One of the ways that I self-care is to design mathematical cross stitch patterns. The circumstances we are currently in require that we stay at home and social distance. It is a stressful and uncertain time all around the world. I have an anxiety disorder and depression and staying indoors it is easy to ruminate and have panic attacks. Yet, when I am cross stitching that disappears. It requires so much concentration to follow a pattern and count stitches. It doesn’t leave me a lot of time to worry. The other way that I am practicing self-care is staying in touch with friends over video chat. We have been keeping up our regular game nights.
Introduction to Science Communication for Mathematics
Update: I wanted to add a disclaimer. This is how I’ve educated in the past and I know that isn’t helpful right now. I still think these bookmarks are relevant for two reasons.
1. You can use them to talk about maths with your family or people you video chat with.
2. Of course you can use them as personal items.
Just want to be clear that I support social distancing.
So, why mathematical cross stitch? It is a creative expression of my love of maths! It is also how I practice mathematical advocacy. I believe the best approach is to appeal to human curiosity. It is something we are all born with innately. By carrying around items that relate to mathematics, I am leaving an opening for people to question me. If you see a strange symbol, let’s say the notation for dek and el, you might wonder what they represent when they are shown in context.
That sort of inquiry is internally motivated and I think that is important when we have conversations about maths. I think the ultimate goal is to make mathematics personally meaningful to them. Even if it is through liking you as a person. I don’t think lecturing helps laypeople and specifically those with math anxiety. It can come across as a public shaming if you show disinterest. Instead, I’d like to offer up compassion and a safe space for people to explore.
I don’t know if my approach is right. And it isn’t based in science or the best research. It is the way that I approach advocacy work and this approach has worked for me. Heck, I have a winning streak going on. The last two times that I’ve talked to strangers about maths they have thanked me for the conversation. I think that I’m getting better at reaching people.
Bookmarks are great items for advocacy work because they are so portable. They are useful everyday item that you keep around the house. You also take them when you go on vacation or travel on public transit. You can leave your bookmark out in the open while you read and wait for people to start a conversation.
Expressing the Creativity of Mathematics
What makes making these bookmarks meaningful to me is that they express the creativity of mathematics. These patterns show maths in a visually appealing way. It takes it from an abstract concept to something you can hold in your hands. I think it reveals the beauty of mathematics.
Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics. — G.H. Hardy
I think that is the hardest thing for a layperson to see, the beauty of it all. Yet, if you are a pure mathematics person like me then you can hardly see why somebody wouldn’t. And that is the divide we have to cross in science communication. Two versions of the same thing. One that causes pain and one that causes pleasure.
Ultimately, I would say that mathematics is the thing that inspires me the most. That is why I say that I am a writer with a mathematical muse. I think the writing here on my blog is the best that I’ve done in my lifetime. I am very proud of and stand behind my work here. I hope you will consider subscribing.
Cross Stitch Tutorial
I am going to assume that you are new to cross stitch. Looking at these patterns could be daunting. Do not fret! I will walk you through this with some tutorials that I’ve found online.
First, you should be aware that there are two types of cross stitch.
1. Stamped Cross Stitch – This is when the design is literally stamped onto the fabric. This requires no counting. It is the easiest for beginners.
2. Counted Cross Stitch – The pattern is not stamped on the fabric. You must use a chart and count the stitches yourself. You start with a blank canvas, find the middle of the fabric, then start stitching with the middle stitches on the chart.
All the patterns below are counted cross stitch. On the diagram, there is an arrow on the top that signifies the middle column. There is an arrow on the side that marks the middle row. Find where that row and column intersect. That is the middle of the chart and those should be your first stitches in the middle of your fabric.
You can easily find the middle of your fabric by folding it in half. Then fold it in half again. Where the folds meet is where the middle of your fabric is.
All these patterns are meant to be 8.5 x 2.5 inches long except where noted. This is one of the standard sizes for bookmarks. I know that is pretty long but you kind of need all that space to do a nice design where it is easy to see all the details. You will want to get yourself some 14 count aida in black or white and cut it to size. There is only one design below that requires black aida and that is the Enigma bookmark. All others are shown on white aida.
