Last year in January, a friend of mine sent me this screenshot, with the comment, “Here’s your next quilt.”

My reply back: “Damn you.”

Turns out it’s a well-known illusion first introduced by B. Pinna and R. Gregory in 2002, and it’s commonly referred to as the Pinna Illusion. There are several iterations of it but this is the original one. So of course I had to get on Illustrator and construct it myself. 

And then I had to experiment with colors. 

The illusion fell flat unless the colors were kept monochromatic, so I chose to just stick with the original image and go with black, white, and medium gray. I built paper foundations in Illustrator and set to work. 

18 tilted square wedges in the first ring. 

32 in the second ring. This was not thrilling yet. Pretty dull, actually. 

Then the innermost ring was significantly smaller than it needed to be on the outside edge, so I was going to have to figure out how to correct that somehow. Thankfully I’m a geometry teacher so drafting doesn’t terrify me… so I constructed a regular octadecagon (perfect 18-sided polygon) out of freezer paper and attached it to the smallest ring so things would fit right. 

And turns out the math wasn’t quite right on the second ring so I ended up having to rip all of the wedge seams out and redo them correctly. 

Prepping to make more boring square wedges. 44 in ring 3. 

Finally, the illusion started to emerge. 

That was just the incentive I needed to press on and finish. 58 squares in the outer ring, for a total of 152. 

Then I had to figure out how to attach the rings together. I was going to machine sew them, but there wasn’t really a good way to do that. Ultimately I used pins, an iron, and Elmer’s school glue to appliqué the rings together by hand. It took quite a while to complete this step. 

Attaching it to a background was interesting, too. I prepped a background and fought with it for several nights until it was flat enough to hand-appliqué down. 

And finally, it was ready for quilting. Since I didn’t have a longarm and have not mastered using rulers on my HQ16, I drew the straight lines with a water soluble marker and just free-motioned them in groups of three. The imperfect nature of the quilting bothered me and excited me at the same time, but ultimately it made the piece look less computer-generated. 

I backed it in black and quilted the whole thing in medium gray, so you can see the quilting well on the back. Outside the outer ring, I let the quilting lines wobble so that imperfections in squareness would be less obvious. Turns out I loved the effect anyway just as a design choice. 

Through all of this I didn’t share any revealing photos of it on social media, because I knew that it was going to be amazing– and I also knew that if someone had the right combination of computer skills, it would be pretty easy to copy.  

I ran out of thread and had to wait for more so I could finish.

Friday and Ella were very helpful, as always. 

Mom and I pin-blocked it square in May with several hundred T-pins and a full bottle of water…

And then Jeff White took photos of it for me so that I could enter it into the International Quilt Festival’s World of Beauty show.

I got permission from Baingio Pinna to compete with it and It was juried in and was first seen by the public in at the Houston Quilt Festival in November! Then I entered it into QuiltCon East, which will be in Savannah, GA in less than 2 weeks. It got juried in to that one too! I didn’t get to see it in Houston but I’m taking classes at QuiltCon so I’ll be able to visit with it there.

And when it’s finished entering shows, the friend who suggested I make it in the first place has called dibs. Heehee!

19 thoughts on “Vertigo”

  1. Amazing and totally cool! I quite like the yellow and blue mockup as well. Maybe you could do that next… ?

  2. A-frickkin-mazing!! It’s so, so awesome. The time and work and thought you put into your quilts is obvious. Here’s wishing you all the best at the shows, but I know you will do well! Thanks for sharing this awesomeness!

  3. This is outstanding. Beautiful work. Well done, and congrats on placing at QuiltCon. This was first in my book.

  4. Your quilt is amazing, I love optical illusions and I am sure you will win lots of awards with this one. I would love to see you produce a pattern for this. Best of luck, and with your talent I can see a lot of wonderful quilts in your future.

  5. Brilliant quilt. Congratulations on placing at QuiltCon. And thanks for generously showing so much of your process.

  6. That is fantastic!!! Is there a pattern in the future? Would love to make one. Again Fantastic!!!

  7. I just found your blog from the picture of your marvelous quilt in the book Modern Quilts: Designs of the new Century. I am fascinated by your quilt. Are you going to sell a pattern for this? I do understand that the originator of the design may have something to say about that. Even if you only offered the Paper pieced square with resultant angles it would be a great help to those of us that are more math challenged. Congratulations on QuiltCon but most of all for being published in a major work!

  8. Did you produce a pattern for this quilt? We met at Sue’s house in Troy, and I thought you had. Please let me know, there’s a conversation on Facebook where people have seen the optical illusion and want to make a quilt, so I said I had seen one.


  9. I am totally fascinated with your Vertigo quilt. Is there any way that you have come to share a pattern or tutorial or directions of any sort for this? I would so love to attempt to make one, but I am not as knowledgeable with computer skills to attempt to design it myself. There is no way at all that I would consider trying to produce a copy to show in any quilt show or judging. I am 81 years old and my quilting skills are not the greatest either. Making this quilt would definitely be a challenge to me, but what a marvelous accomplishment it would be if I lived long enough to finish it.

  10. It requires total precision and I took the second ring apart twice before I got it right… I honestly don’t recommend making it if you’re not a super-precise piecer.

    As it’s not my original design I can’t offer a pattern of it; I built the design in Adobe Illustrator and created my own foundation piecing pattern from that.

  11. This is simply amazing! I have been making quilts for years and would love to make this. Might have to mess around on my computer. I guess math will come in handy for figuring out the angles. I’d love any helpful hints you might pass along. Thanks for sharing this!

  12. Looks awesome , something I’m sure I could not manage , love it job well done 😀

  13. Well, I seem to have commented on the wrong post. Either way, I enjoy your work and your process. Thanks for sharing, and the challenge of creating my own.

  14. You have REALLY perfected your version of this illusion, Elaine!! Its mesmerizing, “tangled” spiral-effect absolutely tops ANY other version of it I’ve seen to date!
    Almost impossible to believe it’s comprised of only four, symmetrical circles.

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