A repetitive crystal-like pattern is spontaneously formed upon the twisting of straight ribbons. The pattern is akin to a tessellation with isosceles triangles, and it can easily be demonstrated with ribbons cut from an overhead transparency. We give a general description of developable ribbons using a ruled procedure where ribbons are uniquely described by two generating functions. This construction defines a differentiable frame, the ribbon frame, which does not have singular points, whereby we avoid the shortcomings of the Frenet–Serret frame. The observed spontaneous pattern is modeled using planar triangles and cylindrical arcs, and the ribbon structure is shown to arise from a maximization of the end-to-end length of the ribbon, i.e. from an optimal use of ribbon length. The phenomenon is discussed in the perspectives of incompatible intrinsic geometries and of the emergence of long-range order.