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Best Surface Design Inspiration Books for Historical Pattern Lovers

Some of the links on this post are affiliate links, meaning I get a percentage of the purchase price, but it does not increase the cost for the buyer.  I only use affiliate links for products I already own and love!

If you know me at all, you know I have no qualms about doing nearly all my repeat patterns and hand lettering on a digital screen.  I hear a lot of artists apologizing for how much digital work they do and how they NEED to get back to paper.  That is not me!  I love my devices and the freedom they give me to create as a mom and traveler constantly on the go.

That being said, there are days when I want to go “analog” and leave all the devices at home.  It’s hard to beat the feeling of laying on a picnic blanket in the shade with a book in your hands!  

There are a few books that I never get tired of perusing for my pattern inspiration, and I wanted to share some of those with you on this post.  These books have everything from modern patterns to some of the earliest patterns in recorded history, so you’re sure to find something that will inspire you no matter your surface design style!

V&A Pattern "Little Books"

V&A (aka the Victoria & Albert Museum in London) has one of the largest collections of surface pattern designs in the world.  They put out a range of pattern design books from small to large, and these are the cutest little “purse size” books that you can take with you anywhere.  They come in a lot of different themes or artist based collections.  Here are some of my favorites:

The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament

Speaking of the V&A Museum, this epic book they put out is the one you should get if you only get one book on this post!  This massive compilation of patterns spanning design history is a seemingly never-ending source of inspiration for me.

The book contains more than one thousand historical and contemporary examples from around the world, each one identified and explained below the image.

The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament

The Complete Pattern Directory

This book is another massive complication of over 1500 gorgeous patterns from historidcal to modern times.  The book is arranged by theme according to pattern style, with chapters on Flora, Fauna, Pictorial, Geometric, and Abstract designs, so no matter what your surface design style is, you’ll find some pattern inspiration in this hefty beast of a book.

The Complete Pattern Directory

The World of Ornament

This book is not limited to just pattern design inspiration.  It is full of ornament from clothing, architecture, and everything in between.  So surface designers, illustrators, and hand letterers alike will all find inspiration in this book.

This is one of my go-to books when I need an idea for a flourish around some lettering or a filler motif on a pattern!

The World of Ornament

May Morris: Arts & Crafts Designer

I recently ordered this book because I started seeing more and more artists make patterns inspired by William Morris so in an effort to stand out from the crowd I’ve been searching for other arts & crafts era pattern makers to be inspired by.  Enter May Morris!  May was Williams’ daughter (as you may have guessed) and while she is the lesser known Morris, she was a prolific pattern designer in her own right.  

This book is a combination of the biography and history of May, as well as beautiful examples of her work over the years.

May Morris Arts and Crafts Designer

More Historical Patterns Please

Want to dive down a historical pattern rabbit-hole with me?  In my Historical Pattern Styles class we make patterns together inspired by historical styles, motifs, and palettes.

Historical Pattern Styles Class

  • Learn how to apply historical pattern styles to your own modern patterns
  • Learn how to create pattern layouts inspired by historical patterns.

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