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1995, two-sided quilt 110″ x 107″
Materials: cottons, silks, rayons.
Technique: paper piecing, hand applique, hand quilting.
In a letter to a friend, mathematician . F. Gauss spoke of mathematics as having “enriched” his life with “many joys”. This might sound a bit exaggerated to those whose experiences with math education have been less than pleasant. I have learned otherwise, and found my own joy connected with this sometimes unpopular subject.
It was because of mathematics that in 1991 my husband and I found ourselves living on the grounds of a nineteenth castle, the Mittag Leffler Insitute, in Djursholm, Sweden. Mathematics were everywhere around the Institute, but there were very few spouses in evidence, and almost no other quilters. I spent many hours quilting beside a window in our home that overlook the Institute’s park. As I quilted daily I noticed that a particular visitor often strolled in the park. His absorbed expression made me realize that he was, in fact, walking in his own ” mathematician’s garden”.
At about the same time, I happened to see some beautiful three-dimensional computer generated color pictures in Mathematica , a book by Stephen Wolfram. I realized that these images might be glimpses into the “mathematician’s garden” within which this visitor, and many other mathematicians, walk everyday. At that point, I conceived of making my quilt IN A MATHEMATICIAN’S GARDEN.
The first challenge was to accumulate the hundreds of fabrics needed to match the colors created so easily by the computer. Even more important was gathering many different types of materials, such as silks and rayons that would enhance the quilt with extra lightand reflection – something even the computer couldn’t do!When I later arrived in Florence, to enlarge my collection of solids without spending a fortune on silks, I visited a tiny fabric shop that specialized in inexpensive lining materials. The bewilderment of the employees was great as they were asked to pull down practically every bolt of fabrics they had, just to cut a tiny strip only 4″ wide.
As a quilter, you surely can’t be in Florence, perhaps passing by the “Palazzo delle Arti delle Lane” – the site of the city’s ancient textile corporation and a fine reminder of the grandeur and sophistication reached by this Renaissance city in the trade of silks and wools – and not notice that a few dazzling and luxurious fabrics shops are still around. I finally succumbed and purchased not only several yards of special silks that I used for the border of my quilt, but also two pieces of transparent hue-changing silk that I loosely applied on one side of my quilt. In the quilt I interconnected these two pieces or “surfaces” with the other three mathematical defined ones. I view these five surfaces as a representation of how chaos arises from order , and conversely, in mathematics.
All these colorful, multi-shaped objects seem to float in a sea of black emptiness, but a closer inspection reveals a quilted spiral design mathematically defined as a non-periodic, monohedral tiling of the plane.
On the other side of the quilt, inside the tiled border, there are three central surfaces whose shapes might seem almost casual. They are visualizations, in three special case, of a mathematical equation best known as Fermat’s Last Theorem, a problem that remaned unsolved for over 300 years. In 1637 Fermat hastily wrote in his copy of “Arithmetica of Diophantus” that he had proved that there are no three numbers such that the first one multiplied by itself “n” times, plus the second one multiplied by itself “n” times is equal to the third one multiplied by itself “n” times (“n” being any number greater than two). Unfortunately, there wasn’t any space for Fermat to write out his proof, so it was left to be figured out by future mathematicians. In 1995, after seven years of strenuous research, Andrew Wiles, a Princeton University professor, wrote a 200 page paper that as a side endeavor solved this centuries-old mystery. Even the general media celebrated this mathematical achievement.
My quilt became a commemorative one, though I had no inkling of the stunning discovery when I started it. It was finished in the same year and same place that Fermat’s Last Theorem was proved! Around the border of the largest of the three surfaces I embroidered the names of Fermat and Wiles , with the years of discovery and the solution of the theorem.
The quilt is part of the permanent collection of art of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.