DIYdiy projects

How To Make A Repeat Pattern by Julia Rothman

by Grace Bonney

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:

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  • Would like to know who keeps the rights?how do you help the artist to produce a product? thank you, Robert

  • Oh my goodness, THANK YOU! I can see by the amount of comments that it’s cleared up any confusion… I’ve been hours trying to figure out how to do this! Such a clear, informative tutorial! x

  • That’s so awesome!!! Thank you so very very much for sharing how to make a repeat pattern. I’m just starting to print my own fabric, and I can make existing patterns tileable, but I’ve been wondering how you do it when you want to start from scratch. Thanks again!

  • Hi,
    I am a Spanidh designer interested in learnig about textile design. Thanks a lot for your great tutorial. I have a doubt. I used to scan my ink drawigns, but I later vectorized them in corel draw as I think scanned drawings don,t have enought quality in order to reproduce them. I think your sold patterns look as hand made ΒΏare them vectorized before colourin them? It is something I have lots of curiosity to learn, as I am not very goood drawing with my mouse as usin my pen. Greetings from Spain.

  • Thank you so much for being so generous with your skill and talent, you have given me something to distract me from my break-up!! I thought you had to be a computer whizz to do stuff like this, now I feel really inspired!

  • Thank you so much for this. Back in 1990 or so, I created an entire line of step and repeat pattern designs based on NYC themes but totally forgot how I did it, probably because I never broke down the steps into a logical process. Your post is invaluable!!!!

  • Awesome! Thank you so much, you just saved me from a headache!
    The illustration you made is beautiful too. :)

  • I really love this! something I have been trying to figure out is after you have created your patterns, how do you go about showcasing them as applications on various products? Right now I have all my patterns on printer paper done in sharpie and I know how to scan to my computer, but would love to be able to license my art for products such as wallpaper or home decor. Do you have any suggestions on where I should start??

  • Its nice to see good design from good experts. Can you tell me is there any way to theoretically classify textile designs or patterns.

  • Thank you so much! I’m not so good at Illustrator yet, but this tutorial made me want to know more about it and make the pattern possible! I started yesterday with a theme called summer. I will try to finish it soon and post it to show how it ended. Thanks Julia for sharing this great and easy steps! ;) Greetings from Argentina.

  • Great demo- I’m still not sure how you filled the centre portion after all the corners we’r filled. I’ve tried doing patterns in tiles, but I don’t like how they still look like squares. You don’t seem to use that method. Can you recommend a good book on this?

  • Oh, i should have visited your blog before painstakingly do and redo my tapestry crochet design. Thank you for your generousity.

  • so thrilled to learn this. Brilliant for us guys who dont have software. Look forward to any other design tips you have for us beginners. Thx for sharing your knowledge

  • This is really great. I like these type of designs. But i dont understand it. If u dont mind please give me some ideas. Thanks

  • This is a really good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very precise information… Appreciate your sharing
    this one. A must read post!

  • hey, great tutorial, we call it as a 4 cut repeat….. it would be great if you could do a tutorial on a half drop repeat the manual way….. thanks.

  • I just finished posting a tutorial for my online class on how to create a print repeat by hand and was looking for free software to “tile ” it into repeat on a page….. and came across your AWESOME POST HERE!!!!!
    Your design is so beautiful, it’s really thrilling to see your process. So Adobe Illustrator is the way to go for making it bigger, right? For now I just have to print and tape together to get the feel of it, but i’ll be thrilled to be able to color it up like you do! You’re very talented and I like the way you wrote and put this together.

  • Thank you for the simplistic description on how to repeat a pattern. Perfect timing as a friend of mine is contemplating going into the fabric designing business. The two of us were discussing today how one repeats patterns!!!

    Thank you.

  • Yet another “thanks SO much for this!” comment. I learnt how to do repeat pattern by hand 20 years ago but have never repeated the exercise. I tried to figure out what to do from the old pattern, but quickly gave up and googled – landing at just the right post.

  • I actually remember doing this in elementary school! Simple art but amazing result! I love the lion pattern by the way! Will definitely give this a try but I doubt it will turn out as well as yours! haha

  • Hi Julia, thanks so much for this tutorial. I wonder if you would be so kind as to explain how you colour in your design in Illustrator. I have been a Textile Designer for years and just returning to work following a break raising children. I bet there have been a lot of changes and I was wondering if there are simpler ways, without having to retrace your design using the pen tool, while still retaining the integrity of your artwork. Thanks so much :)

    • hi lea

      this post is many many years old and julia is now a very in-demand artist, so sadly i don’t think she has time to come back for further updates, i’m sorry.


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