Tessellation Quilt Patterns
Sometimes known as tiling or a mosaic, a tessellation is a type of pattern. Specifically, according to the Miriam-Webster online dictionary, a tessellation is a covering of an infinite geometric plane without gaps or overlaps by congruent plane figures of one type or a few. Take a look around and you are sure to see a tessellation at some point. They are found everywhere, from nature to man-made objects. There are professionals who study them, and more intricate tessellating designs can provide endless fascination to those who appreciate them.
Think back to your basic school math classes and you'll find it was filled with tessellations, like triangles or hexagons arranged together. Even the common recess game, four square, uses four squares in a simple tessellated pattern.
Artists have used tessellations for thousands of years. Old roman mosaics and the tilework at Suleiman's Topkapi palace in Istanbul are perfect examples. Historic stained glass windows in churches are filled with tessellated designs. More recently, the artist M.C. Escher (1898 - 1972), was best known for his tessellation artwork.
Today, with the use of computers, tessellations are becoming more and more intricate and the design possibilities are endless.
Examples of common tessellated patterns:
- Brick walls
- Turtle shells
- Snake skins
- Soccer ball patterns
And these are just a few!
Tessellations in Quilts
Quilters use tessellations all the time in their designs, many without even knowing or thinking about it. The geometric quilt that your grandmother made over 100 years ago is probably a tessellated design. In fact, most basic quilt patterns like the "nine-patch" or the "lone star" are considered tessellations. If you are a quilter, take a look at your work and I bet you will find that most of your pieces fit in this category.
Today, there are quilters who specialize in detailed and difficult tessellations. Some of these quilt designers go on to win major awards in quilt shows and their quilt patterns are sold around the world.
- Jinny Beyer - Known for her award winning designs, Jinny Beyer uses tessellations for breathtaking results. Her use of color is unique and has made her world renowned.
- Ruth B. McDowell - Known more for her art quilts, Ruth B. McDowell is also an avid studier of symmetry in quilts and the use of tessellations.
Since most geometric quilt patterns are considered tessellations, it is really not that hard to design a tessellated quilt pattern. However, if you have a more intricate design and really want your tessellation to stand out, then it's all about the color, fabric placement and the tessellated pattern itself. The following four quilts are all examples of tessellation quilt patterns.
The Snail's Trail Quilt
What is a quilt block?
A quilt block is a one unit of fabric pieces sewn together. A number of quilt blocks sewn together make up a quilt top.
The Snail's Trail, or Virginia Reel, is an old tessellation quilt pattern which is always fun to make. Using good color and fabric placement ensures that the quilt will have a striking design. Each block in this quilt is made up of 20 pieces of fabric. Four blocks put together make up one section. In the pencil sketch at the right there are 3 different drawings.
- Figure A - is a drawing of the block without any color added
- Figure B - is a drawing with gray shading added
- Figure C - is a drawing of 4 blocks with shading put together to begin a tessellation
The colorful quilt above is my more modern version of the Snail's Trail quilt pattern. Note how the black really sets off the vibrant jewels tones, allowing the tessellation design to really pop.
Pinwheels and Daisies
My own design, this quilt demonstrates a more subtle tessellation with the colored fabrics forming the pinwheels and the white fabric forming the daisies. I really wanted to show off the 1930s reproductions fabrics that I had without overpowering them. In both this quilt, and the Snail's Trail quilt, solid fabric was used to counterbalance the patterned fabrics.
Indonesian Arrow Fish
This is a tessellated design made entirely of patterned fabric. To achieve the tessellation, contrasting colors were carefully placed in the quilt. This quilt is made up entirely of 2" squares. In the pencil sketch there are 2 figures which demonstrate the addition of color to this design.
- Figure A - is a grid of squares that will make up the design
- Figure B - shows what the addition of colored fabric does to the design
Note how important it is to have contrasting fabrics next to each other. The arrow fish design would be lost if only one color or hue were used.
Tessellated Butterflies (In progress)
In my latest tessellation quilt, I have attempted a more complex design. Using fabrics representing three colors, the design forms a tessellation of individual butterflies. When sewing a quilt pattern like this together it takes precise planning to ensure that the correct fabrics are put in the correct place. Note on the colored sketch at the right, I use a letter and number system to keep track of the fabrics used, and their placement in the quilt. The more detailed your tessellation is, the more planning and organizing you'll have to do.
Give it a try!
When you are ready to make your own tessellated quilt you can use an old pattern like the "Snail's Trail", or you can try designing your own. Just grab a drawing pad or a piece of graph paper and start sketching your ideas. Depending on your quilting skill level, you may want to start with an easier design, like interlocking triangles or staggered rectangles. Always keep in mind that color and fabric placement can make or break a tessellated quilt pattern. With a little imagination, the possibilities are endless.
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© 2012 Claudia Mitchell