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Parabolic Curves

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When I first learned about parabolic curves years ago, a question was asked of us: how can you draw a curved line using straight lines? I was in a classroom and will admit that none of us students figured it out.

I was amazed by the answer. Basically, parabolic curves are curves that are created using straight lines. It’s one of those things that I’ve always thought was cool and pretty too. I started creating these curves with pen and ruler and over the years graduated to more artsy creations by using yarn.

So why are parabolic curves on my mind right now, you may ask? I am teaching a coupla summer classes at one of my schools. While my director left me to decide what activity to teach, she encouraged me to keep the topic in the science realm.

And me being the crafty gal that I am, I knew I wanted an activity that would also fall within the crafts realm. Parabolic curves are all about math, vertices, graphs etc and if we used a needle and thread, we could turn all that math stuff into something crafty. I did do this once in class a few years ago so it was time to bring it back again.

With classes starting this week, I will admit that we weren’t scheduled to do this activity this week. But the original activity needed sunshine and its scheduled to rain every day this week. So I had to move this activity up by one week.

Anyway, if you are interested in doing this activity with your kids, I’ve attached a template here and tutorial below. The template is two pages: one side has the stitch points and the back side has the numbers to guide the placement of stitches from the back. I like to do this to guide children where to place the stitches. I have found that if I don’t do this, it becomes confusing as to where to place the stitches especially from the back.

Supplies: template or you can create your own, yarn or thread, needle with eye wide enough to fit your yarn/thread, pair of scissors, clear tape (not shown), paper piercing tool (optional) or you could use your needle to pre-pierce the paper.

If using my template, first cut off the long ends so that the cut line is 1/2 past the stitch dots. I prefer to use my trusty box cutter and ruler but feel free to use your own preferred cutting method.

When done you should have a square. The side with the dots is the front side and the side with the numbers is the back side.

This next step is optional but would highly recommend it for younger kids. It is basically pre-piercing each stitch dot. This helps to guide them where to place the stitches especially when they are sewing from the back. Having both the numbers and pre-pierced holes helps a lot.

This is how it will look from the the back side once pierced.

Thread the needle and make it as long as you can. The longer it is the more likely it is to get knotted or tangled. But the longer it is is is the less you have to thread the needle and you will have a cleaner back. I’m all about it looking nice on the front and back of my finished projects.

Every time you start sewing with a new thread/yarn, the first pierce is done from the backFirst off, tape the end of you thread near the first hole you will be piercing. You can start at any of the four quadrants. I always tell the kids to go in ascending. So from the back you will pierce through hole #1.

Once the needle and yarn on the front side, you will find the corresponding number on the opposing axis within the same quadrant. So in the example above, I started in the lower right quadrant. My first pierce was on the 1 on the horizontal axis with the corresponding 2nd pierce through the 1 on the vertical axis.

Basically the pattern is pretty simple: On the front the stitches go from one axis to the other keeping within the same quadrant and going from one number to the same number on the other side. So the stitches on the front will be long On the back, the stitching runs parallel on each axis and goes in ascending sequential order. So the stitches on the back will be long The photo above shows what the back should look like.

Continue with this pattern: you’ve just finished making the 1:1 stitch on the front. Your needle at this point should be in the back having just come out of the 1 hole. Right next to it is the hole for 2. Go through that hole which will bring the needle to the front. Find the hole for 2 on the other axis in the same quadrant that you have been working on. Go through the hole and continue following that pattern.

Here is the first quadrant done.

Begin on the second quadrant following the set pattern

2 quadrants done.

All four quadrants done. A beautiful example of how to create curves using straight lines. Now that the center is done, its time to work on the outer edges.

Now I created the template so that the pattern was spelled out for the student. The hope is that by the time they have finished doing the center, the student understands what the pattern is. While I did add the piercing dots, I decided not to add the numbers cos I want the student to figure out that the pattern is themselves.

Starting at one of the center pierce the corresponding dot on the other axis within the same quadrant.

My first outer quadrant done.

All done. As I mentioned above I am a big believer in making sure that the back of a project is neat and clean.

A project that includes a little math and my first love crafts. Perfect way to spend an hour or two on a lazy summer day.

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