The Mathematics of Design


I have never been good at math, and that is putting it mildly. I actively sought out paths that would take me as far from math as possible. It worked, for a while, but now boom. Here it is. Math. In purse-making. Or more specifically, in pattern-making.

For instance, geometry. (I think it’s geometry…that’s how bad my math is…I don’t even know what form of math the math is called.)

A few nights ago before bed, I read “The Library of Babel” again (by Jorge Luis Borges) and then dreamt of hexagons. I woke up the next morning with a determination to make a hexagonal handbag.

I quickly realized a hexagonal handbag would look quite stupid, so I settled for a hexagon-inspired handbag. Either way, the pattern would need to start with a hexagon, and I couldn’t for the life of me draw a regular hexagon.

Then junior high geometry rose up from the purlieus of my memory and went “Boo.” Internal angles…120 degrees.. total 720 degrees…something about diametrically opposite vertices…and I would have to buy a compass. My father used to have a set, yes a set of stainless steel compasses that came in a solid wood and velvet box. I had thought to myself, wow, dorkus maximus, but now the idea of owning a set of stainless steel compasses that come in a solid wood and velvet box quite tickles me.

Calculating proportions, circumferences, diameters, all these I have had to do to make the purse patterns; allocations and costing sheets, figuring out yardage of fabric required for the patterns, and even foolishly converting inches to centimeters before finding an online calculator that does it for you. Math is far more pervasive in the arts than I’m comfortable with. On one side of my work table, there’s the sewing machine and mounds of fabric. On the other side, there’s a ruler, protractor, calculator, graph paper, and now I need to add a compass to that collection of stuff I thought I would never use again after I left high school.

I don’t know how other designers do it. Pattern-making is a royal [EXPLETIVES REDACTED]. But it’s the only way to keep costs down, to do it myself. I’ve already established that I can’t realistically sew and make the purses myself and sell them. My sewing skills are somewhere at the level of my math skills. See earlier blog posts and photos for proof of that. So I really, really want to at the very least be able to provide the patterns, and not hire a pattern-maker. That means I’ve gotta sharpen up those math skills. Let the good times roll.

About tarynzhang

Visit us at
This entry was posted in Design Conception, Learning Curve, Musings. Bookmark the permalink.