Thursday, March 22, 2012

We're Gonna Need an Equation

The first thing Ethan said when he got home today was, "When can you take me to Walmart?"

"I need to buy some cloth to make a flag."

When I raised my eyebrows, he explained that it was for a Social Studies project. "When's it due?" I asked.


My eyebrows rose another half inch.

"Well, it's actually not due yet, but if I turn it in tomorrow I get an extra 10 points."

Those were the magic words. "We can go during Allyson's soccer practice."

Ethan said he'd rather go after dinner. "Don't worry," he assured me. "Some other kids said it only took about 20 minutes. You can buy some kind of sticky tape at Walmart and just iron the whole thing together."

"Good thing because you know I can't sew," I said. "But I wouldn't be too sure about the 20 minutes. Things have a way of taking a lot longer than you think."

In the Walmart fabric section, the clerk took one look at Ethan and said, "Making a flag?"

He nodded.

"What colors do you need?"

"Red, green, and white."

She informed us that they were out of kelly green, which apparently is a popular flag color all over the world. (Either that, or it's on the simplest flags; Ethan says most kids picked their countries based on the perceived difficulty of this flag project.)

Ethan pointed at a bolt of olive green fabric. "I think that will work."

She measured out 11 inches of each color. "That way you only have to measure the 14 inches," she said. "And you've got lots of extra fabric in case you make an error." (God bless that woman!)

She then led us to the iron-on tape, called Stitchery Witchery. She had clearly learned all the details of the project from the throngs of kids coming in over the last few days, which goes to show that procrastinating sometimes has its perks.

It all came up to less than $5. This was one of those days when I love Walmart.

Back home, we laid it all out on the kitchen table while Ethan looked up the Madagascar flag online. "It's three rectangles, all the same length," he read. "But they aren't the same width."

"We'll need an equation," I said with a big grin. (I'm always looking for chances to prove that you really do need math in real life.) I grabbed a tablet and drew a rectangle with three rectangles inside it. I labeled the big rectangle's sides: 14, 11. On the inside vertical rectangle, I marked an x.

"Mom, that side's 11," Ethan said.

"Oh, of course it is," I said, flushing a little. If we couldn't use algebra, at least we could use a little geometry. "Okay, if all these sides are 11, then the little rectangle must be 3 inches wide. And the other two must be 5.5 inches, right?"

I fetched the tape measure that Allyson gave Bill for his birthday last month. We marked out 3 inches on the white fabric and then stared at each other. "How are we going to cut a straight line?" I whined. "And what will we use to cut it? I don't have sewing shears."

"What about your scrapbooking stuff?" Ethan suggested.

I grinned as I trotted up the stairs. (I'm always looking for opportunities to show that my scrapbooking supplies can be used in real life.)

We used the rotary cutting tool, which served as a ruler, straight edge, and cutter all in one. But we soon learned that the fabric was crooked all around; that's how it came off the bolt.

"I don't know how we're going to make all this line up," I said. "And look at all those strings hanging off the edges. I wish I knew how to sew. What we need is a finished edge. Do you know what that means?"

Ethan nodded halfheartedly.

I tried to show him how you can sew an edge and then turn it inside out and iron it to make a sharp edge. "What if we cut the pieces longer and then fold over the edges?"

"But we've already cut the pieces. I don't want to cut them again," Ethan complained.

I sighed. "And how would we know how long to make them?"

He voiced my thoughts. "We need Bill."

"We're on our own tonight," I said. "Bill's watching hockey. Canucks hockey."

I cut out an 11 X 14 white rectangle to use as a base and then laboriously outlined the perimeter of each smaller rectangle with Stitchery Witchery tape. Next, I carefully laid each small rectangle in place and then covered the whole thing with a damp tea towel.

Ethan, Allyson, and I counted to ten in unison as I held the iron over each section. This was fun! But when I pulled the now dry towel off the flag, we groaned. Toward the right side of the flag, there was a thin line of white between the red and green rectangles.

"It looks horrible," I said.

"It's good enough," Ethan said. "With my extra 10 points, I might get an 80."

"You can't turn it in like this. It's pathetic." I sighed heavily. Time to call for reinforcements. "Bill!" I bellowed. "We need you."

He trudged downstairs and surveyed our (my) work.

"I can't do this-it's too hard-I can't cut straight-the fabric was all crooked and look at these strings," I wailed.

"Why are you getting so worked up?" Bill asked.

"Because I really tried my hardest, but look at this piece of... dog dung. It's horrible."

"Why did you put this little white piece on top?" he asked. "Why didn't you just use a big white piece and put the other rectangles on top? And why didn't you put the green on top of the red instead of trying to make two straight edges? And why didn't you cut some extra fabric and fold over the edges all around?"

I bit back my angry retort and did my best to mimic Lola's puppy dog eyes when she wants to come in out of the rain. "Could you please... I don't understand what you... Please?"

He sighed heavily. "I guess if you tuck Allyson in. And pause the hockey game."

"Thank you!" I called, already halfway up the stairs.

As soon as Allyson was settled, I started on this blog entry, listening to Bill and Ethan with half an ear. Every now and then I snickered; clearly it wasn't quite as easy as Bill had made it sound. "What the heck happened to our straight line?" Bill grumbled at one point. I looked down over the banister and exchanged a sly grin with Ethan, who was watching Bill iron.

Well, I don't know how he did it, but look how awesome the finished product looks:


And that's how both Bill and I ended up spending an hour apiece doing Ethan's homework. I can't complain, though. My sixth-grade Me-Doll comes to mind at times like these. On the night before it was due, the entire family slaved over that doll all evening while I just wrung my hands. Mom cut out the pattern and sewed it together while Amy and Dad made the clothes. As I recall, even little Emily helped. I think she drew the face. Even at age 8 she was quite the artist.

But I digress. Isn't Bill amazing? There really isn't anything that man can't do.


Gentz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victor S E Moubarak said...

Great project. I'll have to look for this iron-on tape you speak of.

God bless.

Sarah said...

Gentle - Thank you!

Victor - I bet you can find that tape at Walmart--if you have Walmart there??


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