History of Surface Design: Damask

Series on the history of surface design by Julie Gibbons.


You might be forgiven these days if you think of damask as a type of pattern, featuring elaborately scrolled motifs arranged in a lozenged grid. And certainly, those designs are quite common amongst true damasks. However, real damask is actually a type of fabric which uses a variety of weaving techniques (most commonly satin and twill variants) to create areas of different sheen in the cloth. Because the different textures reflect light differently, the patterns show as variations in tone, and sometimes the weave is given even further emphasis by using different colours in the warp and weft. The fact that the pattern is woven into the cloth means that the fabric is always reversible (other fabrics that use multiple colours and are not reversible are called brocades).

Originally hand-woven and most often made in silk, damasks have had a long-standing status as a luxury fabric. They were first produced in China over a thousand years ago, but didn’t cross into the European sensibility until the 14th century, when they began to be woven on draw looms in Italy.

PO - damask1{images clockwise from top left: (all images from Victoria & Albert Museum, http://collections.vam.ac.uk)  1. French wallpaper, c.1850 ;  2. Italian silk, c.1630; 3. & 4. Italian silk, c.1550; 5. English furnishing fabric, 1750; 6. Italian, c.1600; 7. Italian, c.1680; 8. English wallpaper, 1830}


Very early European damasks featured flowers, fruit and animals. The scrolled motifs more commonly thought of today as ‘damask’ – those based on stylised acanthus leaves, feathers and the like -  became popular during the Renaissance, and have remained so. Even though these scrolled patterns were the most common, there were many other types as well, including hunting motifs, monograms, coats of arms and even entire scenes. The heavy fabrics were used for rich furnishings – curtains, walls and upholstery – as well as clothing.

PO - damask2{images clockwise from top left: (all images from Victoria & Albert Museum, http://collections.vam.ac.uk) 1. Owen Jones designer, 1850; 2. English dress fabric, 1753; 3. Italian furnishing fabric, c.1630; 4. German linen, c.1670; 5. Italian, c.1570; 6. English furnishing fabric, 1710; 7. English dress fabric, 1752; 8. AW Pugin designer, 1850}


The Jacquard loom was invented in 1801, and it changed EVERYTHING. Its system of card-controlled weaving meant that damasks were no longer reliant on the painstaking process of complex hand-weaving, but could be produced more quickly and more cheaply than ever before; and so damasks increasingly made their way into the middle classes during the 19th century and beyond.

The game has changed again; now there are not only many, many revivalist versions of traditional styles, there are also designers pushing damask in new directions. Some feature cats, some skulls; some are like 70s pop versions in bright layers of colour. And of course, there is also the ever wonderful Timorous Beasties, who in one design hit go totally massive with their large-scale  ‘Devil’s Damask’, and then in another, somehow turn a Rorschach ink blot into a decorative treasure for your walls.

PO - damask3{images clockwise from top left: 1. Cat damask, http://spoonflower.com/profiles/poetryqn; 2. Dread Damask, http://spoonflower.com/profiles/sparrowsong; 3. dotgold damask, http://spoonflower.com.profiles/weavingmajor; 4. Devil Damask, Timorous Beasties, http://timorousbeasties.com; 5. Euro Damask, Timorous Beasties,  http://timorousbeasties.com}

2015 Textile Design Competition Results!


The results are in for the P&B Textiles and Pattern Observer 2015 Textile Design Competition! After reviewing the additional coordinate from each semifinalist, the P&B Textiles team has chosen their winning collection! I am thrilled to announce that Amy Reber won the grand prize, a licensing contract with P&B Textiles, as well as lots of goodies from our sponsors, including:

  • Accuquilt – Go! Baby Fabric Cutter Starter Set  (Retail Value $129.00)
  • Colonial Needle – Turn-Sharp, Colonial 45mm Rotary Blade Sharpener (Retail Value $32)
  • Presencia America –10 pack, 50 Weight, 100M spools of Sewing Thread  assorted colors ($20)
  • Nancy’s Notions – $10 gift certificate to Nancy’s Notions

Judge comments: “I felt her execution was new, fresh and bold…she kept it very sophisticated in the main design but through the coordinates, was able to bring in another view that was a bit more simplistic while still keeping to the theme and vision.  A great combo for quilters in my opinion.”


