Gillian Cooper weighs up the imperial versus metric debate.
Child Three weighed a massive 3.7kg at birth (massive as she was four weeks early). If this means nothing to you, youre not alone. I suspect most of our readers would relate better to the weight 8lb 3oz, along with virtually every midwife I have ever met. There is an ongoing debate in this country about converting to metric, with many people clinging to their pounds and inches, resisting the push from Europe to work in kilograms and centimetres.
Apparently, it is different for our younger readers, having only been taught metric at school. However, as someone born three months before metrification and therefore who has never used shillings or guineas, I seem to belong to the terminally confused generation (Competition of the month: when exactly was I born? Im obviously not a lady as Ive just given my age away!). We are caught between two systems. I use both ounces and grams, but dont totally understand either system. So part of me (this maybe heresy to some readers), wishes we could just do as Ireland has done and go the full hog for metric and stop messing around in two systems.
After all, kilometres have a lot going for them. Walking six kilometres somehow sounds further than four miles. Imagine going down the motorway legally at 110km an hour. It sounds better than the old 70 miles an hour. Alright, you have further to go: the distance to my in laws is now 383km rather than 238 miles. Some people may prefer their in-laws appearing further away. However, when you are driving, you eat up the kilometres faster, giving the impression that you are actually getting somewhere. In addition, I have never been able to work out how many yards there are in a mile. So a sign saying 800 yards to road works, has no real meaning for me in miles, but 800 metres does.
It is the same for weights. Yes, 8lbs 3oz is something I can grasp for the birth weight of Child Three, but when it comes to measuring how much weight she lost in the fi rst couple of days, grams made more sense, as it is the percentage lost that counts. Any weight loss over 10% is considered worrying. Child Three lost 6oz. Even as a former maths prize winner at school, I cannot work out what percentage this is of 8lbs 3oz. Saying she lost 175 grams makes the calculation a lot easier (5%).
This is all very well but what does it have to do with patchwork? Do you realise that here at Popular Patchwork we give our measurements in inches, yet our fabric quantities are calculated in metres? We have to do this as until a recent court ruling, it was illegal to sell items in imperial quantities, either ounces or yards. Have you noticed that we have started to give fabric quantities in yards too recently? This is because your favourite magazine is now on sale in the United States, which has held on resolutely to imperial measurements. This has taxed my little brain beyond belief: how to convert metres of fabric into eighths of yards - arrgh!
The current status quo suited me: buying in metres was something I understood, yet bizarrely making patchwork in inches makes sense. Inches are nice chunky measurements you can get a grasp of. I also think they are easier to read than centimetres for small measurements. When I started doing patchwork and bought my fi rst ruler, I plumped for an inch one as it was clearer. Any one I have seen in centimetres just seems to be such a mass of lines, I doubt Id be able to see the fabric through it. So I have never questioned the logic of this.
However, a few months ago, Davina, our delightful editor, called me to see if I knew anything about the enforced use of metric which was due to happen in on 1 January 2010. Did I know anything about it? The simple answer was no, but from a quick scoot around the internet it became clear that Davina and I could be sent to jail after this date, just for editing Popular Patchwork. My devotion to you, dear readers, is great, but not that great. From that date all published measurements had to be in metric. This was aimed at shops, but it seemed that it would also apply to us. This put us in a quandary as the majority of our projects are in inches only, and I dislike publishing the metric ones. Not because I am a Luddite, but because there appears to be little cohesion in metric patchwork. Just what seam allowance should you use? I have seen 5mm, 6mm and 7.5mm all used. 5mm, which is half a centimetre seems the easiest for doing the maths, but it translates as between an 1/8th and 1/4 inch, which I think may not be sufficient for some items. It also annoys me that when books give metric measurements, they havent thought them through: they have just been taken from the imperial and translated into metric, so you end up with idiotic amounts that dont add up due to rounding. For example, each block is meant to be 10cm, but four blocks add up to 39cm. Where are you meant to lose that extra centimetre you have? If we are going metric, it has to be done properly.
This is a subject on which we would love your views: do you ever use the metric measurements in the projects? Are you European and dont understand what the problem is with using metric or are you American and dont even know how many millimetres are in a centimetre? Which seam allowance is best? Can you be accurate to a mm (i.e. using a 6mm seam allowance as opposed to 5mm? I couldnt be, but Davina is more accurate than me. Personally I can be accurate to an eighth of an inch (which is 3mm), but no more than that? Dont worry, we think that due to the ruling by the European Unions Industry Commissioner in May last year, we can keep using inches legally, but we would like to get a feel for what our readers think on this debate. After all, a sample of two (Editor and me) is not very representative and Popular Patchwork is about our whole community, not just us!
Join in the debate in the forum now! Tell us which system you prefer.
Want the latest issue of British Patchwork & Quilting? Use our magazine locator links to find your nearest stockist!
Got a patchwork or quilting problem? Looking for a phone number or email address to ask someone for help? Click here to find the right person