Designing Fabric: 9 Common Patterns, Deconstructed
As creatives, we love working with print and patterns—and designing patterns for use in fashion and home decor fabrics offers glorious opportunity for expanding your marketable skillset and establishing a new creative hobby.
Print and digital designers can utilize the same tools, such as Photoshop and Illustrator, to produce dynamic patterns for fabric that will eventually turn into a beloved, tangible item. To get ideas flowing on the possibilities of patterns, here’s an excerpt from the HOW Design University course, Create Your Own Fabric Design with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, that showcases some of the popular pattern repeats.
Types of Fabric Patterns:
The block repeat is the simplest style of repeat. It is simply formed by stacking the original repeat in a basic grid:
The block repeat can have an amateur look if used in the wrong situation, but it can look great with simpler, more geometric motifs.
Next up, we have the brick/half-brick repeat. You’ll notice that the motifs are arranged like bricks on a house – they are in a horizontal row, and then the next row is offset to create a staggered look. The terms half-brick and brick can be used interchangeably unless the offset of the later rows is not exactly half of the preceding row’s motifs. In that case, you would just use brick.
Here’s a simple example of a half-brick repeat:
Brick/half-brick repeats are used very often in fabric design. The motifs can be exclusive of each other (as shown above) or have some overlap when they are organized. An overlap can be achieved in Photoshop or Illustrator.
The drop or half-drop repeat is very similar to the brick/half-brick, but the motifs are offset vertically instead of horizontally, like so:
As with the brick/half-brick, the terms drop and half-drop can be used interchangeably unless the offset isn’t 50% of the original motif. You will most often see 50% offsets, but smaller or larger ones certainly aren’t unheard of.
Drop/half-drop repeats are another very common type of repeat in fabric and surface design.
The diamond repeat is also used quite frequently in fabric and surface design. It is exactly as it sounds – a repeat of diamond shapes. The motifs can be as simple as one diamond put into half-drop or half-brick repeat (with some overlap), or each diamond can be a combination of smaller motifs, as shown here:
The ogee repeat is similar to the diamond repeat in shape – but the ogee is more rounded on two sides with the other two sides coming to points. As with the diamond repeat, it can be a simple repeat of ogee shapes in a half-drop or half-brick arrangement, or it can be more complex with overlaps and combinations of smaller motifs.
Here is a very simple version of an ogee repeat (half-brick with overlap):
Patterns in design is a riveting study. Enthrall yourself with how common symbols resonate at a gut level with the book, Decoding Design eBook: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication. Readers will find deconstructions of famous logos and examples of a variety of different designs that effectively use symbols, patterns and shapes to convey greater meaning.
The toss/random repeat utilizes a random arrangement of various motifs to create a very organic, non-linear design. It is very popular for floral patterns and more. Elements of the design are “tossed” onto the fabric, like so:
The next few repeats aren’t usually listed in a discussion of repeat types, but I want to give you a sort of mental checklist to go through when you’re brainstorming the different types of patterns you might want to incorporate into a collection.
The stripe repeat is a simple idea that can have a more complex and interesting execution. It could be simple stripes in a single color or a palette, but it can also be single motifs that create stripes for a totally different look, as shown here:
In other words, don’t let a term like “stripe” limit your imagination. A stripe repeat doesn’t have to be simple lines!
Similar in it’s simplicity to the stripe repeat, the dot repeat is as it sounds – an arrangement of dots! BUT, dots don’t have to be dots. They can be other small motifs arranged with a bit of space between them to emulate dots, like this:
(In fact, Michael Miller has a fabric line that includes a dot repeat made up of…wait for it…pug poop!)
Really just a variation of a stripe repeat, plaid/check/gingham repeats can be used to beef up a collection and provide variety to your designs. Here is a very simple example of a plaid/check pattern:
Read about the history of checkerboard pattern here. In this article, Judy Stewart dives into the history and the significance behind the pattern. It’s a fascinating read.
A quick perusal of any fabric manufacturer’s portfolio will show you that pattern types are often not so clean cut. Most pattern designers use combinations of two or more of the repeat types shown above to create single designs. Or, they might layer a toss layout over a plaid for a more interesting and complex look.
I encourage you to play around with all the repeats and create your own combinations!
There are probably an infinite number of repeat types…you could argue there are triangle repeats and hexagon repeats (like diamond/ogee repeats) and many others. Essentially, however, all repeats are iterations of the brick, block or drop repeats.
Learn more about designing fabric patterns in the course, Create Your Own Fabric Design with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. In this course, instructor Lauren Dahl shows how to make a pattern out of your drawing, how to clean up your artwork using Photoshop and Illustrator, how to make use of on-demand fabric printing, and how to submit your pattern to fabric manufacturers.