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Tessellations

People have been fascinated with interlocking designs throughout the ages.  I became interested in this type of design in the 1990’s and diligently studied the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher to try and figure out how he created his amazing tessellations. One day the light bulb went off and it all fell into place. It is so simple!

 

day lilies closeup (2)
Closeup of Day Lilies

 

Close up of Rhapsody
Close up of Rhapsody

 

The first question is “What is a tessellation?” A tessellation is any shape that can be repeated over and over to fill a surface without gaps or overlaps.

Squares, triangles, hexagons, and diamonds are all tessellations because they can fill a surface without gaps.

 

Shapes

 

Illustration 1 Adjusted

 

 

Those are easy to see, but the more intriguing tessellations contain more complex, interlocking shapes. There are a few rules to follow and these rules must be adhered to or the shape will not “tessellate”.

So the number one rule is that you must begin with a base shape that tessellates. Number two is that you must give it back to the side of the shape that is equal in length. It makes a difference which side you give it back to or whether you flip or rotate the shape. Here are a few designs with this simple square and several of the patterns that can be created by merely putting the cut piece back in different ways.

Lets look at the simplest of the tessellations, the square. It is easy to see how it can repeat over and over to fill a surface without gaps. But what happens if I take a chunk out of that square? It is no longer a tessellation.

 

tessellations illustrations 2

 

tessellations illustrations 3

 

 

So here is the “aha” moment.  The secret to creating tessellations is this: if you take away a piece of a shape, give the piece back to another side of the shape. You will once again have tessellation because the piece you give back will fit into the hole of an adjacent piece where it was taken away.

 

Adjusted illustration

 

illustrations 4b (1)

 

There are a variety of ways to give a shape back and a few rules that must be followed. You can rotate the piece or not depending upon the shape used. I wrote an entire book on this called Designing Tessellations. Unfortunately it is out of print, but it is still available as an “e-book.”

 

Tabs from website
Tessellating Tabbies is available as a kit and pattern on our website.

 

I am currently working on an online class that will be offered through my website sometime in the future. It will cover all the rules, shapes that can be used, how to turn the shape into a usable pattern for quilting and much more!

I’ll keep you posted as to when it will be available but for now, why not come to the Studio and take a class in person. I will be teaching Designing Tessellations August 11 & 12.

14 thoughts on “Tessellations

  1. Thank you very much-I do have your book on tessellations, but this simply blog post helps a great deal. I would certainly be interested in taking the online course! That would be AWESOME, since I love all quilts with optical illusions!

    Thanks!

  2. Would love to take the Tessalation class but it’s not possible. After starting and stopping several times I am now forging ahead with J’s quilt “Day Lilies”. Careful marking of the patterns is the answer. My copy of her book “Quilt Making by Hand” is spiraled for ease of coping templates and dog eared from just reading enjoyment. I enjoy the posts so much and visiting the shop is truly on my bucket list.

    1. We hope one day to see you at the shop!

  3. An online class sounds wonderful for those of us that live in other states and could make it over there in person !!! Please let me know when and where to sign up..

  4. Hi,

    I am interested in the August class. Where can I find the information?

    1. Our classes can be found on our website by following this link.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! I really admire your artistry and your willingness to share! Your designs are stunning!

    I’ve been intrigued by M. C. Escher and now I can see myself attempting a tessalation quilt thanks to you. You’re the best!

  6. I would like to know more about the online classes. Thanks

    1. Be sure to follow the blog and we will make an announcement as soon as the online class is available.

  7. Thank you Jinny! This is fabulous. I LOVED the class on Tessellations and look forward to finishing my quilt. I have even more options now that I want to turn into quilts. You are fabulous!

    1. Thanks for the kind words and am glad you enjoyed the class.

  8. I have wanted to make the Rhapsody quilt for many years, but have not had the confidence. I do have the book Designing Tessellations, but am VERY interested in the online class. The above information has been also helpful. I look forward to hearing more about it.

  9. I purchased the Jinny Beyer book “Quiltmaking By Hand” many years ago. I completed the Love Ring (Drunkards Path) from that book using oriental prints. It is now hanging on my wall and is absolutely beautiful. Made completely by hand, scissors, needle and thread!! I am now trying the Day Lily quilt and just can’t seem to figure out how to sew the A-B, C-D, E-F and then G all together. Are there any materials out there that give more information on how to join the pieces?

    1. We will e-mail you a mock up that might help along with some photos. Some additional instructions:
      Please cut out a copy of all the templates without the seam allowance. If all of the pieces are lined up as shown, the pattern works. There is an error with the circles printed on the pattern for matching. Once you have all the pieces lined up across the top (where the long red line is) you can then place a mark (red straight line) across each template so that you will have no difficulty matching each piece up where it belongs. To simplify the piecing, give yourself cross hairs or a dot at the 1/4″ mark where each piece meets. Also give yourself a mark where the pieces should match between B and C, D and E and again F and G.

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