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TESSELLATION NATION: Five is the Magic Number

Someone once told me I’d never make a living doodling and daydreaming……

I doodle a lot. And I mean A LOT

I scribble over everything, especially when I’m thinking, daydreaming, problem solving, on hold to Paypal – AGAIN, or trying to articulate something that doesn’t want to be said.

If there’s a pen and piece of paper nearby I’ll scribble all over it…my HMRC letters are particularly pretty.

Strangely, I’m also drawn to the clean lines of minimalism and long for a Corbusier styled home. I don’t do ornaments, ‘nik-naks’, souvenirs- or even family photos. I can’t stand clutter.

That doesn’t mean I’m tidy though, more that I like the IDEA of a clutter free life.

But I am prone to scribbling over stuff. I drew on my wallpaper when I was a child, I drew over the newspapers, I drew over my school books and I filled the pad by the telephone with love hearts and flowers, defacing everyone’s notes and rendering them completely illegible.

It  wasn’t really drawing though– it was more like manic scribbling. Sometimes fast and sometimes slow depending on the mood and conversation.

So it’s a bit of a paradox that I’m drawn to the stripped down minimalism of the modernist patriarchs whilst at the same time indulging in downtime doodling.

The early modernist manifestos are now rather a cringe inducing embarrassment, full of racist and sexist language – interesting only from a social history perspective if you enjoy that kind of thing.

It’s 115 years since the architect Adolf Loos wrote pompously about the link between the decorative urge and criminality (Ornament and Crime: Adolf  Loos 1908) but I think there are still traces of this sentiment that run through art academia, like a stain that you just can’t get rid of.

Decoration, is still considered feminine in fine art circles and for that reason it’s not considered a proper grown-up thing to do unless you can justify it with a Masters and an 8,000 word thesis. (yes I did that…. Hygiene & Contamination: Sue Maton 2004) 🤓 Don’t bother Googling it – you won’t find it…..

I don’t think anyone really cares about the criminality associations anymore – in fact, that almost feels like something a 21st century artist might aspire to…

So anyway. I scribble a lot. I draw flowers a lot. Not in an interesting botanical type way, more in a deranged, psychoanalyst’s case study, type way. Over and over again I trace the petals, counting as I go. One, two, three, four, five. Always five. Never 6 or 8.

Five is the magic number.

There’s something inherently pleasing about odd numbers. I always prefer a triptych to diptych. Two is too balanced and a 3 petaled flower – well that’s just a bit too odd. (sorry Iris)

But 5 -that’s perfect!

After playing with 4 & 6 sided shapes in my two previous blanket designs I’m ready to tackle the big geometric puzzle – how to repeat 5 sided shapes.

Soon after I made this decision I had a conversation with the resident maths geek at home and it went something like this.

Me: I like 5 sides shapes.

Maths Geek: Oh. Right.

Me: I want to design something based on repeating pentagons.

Maths Geek: You realise that’s a centuries old conundrum that dates back to the Ancient Greeks?

Me: Oh. Well I like a challenge.

For centuries mathematicians have explored the potential that 2D shapes have to cover a plane, or surface by interlocking and repeating infinitely. Some shapes do this very easily, like squares, triangles and hexagons. These create regular tessellating patterns because they fit together by themselves.

Some shapes don’t fit neatly together by themselves but will happily tessellate for ever with a partner. These semi regular tessellating patterns often form the basis of the repeating patterns seen in textiles, wallpaper and decorative tiling. The key point here is that they have the potential to keep repeating FOREVER.

Pentagons however are the Tessellation Tricksters, the Bugs Bunny of Geometry – which is probably why I’m so fascinated by them.

They’re very tricky and if you Google them you’ll definitely fall into a rabbit hole and lose a few hours of your life scrambling through the results attempting to understand complex geometry……

So I’ll summarise my findings for you: It’s difficult.

If you JUST want to prove that it’s possible to tessellate pentagons you can play with the actual shape of them, making them either convex or concave; you can change the length of their sides and the degree of their angles and kind of squish them together to make them fit.

But if you want to work with nicely proportioned equilateral pentagons you’ll need the help of some extra shapes, in the form of stars, boats and diamonds and you’ll need to introduce some rotational repetition.

This method of repeating pentagons has been investigated by many mathemeticians and the arrangement I’m working with in my new project  was developed by the mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose, who investigated them in the 1970s- hence the name Penrose Tiling.

Image 1&2 credits (left to right)

More recently this format has been adopted by the quilt designer Willyne Hammerstein and her English Paper Piecing Pattern La Passacaglia Quilt has inspired the most beautiful and fascinating collection of quilts.

I couldn’t find a suitable existing grid that was big enough for what I wanted so I asked around on Fiverr but no-one wanted to do it.

Three days in photoshop later I’d made a template that I was happy with and I’m really excited about the potential that this grid has for generating infinite pattern arrangements.