Katherine Lenius won 1st Runner-Up and prizes from:

  • Nancy’s Notions –  $10 gift certificate to Nancy’s Notions
  • AQS- 1 year digital subscription to American Quilter’s Society Magazine  ($25)
  • 1 P&B Fat Quarter Pack ($50)

Judge comments: I really loved her artwork of the poppies.  The group worked so well together especially once the last coordinate was added.  Again sophisticated but in a subdued way.  Designs and layouts that were beautiful yet workable for the quilter.


Julie Marriott was awarded 2nd Runner-up for her collection and won prizes including:

  • Nancy’s Notions – 1 $10 gift certificate to Nancy’s Notions
  • AQS- 1 year digital subscription to American Quilter’s Society Magazine   ($25)
  • 1 P&B Fat Quarter Pack ($50)

Judge comments: Whimsical, well thought out, coordinates worked together in both color and style and basically she created a well rounded saleable group.  Very well done.

I want to thank all the designers who participated in our first annual design competition. We hope to run this again in 2016 so please sign up for our newsletter to stay informed!

Featured Designer: Emma Scott


Emma Scott’s “doodle series” was such a fun project that we could not wait to share! I think nearly everyone can relate to the act of mindlessly doodling while taking part in another activity like talking on the phone or listening to a lecture, but how many of us actually make something of those doodles?

Emma is a BA Hons Illustration student at the University of the West of England and “started the doodle series after realising just how much I subconsciously doodle during my university lectures. These doodles ranged from random scribbles, to circles and shapes, to flowers, leaves and dots and very rarely took on any figurative form. I thought it would be interesting to take these seemingly insignificant little drawings and merge them with my love of surface pattern design, therefore creating the doodle series. This is an ongoing project that I can constantly add to and it will become a much more exciting way of viewing and comparing my doodles.

To create the patterns I simply take the notebook page that I have doodled on and scan it at a high resolution into Photoshop. I then begin the process of breaking it down into separate layers and components that form the basis of the surface pattern. After I have the pattern mapped out I then decide on a colour scheme and often play around with a few to give different effects, as I like to show both light and dark versions.

It has been a thoroughly enjoyable project so far and has been incredibly interesting to see the sort of things I doodle, and how some range from incredibly complex patterns of shapes to just random lines and dots. I look forward to keeping the project going and being able to look back on it when I have a large bank of doodle patterns to see the variation in them!”


Emma decided to channel her love of all things pattern and set up her website, ELE Designs. “Within ELE I aim to create patterns that are quirky, unique and something a little bit different to what you normally see on the high street. I take a lot of my inspiration from conversations with friends and family, my interests and hobbies and general everyday life!

Stemming from this I also set up a small Etsy shop for ELE, drawing in my previous experience in studying fashion, that sells handmade cosmetic bags and pillows in the custom patterns unique to ELE. This is still a very small business, but is something I am very passionate about and it is great to see my designs on fabric.”

Have a wonderful weekend everyone and if you have the time for some design, maybe see what you can do with some of your cast-off doodles! -Chelsea

From the Textile Design Lab: Chelsea’s Challenge – Insects

Chelsea’s Challenge is a twice-monthly post series in the Textile Design Lab, in which we share design ideas and inspiration to help our students build their pattern portfolios and create work that might be outside of their comfort zones. Our latest challenge did just that by tackling a theme that I know may not be everyone’s favorite subject–insects! Lots of people can find them creepy or gross, and I feel that way too about some bugs. But I also find such amazing design inspiration in the insect world that I couldn’t keep them away from Chelsea’s Challenge, they are just too rich a source for pattern ideas! Here was one of the many awesome responses to this design challenge, by TDL member Joan McGuire:

1Joan_insect_mainALTcolor 2Joan_insect_COOR3_allover3Joan_insect_COOR2_stripe4Joan_insect_COOR1

Joan said of her collection, “I like the idea of an insect theme that isn’t immediately obvious but instead creeps up on the viewer. So, irony and humor were as crucial to the making of these prints as formal qualities like shape and color. I worked in Illustrator from sketches to create contemporary vector combinations of creepy bug elements with traditional Victorian pattern embellishments. My approach to this challenge was inspired by designer/illustrator Dan Funderburgh.”

See more from Joan at www.joanmcguire.com and join us in the Textile Design Lab to take part in our next challenge: activewear!

