I’m making an extremely dorky wrap dress. I took apart a worn out wrap dress to use as a pattern, but the old dress was never quite perfect, and I’m making the new dress in a different fabric, so I’m making a lot of modifications. Mostly I modify things in the direction of increased dorkiness.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about some traditionally feminine activities that feel like math to me. Sewing clothes, knitting, crochet, braiding and otherwise “doing hair,” making jewelry, and dance all come to mind. I’m not saying that I use math to do these things, but that, like building with legos or playing with toy trains, these activities are satisfying in a way that reminds me of how math is satisfying. They all involve visualizing what something should look like and figuring out what small steps to take to create the object I’ve imagined. Figuring out how two opposing curves will fit together to make a princess seam shaped like my body tickles my mind in the same way that visualizing 3-manifolds embedded in 4-space does.
I’m glad that when I was a girl, I got to spend time braiding hair, sewing doll clothes, building with blocks and k’nex and dowels and hot glue, digging channels for runoff from water fountains, choreographing dances, building electrical circuits, and talking about my feelings. All of that was valuable and all of it contributes to the mathematician I am today.
Some awesome thoughts on some stuff I’ve also been doing recently.
Doing my sewing and embroidery in more public spaces while working on wedding stuff has been an interesting experience, especially as people walk by and make comments or ask questions about it. With my sewing and similar crafts, I’m used to just doing it and not really thinking consciously about about my process, but when I struggle to explain how I did something to someone else, I have to realize that there’s a pretty complex process of visualization and decision-making, and the recognition and creation of patterns and rules, that goes into everything I make. In the patterns I’m using on our ketubah, for example, there are so many small rules that I have about things like how the pattern repeats work, the density of stitches, and the size of the design, but I usually just look at the fabric and think “What do I need to do to make this look right?” and it just comes out.
It’s been a fun topic to talk about with N, because he’s more of a math and computer science person, and while he has a really hard time grasping how I go through these processes, he can understand some of what’s going on in my head. Acknowledging those processes, and that that kind of visualization-to-reality process is something that can actually be very difficult for people to do, also helps me to value more what I’m doing and the work I’m putting into it.
I dig untidyfurrows’s point about valuing the work she’s doing and the skill involved, and I wonder why that’s something that we have to realize instead of it being obvious. I’ve been assuming the reason is the patriarchy.
Textiles are a big part of my developing femme-ish identity. I’m not that into fashion and personal grooming and my own appearance, so I don’t always think about how I’m expressing gender in how I look. But braiding little kids’ hair or talking to someone about their crochet project gives me a gender-related kind of joy. I used to be really into archeology and tried a few times to learn flint-knapping, the skill of making stone tools. It didn’t occur to me until much later to try to learn how to make rope from scratch, but it’s just as amazing a skill and was probably just as influential in human history. Knitted socks and set-in sleeves are technologies to be thankful for.