It contains the obvious pentagons, diamonds, boats and stars, but it also contains opportunities for introducing five and ten petal flowers, medallions and mandalas.

So my next ‘research’ task was to play the designers equivalent to Where’s Wally? or a kind of visual Word Search. This involves staring at the grid and then shouting “ FOUND ONE” when you see a shape that a flower could fit. Some are small and some are very big!

I love that everyone who does this activity could generate a completely  unique  design – and it’s this concept that forms the basis of my new project: Tessellation Nation.

I’ve been asked by lots of people who have completed my Homage and Wallflowers courses  if I could write a Crochet Design Course for them, and this is something that I’ve thought about a lot.

My concern has always been that I’d end up creating a course that simply reproduced something equivalent to a City and Guilds qualification. Please don’t be offended by this – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with City and Guild courses! I taught on several of these for many years and they’re very good.

But I left formal education behind a decade ago  and now I only want to do things that feel playful and fill me with joy .

Tessellation Nation feels like a really fun game and it has the potential to do many different things.

  • It can teach you the basics of design, if that’s what you’re looking for.
  • It can offer a point of departure, or a frame work, for your own exploration.
  • It could provide you with a straightforward template & instructions on how to make a beautiful. blanket.
  • It can guide you through how to design your own blanket using a collection of tessellating motifs.
  • It can be as simple or complex as you choose to make it.
  • It can connect you with a global crafting community.
  • It could inspire you to design your own crochet motifs to integrate with mine.
  • It will encourage you to use up your stash!!

It could really be – or do- anything you want it to and I’m genuinely very excited about it.

It’s designed as a natural progression from my previous blanket projects and we’ll be building on skills and techniques learned on these courses.

There will be some overlaps in content because the design principles remain the same for every project in any discipline. But all the content will be NEW, tailored to this design  and intended to extend your existing skills and knowledge.

I’m currently in the process of writing this course and it will begin in January 2024 (disclaimer- it may begin slightly later if I’m not ready!!) and bookings are open NOW if you feel brave, inquisitive or reckless enough to join me at this stage in the course development.

 Here’s the link where you can find more information and book your place before it’s too late –

It’s filling up fast!

And in the meantime you could maybe practice your doodling skills to help pass the time…..









This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Hi Sue. This looks really interesting: I’ve long been fascinated by the fact that you can make a perfectly round ball of any size, by adding just 12 pentagons to (usually 20) hexagons (for a soccer ball size), but infinitely more for bigger sized balls: I’ve crocheted several soccer balls over the years using this mathematical formula. But my question to you is probably unanswerable: I would love to do this course, but want to finish my Wallflowers first, which has been severely delayed due postal issues and holidays. I should be able to restart crocheting it next week though. If I don’t sign up for this first Tessellation Nation course, are you able to give me some indication of when the second course might start? Many thanks, Cathy Hatfield.

    1. Hello Cathy – thank you for you comments! In answer to your question, I haven’t yet set a date for the second round of Tessellation Nation – but as with all my courses, you will have indefinite extended access to the course content once the course ends, so there is no deadline. This is the same for Wallflowers, so if you do decide to join me on this first round of Tessellation Nation, you will continue to have access to your Wallflowers course, should you decide to take a break from that. I hope this helps!

  2. Thanks for this interesting teaser. I love the idea of geometric designs in crochet. A few years ago I explored Islamic art and love the tessellation ‘doodling.’ You may already have this artist in your bookcase, but she is worth a look as you continue to explore. I’m signed up and ready to go when you are.

  3. Dear Sue
    I’m always delighted to read you because in addition to your creative crochet talent, your writing style is truly irresistible, intelligent and funny: I’m a fan!
    Of course I am registered to tackle this new challenge with you, with a lot of interest, curiosity and a lot of humor!!! The learning process interests me even more than the final result, even if each of my/your covers is admired by everyone. Sue, I’m ready for adventure!!!

    1. Thank you so much for such kind words! I am very grateful to each and every one of you who support me and keep my business going and enabling me to create courses I love! I am so pleased you are a fan!

  4. I am also super excited, alreday picked out my yarn and super happy with the abundance of nuances and speckles in it! Is there any chance that you could share your Tesselation grid, so that we could maybe start doodeling a bit as well. I know its part of the course to do the colours, but as this is potentially a lot of free form (in a different form) It would be exciting to start staring at a piece of paper and try to find Waldo! Cant wait to get started, in other words. I am also so happy that you are making the course, Sue.

    1. I am so pleased that you love the new course! The template will be available once the course begins – sorry but I’ll have to keep you waiting! I’ll have to tease you with lots more beautiful images between now and January!

    1. Hi Lindsey – you can use any yarn you like, the blanket will just be smaller if you use a fingering weight yarn.

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