There are two special stitches that you will need to know.
The french knot.
That’s it for stitching!
You’ll also want to know how to finish your project.
Optionally, you can make a tassel for your bookmark.
Here is a tutorial on making your project into a bookmark with some felt backing.
You’re done! On to the patterns.
15 Mathematical Cross Stitch Patterns
1. 100 Digits of e
You may have seen these types of patterns before. It is as simple data visualization where you assign a color to each digit from 0-9. Then you make a print out e replacing each digit with its color. The point of doing a visualization like this is to show you that there is no discernible pattern. It also looks like modern art 🙂 I’ve made the digits squares so that it looks a lot like a cross stitch sampler. Just to let you know, this project will take more time than a bookmark. In the end, it fits into a 11×14 frame.
2. 100 Digits of pi(π)
I couldn’t leave out one of most popular constants and transcendental number pi(π). It is the same data visualization technique as the 100 digits of e. These are meant to be companion pieces that you can hang up next to each other in your home. This pattern when completed will also fit into a 11×14 frame.
3. Enigma (Alan Turing)
This is my first pattern that I designed to celebrate the life of Alan Turing. I don’t want to go into all the details. He is one of my favorite mathematicians and I wanted to honor his work. This should be stitched on 14 count black aida.
4. Porgy (Alan Turing)
This is the second pattern that I made honoring Alan Turing. While I was in London, I went to Bletchley Park. There I saw Alan Turing’s teddy bear, Porgy. He had the bear as an adult and would use Porgy to practice his lectures! It really made me feel connected to Turing.
I also wanted to make Porgy by himself. This is the perfect size to frame using a 3 inch embroidery hoop. You can also turn it into a magnet.
6. Amicable Numbers – 220
This is a bookmark to share with a loved one. It is a companion to the 284 bookmark. These are the smallest pair of amicable numbers. This means that all the factors of 220 add up to 284. All the factors of 284 add up to 220.
7. Amicable Numbers – 284
This is a bookmark to share with a loved one. It is a companion to the 220 bookmark. These are the smallest pair of amicable numbers. This means that all the factors of 220 add up to 284. All the factors of 284 add up to 220.
8. Dozenal or Base 12
This bookmark features Dozenal! Also called Duodecimal and Base 12. My favorite video of all time of Numberphile is the one posted on 12-12-12 that features this system. It made me a fan for life and I was happy to make this bookmark.
My favorite constant is e. This has to do with the fact that the derivative of e^x is e^x. It is a function that knows itself! I am all about self-knowledge. I made this bookmark to celebrate my love of e.
I really felt that I couldn’t do digits of e bookmark without also doing one for pi(π). I released this pattern on pi(π) day of 2020. I’m republishing it for this list.
11. Curiouser and Curiouser
Hopefully, you recognize this quote. It is one of my favorites in all of literature and comes from Alice in Wonderland. It was written by Lewis Carroll which was the pen name of a mathematician at Oxford called Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.
12. 999 Happy Haunts
My favorite ride at Disneyland is the Haunted Mansion. This is the bookmark that celebrates that love of numbers and the love of that ride.
13. Math Goddess
This is something my math professor said to me that helped me feel more confidant. She said to think of myself as a math goddess. So, I made this bookmark to remind myself.
14. My Brain is Open
That same math professor, her favorite mathematician is Paul Erdős. I made this bookmark for her using an Erdős quote.
15. Zork (Bonus)
I am sure if you like maths then you probably also like computer science. I thought that I would include this old school Zork quote for those who remember the game. This is also one of my favorite quotes.
I have found cross stitch to be one of my most engrossing hobbies. When I stitch time seems to stand still. It requires focus, concentration, and attention to detail. I love that I’m able to express my love of mathematics so creatively by designing new patterns. I hope you have downloaded some of them today.
This post is part of a series on most viewed articles on Beauty of Mathematics.