Monday, December 1, 2008
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!