Designing Tessellations: The Secrets of
Reviewed by Addy Harkavy
In Designing Tessellations Jinny Beyer takes a subject that many people find mystifying, and even intimidating, and she demystifies it. Think of the book as a clearly written, profusely illustrated workbook. One can get the most out of it by reading in chapter by chapter and by using the suggested exercises as assignments. Jinny Beyer takes a subject that many people find mystifying, and even intimidating, and she demystifies it. Think of the book as a clearly written, profusely illustrated workbook. One can get the most out of it by reading in chapter by chapter and by using the suggested exercises as assignments.
When we speak of tessellations, the work of M.C. Escher often comes to mind, evoking images of seemingly complex patterns of interlocking lizards, birds or fish. Though visually rich and stimulating, tessellations are nothing more than designs that interlock perfectly to repeat across a surface. They are evident in ancient mosaic designs, tile work, wallpaper patterns, latticework, and in graphic design. Tessellations are, in the final analysis about symmetry, and once we think to look for it, we find symmetry all around us.
So how did Escher figure out how to get those lizards to interlock, and how does that apply to quilting?
Ms. Beyer doesn't tell us that immediately. She gives us some background, which comes in handy for those who use the book as a working tool. First, she defines and then gives readers a thorough but easily understood introduction to symmetry. Just for the record, symmetry is more than "right-left" or "up-down," and it is governed by some simple (mathematical!) laws and "operations". Ms. Beyer walks us through these painlessly without inaccuracy or oversimplification, making her points by using concrete and helpful examples. In one discussion, she observes that although a single paisley motif is not symmetrical, the repetition of that motif can create a symmetrical pattern or design. Such asymmetrical units, she adds, become tessellations when they can interlock without leaving any open space between them.
Moving right along, Ms. Beyer explores symmetry groups and gives some concrete experiments of the pencil-and-paper variety. Then she begins to unlock the keys to creating interlocking tessellations, refining designs with shape and color, and creating geometric and representational (birds, animals, etc) motifs. It gets really exciting when she demonstrates how to move from one geometric shape to another or how to move from a geometric shape to a representational image.
The book is illustrated with line drawings, Escher engravings, Ms. Beyer's theories as to how Escher came up with his tessellations, quilts, and helpful figures, and illustrations.
Designing Tessellations seems to fulfill quite a few niches: It's a course on creating tessellations reference book; a visual feast; an inspiration; and a book to which to return time and again. This book was, for me, nothing but fun, a romp in the fields of tessellation and symmetry. seems to fulfill quite a few niches: It's a course on creating tessellations reference book; a visual feast; an inspiration; and a book to which to return time and again. This book was, for me, nothing but fun, a romp in the fields of tessellation and symmetry.
(To give y'all a bit of background, I've always been fascinated by symmetry in nature -- recently spent a couple of hours drawing a poppy after the petals had fallen off. And, as an adolescent, my interest in symmetry extended to crystals. The interest in crystals grew to crystal-growing experiments, which evolved to include an ever-growing number jars of brightly colored solutions, glass utensils for heating substances you wouldn't want in your kitchen, and a mother who wasn't quite sure what to make of all this.)
Addy Harkavy lives in Maine and is co-owner of Pinetree Quiltworks. Visit them at http://www.quiltworks.com.
For more on tessellations, go to our Tessellations page!
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