Diane, can I just say HOLY PYTHAGORAS that is amazing!! And very cool indeed.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that 1957 is not a randomly generated number but has special personal significance :-)

This is such a bright and playful piece with added tactile allure. In my passing research on abacus, I didn't get as far as heaven and earth so your quilt is educational too!

Françoise said...

This is great! I want to see it in real.
So playful, and your colours are gorgeous.

Corryna said...

You did a great job: so creative. It looks wonderful, with all these colours etc.. One would like to play with it right away.

Helen from Hobart said...


I love it