Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Complex Tessellation

For You To Ponder

This quilt is a tessellation; it's made by repeating a single shape over and over. It's called Anthracite/Snowflake and was sewn by my wife Linda and designed by me. I didn't start out to design a tessellating pattern; it just happened. How it happened surprised me.

This is the shape that repeats to fill the space. It's a very odd sort of shape, hard to describe, and hard to name.
But it makes an interesting snowflake-like design.

It's not the sort of shape you'd normally try using to create a new design. And I didn't.

I started with this simple block which looks like a Y.
When I put 4 of them together I got a larger block that reminded me of the British flag.

When I put 4 of the larger flag block together I got this.

It's full of confusion but it has potential. There are a lot of things I could have tried to make this more interesting.
What I decided to do was go back to the beginning and make a second block that was the negative of the original.
Then I made 2 flag blocks - one positive and one negative.
When the positive and negative blocks are placed side by side the dark shapes join up and the light shapes join up.

If you look in the center of this combination you can see the odd shape that repeats and interlocks with itself to fill the space.

What you don't see yet is the entire snowflake design that is made from that odd shape.

It's only when you add more blocks that the snowflake design appears.

What I find most interesting in all this is that, at first glance, the snowflake design looks like the basic block that makes the quilt. The actual block disappears in the design. This is a case of being able to see the forest but not the trees.

I didn't set out to create this tessellation. I'm not sure I could have if I tried. It just appeared when I started playing with positive and negative versions of the same block.

Designing this quilt taught me the trick of using positive and negative shapes to discover tessellations. To see other examples go to My Posts by Subject in the sidebar on the right and click on Tessellation.

For more designs using the Anthracite block go to my website.

For a different take on creating tessellations go to Tessellation Nation by Ray Houston.


  1. Wayne,

    Stunning design .... and thank you for showing how it came about.

    I think a lot of designers find a lot of designs by playing with something which looks quite dull until they find the magic bits.

    Judy B

  2. Judy

    A lot of times a design that looks complicated starts out as something simple. Often so simple that it is easy to ignore it; to think that it's dull and not worth bothering with.

    Every design no matter how simple to start with has some potential. When you find a way to develop that potential that's when you get the magic feeling and want to design even more.

  3. Fascinating to watch it grow from a simple idea to a beautiful, tantalizing pattern.

    1. It was fascinating for me too. I didn't so much design it as discover it. I had no idea where I was going with this when I started. But then I seldom do.