At the V&A

Peter Campbell

Those who use repeat patterns – weavers, tile-makers, quilt-makers, wallpaper printers – rub up against the territory of mathematicians. In Symmetry, Marcus du Sautoy describes how, dodging among the tourists, he found all of the 17 possible symmetries of the plane on tiled surfaces in the Alhambra. Quite a number of symmetries can be spotted in the quilts in the new V&A exhibition (Quilts 1700-2010, until 4 July). But while the Alhambra tiles are in plain colours the quilts enliven a primary tessellated geometry with patterned patches. Each patch may have its own symmetrical repeats and their position sets up (or breaks) other patterns. A further layer is added to the symmetries if the piece is also quilted – stitched to a backing through a layer of padding. In plain fabric quilts (a good part of the exhibition is given over to them) the lines of stitching alone can be complicated.

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