How To Make A Repeat Pattern by Julia Rothman

hello hello. thank you Grace for having me this week! I am very excited to be here. Besides introducing you to some cool artists, giving sneak peeks and before and afters of some friends homes, and sharing my favorite new product finds, I thought it would be nice to share some of the things I have learned along the way of being a illustrator/pattern designer.

One of the questions I frequently get emailed is -how do you make a repeat pattern? I thought it would be fun today to do a little tutorial showing you how simple it is even with a very complex drawing. And you don’t even need a computer! (I usually do my repeats on the computer but today I’m doing it the way I was first taught.) Here’s the old fashioned way of making a tile-able design:


On a clean piece of paper draw a design in the middle of your paper without letting any of the drawing touch the edges- this is very important. (I am going to draw lions and vine-y things- an influence from last months visit to the American Folk Art museum in nyc.)


Once you finish the middle space as much as you want you are going to cut your drawing in half- scary I know- but that’s why computers are helpful. Once you have the two pieces flip them and tape your drawing back together. Put the tape on the back of the paper so it doesn’t obstruct your drawing at all later. Also try to tape your drawing back together as perfectly lined up as possible. It’s hard to see that I’ve even taped mine since I’ve lined it up so well.

Next you are going to cut your drawing in half again the other way- (yikes!) and flip those pieces and tape them back together. Now your design should be on all the edges only and you have a big middle white space. Now fill this space with the rest of your design. Remember again- do not draw to any of the edges of the paper.


Once you finish filling in all the parts you want to fill in you now have your repeatable tile. You could color this tile and then xerox it many times and line up your design- plaster it on your walls and make wallpaper. I am going to cheat and do the final coloring steps in the computer to finish up my design. I am going to scan my drawing, take it into Adobe Illustrator, color and repeat it there.

And here’s my finished design:

  1. francesca says:

    my compliments!! I’ve never understood it so well as now! Very clear!

  2. Cecilia says:

    hi, who would I call to have a drawing made into a fabric? thank you:)

    1. Thuy says:

      Cecilia, have you checked out spoonflower.com?

    2. Renee Dillon says:

      Search for Spoonflower. They make print-on-demand fabric, wallpaper and other stuff using your own designs.

  3. meka says:

    That’s good drawing

  4. Liz says:

    You have completely demystified this conundrum, and in such a charming way. Many thanks!

  5. toni scott says:

    excellent guidance. thank you!

  6. This is exactly what I was looking for! Very informative!
    Thanks,
    Kaitlyn
    kaitlynpowell.com

  7. Clio says:

    This is life changing! I have been baffled by how to do this for way too long considering how simple it is. Thank you!

  8. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for sharing! I have been searching for soo lang (months) how to do this! Neven thought it was so easy!

  9. Mirna says:

    Thank you sooooooooo much Julia! Extremely helpful!

  10. Shelly says:

    How do you change your drawing to vector?

  11. Katerina says:

    So simple and yet so helpfull!!!Thanks for sharing :)

  12. Robin says:

    I know you said to not draw to the outside edges, but what if I want to have all over color, without the white? I want to make a watercolor painting into fabric with a seamless repeat. Is this even possible? Thank you!

  13. superheru says:

    thank you for the tutorial, it’s help me so much

  14. superheru says:

    how about to make it digonal patern?

  15. Linda Weeks says:

    I’ve always wondered how William Morris created his repeating patterns – might he have used this technique as well? I mean, but for the copier and computer, etc. That is awesome! Thank you!

  16. milika says:

    very good, I finally get a better understanding about
    this!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Nice post. After reading the article I just remember William Blake. His sense of art was great. I think Grace Bonney has also great concept.

  18. Shariyah says:

    Thank you for sharing your process, but am I the only one who is wondering where the lion in the center of your fifth image came from? It’s not the same lion shown on your original centered drawing (second image) and I’m a little baffled at how your fourth photo turned into the fifth photo (ie; all of the lines/art fitting together perfectly)…I feel like I am missing a few steps? I have gone through your article word for word trying to piece this together so that I can apply it to my own design but for the life of me can’t figure it out! Any help would be greatly appreciated, thank you!

    1. Tempy says:

      @Shariyah – I think what she actually did was draw a new image that fit inside the space that was left after cutting and taping the paper. That way when copies are made and pages are laid side by side the images will all flow as one continuous design. I think… the only way to know for sure is to try for ourselves! Cant wait :-)

  19. Kim says:

    Hello! and wow! that is so simple to understand. I usually try to make it all on Adobe Illustrator and fail miserably. Plus it always end up looking too repetitive. This really takes the time to slow things down and make an original and very seamless pattern design. Thanks you Julia Rothman! Love your work!

  20. Isabel says:

    Excellent step-by-step guide…I have been wondering about this for years…Thanks!!!!!

  21. Hiroki says:

    awesome guidance Thank you so much!

  22. rob says:

    Thanks, that’s a perfect explanation of something I’ve been wondering how to do. Cheers ☺

  23. Jenni says:

    Thank you so much! This is really helpful, and easy to understand!! Awesome tutorial!

  24. Lexi says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! Just the clear, illustrative guide I was searching for! I’m doing my first ever fabric design with my creatures and was so puzzled on how to do a complex repeat tile like this.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.