DIY Pattern Machines


One of the favorite activities at Math On-A-Stick is the table full of Pattern Machines. 


We used to sell them here at the Talking Math with Your Kids Store. As you’re about to learn, however, making them is a bit time consuming. We are working on getting a version made for commercial sale.

Know someone? Get in touch!

We’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime here’s how your can do it yourself.

What you’ll need:

  • A Multiplication Machine from Lakeshore Learning (This is an Amazon Associate that will kick back a tiny percentage to Talking Math with Your Kids.)
  • A vinyl cutter, such as Graphtec makes, attached to a computer running Adobe Illustrator (With a little networking, you’ll surely find someone who can give you access to these things pretty easily—check your local library, and ask around at any school districts you may be connected to.)
  • Some vinyl to cut, such as ORACAL 651. We use lime-tree green for the top and silver-gray metallic for the base layer, but you can select your own colors.
  • A craft or utility knife
  • A steady hand and a bit of patience
  • These template files for the cutting (Illustrator): File one, and File two.

What to do

Prep work: Cut the vinyl, or find someone who can do it for you.

Step 0: Start with the sheet of green stickers. Fold over a small triangle at a corner of the sheet, crease it, and unfold to loosen the sticker layer from the backing.

Step 1: Grab the folded-over corner. Pull slowly but firmly up and across the sheet of stickers, leaving the stickers attached to the backing. (You may need to poke at a few with your sharp tool to keep them in place, but most should give you no trouble.)

Step 2: Repeat steps 0 and 1 for the silver stickers.

Step 3: Notice that the green rectangles are quite nearly square, and the silver ones are longer than they are wide. 

Step 4: Peel a green rectangle and put it on top of a silver rectangle, lining up three of the four edges like this (only you should REALLY line them up…precision isn’t essential, but being careful will get you a better result)


Steps 5—84: Repeat step 4 eighty more times.

Step 85: Pop up one complete row of buttons on the machine.

Step 86: Now peel one composite silver/green sticker and position it carefully so that the green part of the sticker is on top of a button, and silver part folds neatly down over the front of the button, covering the number. 


Steps 87—166: Do this 80 more times. Pro tip: Do one whole row, then push the row down and pop the next row up. Working from bottom to top is your best option.

You now have a fully functioning Pattern Machine; the remaining step is purely decorative.

Step 167: On the green sticker sheet, there are two rounded rectangles. Peel one of these up and place over the words inside the rounded rectangle on the machine, where it says “Multiplication Machine”. The second green rounded rectangle is a spare.


If you make any Pattern Machines, please share photos of the fun that follows. Tweet me at @Trianglemancsd

Follow Talking Math With Your Kids on