How to design a pattern repeat

  1. Gathering ideas to decide on a theme

The first step is to think about what inspires you. Is it something in nature? Is it a pop culture icon? Is it a texture? Is it an art movement? Is it an emotion?

Really, it can be anything that is meaningful for you. At Zena & Rose, we look at books, go to art exhibitions, walk outside in nature and visit new places.

  1. Sketching the motifs out

Once you’ve decided on your theme, then start sketching to help organize your ideas. This can be in any medium, pencil, paint, crayon, linocut etc. The sketches don’t have to be very detailed or the finished quality. You’re going to need at least a couple of motifs to create visual interest. These can either be variants of the same motif, or completely different ones.

If you are using photos, then you might just want to skip to the next step.

Flower sketch


  1. Transferring them to the computer

It might be that you want to scan what you’ve drawn into the computer, or you can re-draw the motifs using the tools available in your programme. We like to use Adobe Illustrator with a Wacom pen but there are lots of other options.

  1. Arranging them as a repeat

You’ll need to understand how to create a repeat and so we’ll cover the design pointers here. There are many YouTube tutorials on the technical side of using software, so have a search around depending on your preferred programme.

The first point about repeats is that you need to think about the types of arrangements before you start. Get familiar with the basic types, like square (no drop), half-drop repeat and mirror repeat. We tend to stick to these ourselves and not over complicate things!

The second point is scale - how big should the repeat be? There is no set answer to this but in general small scale would be 15 or 16cm and larger scale would be 30 or 32cm. Consider the level of detail in your motifs and how they’d look best. Also try to think about the end product, whether it is a small or large item should determine your scale. Some products like wallpaper have specific sizes which need to be checked in advance with the manufacturer.

The third point to consider is how to disguise your repeat if you’re doing a design that’s more flowing and less geometric. Adding motifs of varied of size and colour spread evenly across your repeat will help. Check that there are no strong diagonals or vertical and horizontal lines.

The fourth point is to test your repeat on a larger scale. Create a new canvas that is 3 or 4 times the size of your repeat and then paste in your design over and over again. You’ll see if there are any errors or if it is not working out as you’d like.

Lily of the valley pattern

  1. Trying different colourways

We tend to add colours after the structure of the repeat has been finalized. This is the really fun part! After deciding on a background colour, we take either of two approaches:

  1. Analogous tones ie. Colours that are all very similar, such as variations of green.
  2. Complimentary tones i.e. these are colours on opposite sides of the colour wheel which can look good together, e.g. purple and yellow.

Once we have tried around 5 colourways, we’ll see which is working best.

Coloured fabric


  1. Exporting

The final step is exporting your design. The steps to this are very much dependent on your programme but in general pattern repeats can be exported in all the usual file types like PDF, jpeg, png and TIFF.