Quilts and Math

3, 4, 5

After being introduced to traditional quilt patterns and their historical significance, students will identify traditional quilt patterns that celebrated philanthropic activities.

Lesson Rating 
PrintThree Thirty to Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • describe historic acts of philanthropy by interpreting traditional quilt patterns.
  • graph the number of people or generations that worked on each quilt.
  • define the term symmetry and give an example.
  • identify mathematical patterns in quilt blocks by using manipulatives.
  • complete a story quilt by creating an identifiable quilt pattern of their own making.
  • Quilt Graphs (see Attachment One).
  • Story Quilt Project (see Attachment Two).
  • literature selections from Lesson Two: Story Quilt Project.
  • books about quilts with a historical and traditional perspective (as suggested in Bibliographic References).
  • Miras/Reflectas
  • pattern blocks
  • quilts (if unavailable use photographs or pictures of quilts)
  • tangrams
  • parquetry blocks
  • tessellations
  • construction paper
  • tagboard
  • glue
  • tape

Quilt Books with a Historical and Traditional Perspective

  • Cobb, Mary. The Quilt-Block History of Pioneer Days with Projects Kids Can Make. Brookfield, Connecticut: The Millbrook Press, 1995. ISBN 1-56294-485-1
    Summary: This brightly illustrated book shows how traditional American quilt-block designs tell the story of pioneer days, when designs were created to reflect daily life and special events. Simple craft projects, using paper and other easily obtained materials, are included.
  • Paul, Ann Whitford. Eight Hands Round. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991. ISBN 0-06-024689-8
    Summary: Introduces the letters of the alphabet with names of early American patchwork quilt patterns and explains the origins of the designs by describing the activity or occupation from which they are derived.
  • Paul, Ann Whitford. The Seasons Sewn: A Year in Patchwork. San Diego: Browndeer Press, 1996. ISBN 0-15-276918
    Summary: Shows how the names of patchwork quilt patterns tell us about life in our country during the nineteenth century.


  1. Anticipatory Set:Ask students if they think any of the characters in the stories we read used math to create their quilt. If they think the characters did, how did they use math? (Responses may include: counting, measuring, fractions, using shapes and patterns.) Remind students that traditions are like the threads of a piece of woven fabric. Together traditions help form strong, healthy communities.



    Day One:

  2. Pair students off and have each team complete one of the following graphs: How Many Generations Did the Story Include? (See Attachment One for both tables.) Fill in the title of the graph on the sheet. Starting at the bottom of the graph, number each block going from one to ten up the outside of the first column. Fill in the number of blocks in each column to correctly show the number of persons who worked on each quilt or the number of generations that the story included.

  3. Help students recall the meaning of (An exact matching of parts on opposite sides of a dividing line or around a central point.) Let students explore the meaning of symmetry by using pattern blocks and Miras/Reflectas. Was the bedspread in the story The Bedspread symmetrical like Maud wanted it to be? Why?


    Day Two:

  5. Select any book from the bibliography with a historical and traditional perspective. Read and make available any of the books noted in the bibliography. Allow students to look for patterns in real quilts, photographs, or pictures and name the patterns.

  6. Have students identify traditional quilt patterns that celebrated philanthropic activities. Discuss why these activities were considered important enough to be remembered in a quilt.

  7. Assist students in exploring patterns using a variety of manipulatives: pattern blocks, tangrams, parquetry blocks, and tessellations.


    Day Three:

  9. Have students independently plan a pattern using construction paper shapes for the Attachment Two). Display the completed Story Quilt Projects when finished.


Check graphs for accuracy. Check for accuracy by having students demonstrate their knowledge of symmetry using Miras/Reflectas and pattern blocks. Observe pattern explorations listening for students to identify patterns. Make sure there is an identifiable mathematical pattern displayed on the Story Quilt Project.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Identify examples of families supporting giving and sharing.