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Tessellation Quilt Patterns

Claudia has been quilting for almost 30 years and writing about it for more than six. She has won a number of awards for her work.

Everything you every wanted to know about tessellation quilt patterns.

Everything you every wanted to know about 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.

Everyday Tessellations

Examples of common tessellated patterns:

  • Honeycombs
  • Brick walls
  • Turtle shells
  • Snake skins
  • Windowpanes
  • 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 great-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 - a tessellated quilt pattern

The Snail's Trail - a tessellated quilt pattern

What Is a Quilt Block?

A quilt block is one unit of fabric pieces sewn together. A number of quilt blocks sewn together make up a quilt top.

Sketches for the Snail's Trail tessellated design.

Sketches for the Snail's Trail tessellated design.

The Snail's Trail, or Virginia Reel, is an old tessellation quilt pattern that 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 - an example of a tessellation quilt pattern

Pinwheels and daisies - an example of a tessellation quilt pattern

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 - a tessellated quilt design

Indonesian arrow fish - a tessellated quilt design

Indonesian arrow fish sketches

Indonesian arrow fish sketches

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.

The beginnings of tessellated butterflies

The beginnings of tessellated butterflies

Design sketch and layout map of tessellated butterflies

Design sketch and layout map of tessellated butterflies

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.

Happy quilting!

© 2012 Claudia Porter


Claudia Porter (author) on April 15, 2014:

Thank you DChance2. They are fun to design.

DChance on April 14, 2014:

Looks fun.

Claudia Porter (author) on April 01, 2013:

Back from an Easter break Kristi. Sorry I did not respond sooner. I don't have a specific pattern for that one. I just made a four square block, put in a small triangle in each corner and then trimmed it down to size while tilting the block so it is angled. I played around with different angles before I decided on this one. I appreciate your kind comments.

Kristi on March 29, 2013:

Love the pinwheels and daisies block. Do you have a pattern for it?

Claudia Porter (author) on October 08, 2012:

Aw, come on Bill. I think you should give it a try. It definitely fits the living simple philosophy. Old blue jeans can be recycled into a nice sofa blanket. It's nice that you still have an old quilt. Definitely cherish it and take care of it. When I look at old quilts I know that amount of love, hard work and care that has gone into them. Like me, the quilters probably put meaningful fabrics into their quilts and that makes them special too. Thanks for commenting!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 07, 2012:

Give it a try??? I think not, but I still find your information fascinating. We actually have one of these; it has been passed down through four generations and it is one of the few keepsakes I have that I cherish.

Claudia Porter (author) on September 25, 2012:

I really appreciate it moonlake! I love that one too. It's really nice in the summer.

moonlake from America on September 24, 2012:

I love your Pinwheels and Daisies quilt so pretty and delicate looking. Voted up and pinned.

Claudia Porter (author) on September 24, 2012:

I really appreciate it Nell! I love using the word tessellations. It's a fancy word and one can always impress their friends if they through it in every once in a while when talking about a pattern. Thanks so much for commenting!

Claudia Porter (author) on September 24, 2012:

Thanks so much Millionaire Tips! I really enjoy making quilts and have a lot of fun in the design process. Now that I'm writing hubs I don't quilt as much as I should, but with the cooler weather I will start again!

Nell Rose from England on September 24, 2012:

Wow, I am so in awe of anybody making these type of things, I wouldn't even know where to start. Saying that I do remember making a round box out of cardboard cutouts and then adding the material to them when I was small, but that was the last time I did it. I had never heard of the saying 'tessellations' before, wonderful!

Shasta Matova from USA on September 24, 2012:

Wow, these are amazing. I am so impressed not only that you made them, but that you designed them. They look incredibly complex. I've made a snails trails before (still need to quilt it) but I used a pattern.

Claudia Porter (author) on September 23, 2012:

Thanks mhatter! It's good that you are safe keeping your mother's quilts. They are a special connection to the past.

Claudia Porter (author) on September 23, 2012:

I appreciate it teaches! I really get a kick out of fitting pieces together like this. Maybe that is why I like puzzles so much too!

Claudia Porter (author) on September 23, 2012:

Thanks so much Janine! This could definitely be used in a classroom. Since my daughter has been in kindergarten, I have made a quilt with her class every year, incorporating their math into it. The kids have fun and I think the teacher appreciates a little change of pace. I appreciate your support!

Claudia Porter (author) on September 23, 2012:

Thanks eHealer! Quilting is my love. I really enjoy doing it and for me it's incredibly relaxing.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 22, 2012:

Thank you for sharing this. My mom was big on quilts and table clothes, most of which are safe with me.

Dianna Mendez on September 22, 2012:

I have seen these patterns in a few of my mom's quilts. They are quite amazing and I am sure they took awhile to fit the patterns. Your hub makes it all look so simple. Love the posted photo examples and your detailed instruction.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on September 22, 2012:

These are absolutely beautiful and so eyecatching. The math teacher in me was awe of all the shapes and this would be a wonderful thing to possibly use to teach geometry and shapes. Nice job and have of course voted, shared and pinned too!

Deborah from Las Vegas on September 22, 2012:

Hey Glimmer, this is a beautiful hub! The patterns are so beautiful and interesting. Unfortunately, the last time I sewed on a button, I sewed it to my pants leg. I think I'm pretty much helpless when it comes to sewing! thanks for the inspiration! Great job!