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3 Historical Pattern Styles You Need to Know

Have you noticed that most modern patterns are made using the same basic scattered repeat?  There are so many other ways to arrange pattern elements and literally hundreds of years of history to get inspired by!  I wanted to share with you three of the most well-known pattern styles that I think every pattern designer should study so you can get started down your path of an unhealthy obsession with historical patterns (just me?).

With each style I’ll share some features of the style and tips for integrating the techniques into your own patterns.  Let’s start with one of the simplest, yet most powerful styles known as Damask.  But first…

Your Challenge...

…if you choose to accept it and are inspired by this post is to join me in a pattern challenge where you can share your historical inspired patterns!

  • Challenge: Create 3 (or more) historical inspired patterns and share them on Instagram
  • Use the hashtag: #historicalpatternchallenge & tag me @lizkohlerbrown

Below is an example, but you can use any historical styles and even use one style for all three if you’d like.  I can’t wait to see your patterns!

Damask

The word damask first appeared in written history in the 14th century!  What is even more amazing is that this style is still being used today, so needless to say this is a trend that isn’t going to die anytime soon.

Damask is technically a weaving style, not a pattern type, but it has morphed into a pattern style term over the years.  Here are some must-know features of Damask:

  • Monochromatic: The weaving styles used to create damask fabric typically featured the same color on the fabric and thread in slightly different brightness levels
  • Symmetrical: Most (but not all) damask patterns feature symmetrical motifs.  So this is a good time to break out the symmetry tool in Procreate.
  • Low detail: because the artwork had to be woven to the fabric, low detail is used on motifs.
  • Flat drawings: Most elements are made up of flat shapes with detail carved out to show overlapping and shading.  So these are great patterns to be used as blenders or supporting patterns in your collections.
  • Upholstery/Curtains: Often damask was used for upholstery and curtains so the motifs were typically simple florals, animals, and botanicals.  Flower lovers rejoice!

Toile

Like damask, toile actually started as a type of fabric, not a pattern style, but it has been adopted as a pattern style over the years and applied to ceramics, textiles, and other mediums.  Here are some features of toile and ways you can incorporate the techniques into your work:

  • Story: Toile prints often tell a story or set a context for the location or mood of the print. You can typically look at the motifs and figure out the location and time period.  This is a great time to get very specific with your pattern elements in terms of plants, animals, and location!
  • Figures: Toile often included human figures and animals to depict some kind of interaction, so this is a good chance to brush up on your animal and figure drawing.
  • Single Color: While the designs are usually complex, the colors are usually simple, single shades.
  • Architecture: While we don’t often think of including architecture in our patterns, this was a common feature of toile.  If you’ve never popped a building in your pattern, give it a try and call it toile inspired!
  • Perspective: Buildings and landscapes are often drawn in perspective so the viewer can sense distance, rather than the flat objects you’d see in a style like damask.

Arts & Crafts

The arts and crafts style, popularized by William Morris, has had a resurgence in the design world over the last few years, so this is a trend to jump on asap!  Here are some features of the style and a few ways to incorporate it into your work:

  • Meaning: Each design had a story and clear elements that related to the story. So location, time of year, and plant/animal life were important to each design.
  • Handmade: This movement emphasized the importance of crafts made by hand, so each design was created by hand with some human error intentionally included so as to differentiate the work from factory or machine made goods.
  • Vines and Curling: Many of these designs feature vines that connect the parts of the pattern, and leaves in 3D that curl and twist to create movement in the pattern.
  • Tight and Full: These patterns rarely featured big, open spaces, but instead are full of elements that fit tightly together like a puzzle.

This is one of my favorite historical styles because it gives me a chance to tell a story with my work AND challenges me to get away from the sleek look that most digital work has.

Looking for more pattern inspiration?  I have a whole class on how I take historical patterns and turn them into inspiration for my modern patterns, without copying!  Learn more below.

Historical Pattern Styles Class

Join me in creating 3 historical patterns together and learn how to:

  • create your own pattern layouts inspired by historical patterns
  • create pattern layout stamps that you can reuse over and over
  • use any historical pattern as inspiration without copying