Saturday, February 20, 2010

Optical illusions

The optical illusion known as 'tumbling blocks' dates back to ancient times, and is one of the most enduring patterns in quilting...and in mosaic tile! The use of light, medium and dark values creates the illusion of three-dimensional cubes, as shown below.

Tile floor, Pompeii

Tile floor, Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome

In quilting, fantastic variations of color, design and pattern have been applied to the basic block, creating a variety of special effects. In this and subsequent blogs we'll explore the universe of possibilities, and feature some of our favorites.

Amish quilt, 'stairway to heaven' variation, ca. 1935. This quilt was seen at the Amish Abstractions exhibit at the DeYoung Museum.

Tumbling blocks quilt, circa 1910
: This quiltmaker included plaid fabrics, and varied the the light/medium/dark shading throughout the quilt. This adds visual interest as the eye wanders from place to place to resolve the pattern and figure out which way is up:

Antique orange and blue tumbling blocks quilt with prairie points, at Material Pleasures. In this beautiful quilt, the stripes add a contemporary feel:

Tumbling blocks quilt by Ann Moran
: This harmonious design was created by repeating rows of blocks in complementary colors. Ann says that she is not a professional quilt maker ..."I studied many tumbling block quilts and then created my own":

Tumbling blocks quilt by Penny Halgren
: In this charm(ing) quilt, each fabric was used only once. See Penny's website for her methods and tips:

Tumbling rainbows quilt by Lynn Harris as seen on Etsy. The calico prints really enliven this joyful quilt, and the block-shaped machine quilting further adds to the three-dimensional effect:

Image credits and links: Tumbling blocks graphics were created with 25%/50%/80% gray scale values, by Marina & Daryl at Quilt Inspiration; Tile floor at Pompeii, photo by Susan Gordon; Floor tiles in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, photo by Tino Warinowski, 2006, as seen at wikipedia; Amish abstractions poster, deYoung Museum (the quilt also appears on calendars, greeting cards, and jigsaw puzzles at the museum store); Richard Walker, photo of comforter in the "Tumbling Blocks" pattern, ca. 1910, from the exhibit Common Threads: 150 years of Adirondack Quilts and Comforters; at the Adirondack Museum, New York; Tumbling blocks quilt by Ann Moran, see Ann's site and her other projects here.

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