A Common Language Usurped By a Simple Decimal

Today I went to a workshop to teach me how to properly measure, cut, mat and frame a photo. The end result of the workshop was to be a gallery quality framed photo ready to be hung in an art show coming up in May.

I participated in this workshop last year but was so confused by the process (the volunteer showing me the instructor’s method knew what she was doing, but not how to adequately teach it) that I vowed to pay close attention this year so I could both get it right for the gallery show and be able to cut mats and frame my prints at home.

Ok, so I showed up at the workshop, took possession of my mat board, went to station #1 and got to work.

The instructions said: “measure your image, not the paper it’s printed on but the actual image, and write those numbers in the center of your mat.”

Ok. Fair enough. I measured.

My image came out to be 9 11/16 by 8

So I wrote that down.

Step two said “subtract the larger number from twenty and the smaller number from 16”

(we’re using standard 16 x 20 frames)

So ok.

16 minus 8 equals 8. Perfect. That’s the easy one.

20 minus 9 11/16.



Did I ever mention that I suck at math?

Ok, I was bound and determined not to screw this up.

Might I also mention that I think that our standard measuring units…an inch divided into sixteen units, is really dumb? When I craft, I use centimeters for measuring. The 10 based system makes freaking sense!

Determined not to be outsmarted, I wrote on my mat:

19 16/16 minus 9 11/16 and then I worked that out equals: 10 5/16

Well I gotta tell you, I was feeling p-r-e-t-t-y darn good about myself right then.

Then the next step said: “Divide each number by 2”


Okay. 8 divided by 2 equals 4. Rock on!

10 5/16 divided by 2 equals…..well it equals a string of curse words that I’ll refrain from repeating.

So I paused. I hemmed. I hawed. I considered calling The Good Man who is really good at math.

I considered converting it to decimals and using my calculator. But that doesn’t help…I still needed to know how many of those stupid little 16th hashmarks on the ruler were required to cut my mat to the proper size.

This is not about expressing the math correctly, it’s about counting 16th marks on a ding dang ruler!

So…I wrote on my mat: 10 5/16 divided by 2 equals: 5 2.5/16

Yes, I know that you can’t put decimals in your fraction. I just don’t care. This works for me. I can count two and a half 16th marks on the ruler and mark ’em off and make a cut.

It was about this time my instructor came over. “Let me see what you’re doing” she said.

She looked over my shoulder and saw my mash up of decimals and fractions. Then she rolled her eyes. Then she said “oh…make it 3/16ths!”

Then she did what my dad used to do when he’d assigned me a task but was exasperated by how I completed the job. She took the tools out of my hands, re-measured my print, marked the coordinates and cut my mat.

Hey, no problem here. She is the curator of the art show and she has to approve all prints for show. I know she’s not going to have a single problem with how my mat looks….


I still say there is nothing wrong with my 2.5/16 fraction. I know exactly what it means and my mat would have been measured fine. Cutting it correctly? That’s a whole other story.

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  • Dirty Butter

    I taught math to 4-6th graders for 25 years. There’s more than one way to do most math problems, and yours made sense to you. And you’re right – your results would be correct. The “teacher” did you a disservice by not letting you do it yourself. Now you know how to measure, but not how to cut.

    I follow you on ExposeYourBlog.

    • Karen Fayeth

      Hey Dirty Butter – My teacher is actually incredible and amazing, and I have no complaints. In this instance, her goal was to help me get a mat properly cut and that looked the very best as I’m quite nervous about this gallery show.

      I know how to cut the mat, I’m just very bad at it. How I get better is to keep practicing. It’s on me to try and try again.

      My mentor did the right thing in this situation. I watched very carefully and next time I’ll feel that much more confident about making the cut (so to speak).

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Ur Bro

    I live and die by math and measurements. Not a darn thing wrong with 2.5/16. Very accurate, but you could have gone for 5/32, some rulers have 32nds. but with a ruler only good to 16ths then 2.5 of em is exactly correct.

    As Pop would say measure twice and cut once….

    • Karen Fayeth

      Big bro – Yeah, but dad was a math guy, so, you know…he could figure out these things in his head. Couldn’t spell worth a damn tho. I could take him in a head to head verbal match.

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