Photoshop and Raster File Formats

Each month Sherry London brings the Textile Design Lab an in-depth post on how to improve our design process by using technology to its fullest capacity. This is an excerpt of a longer post available to members of The Textile Design Lab. Join us to access the full post!

March 2015 Tech Talk by Sherry London


This month, I want to discuss file formats and take a look into some of the formats that Photoshop supports (part one of this series, on Illustrator file formats, is available in the Textile Design Lab.)


PSD: This is Photoshop’s own format file. It gives you the ability to save every part of your Photoshop file without loss. What do I mean by that?

In your working files in Photoshop, you can have layers, channels, adjustment layers, layer masks, Smart Objects, Paths, and live filters in addition to the original ‘flat’ file that you create when you choose File > New. Not every format will save every feature of the file; the PSD format will. I can’t urge you strongly enough to make sure that you save at least one copy of everything you do as a fully layered PSD file. This is your insurance that you will always be able to get back into the file and start working again.

You might have noticed that Illustrator in unhappy and refuses to read a file that was written with a later version of the program. Does Photoshop balk as well? It can—but it usually doesn’t. There are two reasons for this.

  • Photoshop will try to keep what it understands of a later file.
  • You might have saved a flattened copy of the file inside of your layered file. This is a setting that I urge you to turn on in your Photoshop preferences. In the Preferences > File Handling, the bottom option deals with File Compatibility. Change the Maximize PSD and PSB File Compatibility to Always. That way, even if you lose access to Photoshop (perish the thought!), other programs will at least be able to recover flattened images from your files.

Photoshop tries to save space when it saves your file, so it does its own compression. The compression is lossless—not a pixel is altered, but it still creates a fairly compact file. I have found that if I try to ZIP a PSD file, the ZIP compression can’t get much more out of it than the original Photoshop compression.

Photoshop also reports the size of the image both flattened and current for any open file. Those numbers, which you can see under the Doc Sizes at the bottom of the document window don’t directly relate to the actual file size on your hard drive. The technical reasons are long and not especially interesting to relate (!), but know that the numbers aren’t accurate other than an idea of how much space you could save if you flattened the image –but please don’t! Here is one of my files in progress.


Photoshop tells me that the file is using 17.4M flat or 427.6 M in the current layers and smart objects. Every layer in the image contains an embedded Smart Object which is a photograph as the basis of my design. On my hard drive, this file actually weighs in at a whopping 705.5 MB file. The flat version of it is actually 14.74 MB. Below, you can see the contents that are in most of the Smart Objects.


Inside most of the images are the masked original photo, and several adjustment layers. When open, this image is reporting doc sizes as 24.1M flat and 44.6M layered. If I tell Photoshop to un-embed this Smart Object and make it a linked Smart Object, my main file size goes down to 662.46MB and the Smart Object file on my hard drive is 43.06 MB. If I decide to link rather than embed all of the Smart Objects, my file size becomes 206.79MB. However, I then need to remember to send the linked files along with the main one if I need to send this file off to a client or print house.

Here is the image and all of the linked files in Bridge. Notice the circled icon on the original file that shows that it contains linked files—and the menu that allows you to find the linked files.


Photoshop CC has a maximum file size of 2 GB. I have hit that on occasion as I am building a pattern file. One way to cope with that is to unlink all of the Smart Objects. In case you are wondering about Smart Objects, let’s talk about that file format next.


PSB: The Photoshop Smart Object, first introduced in CS2, is the most significant addition to Photoshop efficiency since layers were added in version 3.0. A Smart Object can protect your original image from change, allow you to resize it or rotate it or even crop it without losing a pixel. It also lets you edit the contents and add filters where you can change the filter after the fact—still with no image loss. I think of it as a miracle in a box; many of my students think of it as a total puzzle.

The most common comment I get is “Where does it live?” The next one is “How can I save it when I save the file?” Let’s see if I can simplify this file confusion a bit for you.

Do you remember carrying around a briefcase or a large portfolio of artwork? You might have had a file folder inside the brief case for every part of the project on which you were working. Inside of each file folder, you could have put all the pieces that related to that part of the project. If you bring this analogy forward into Photoshop-land, the briefcase is the main file. It contains layers—each file folder could be a layer. Each layer could actually be a holder for other documents though—a Smart Object. All of the contents of the file folder (Smart Object) are stored inside the folder and the folder and the folder is inside the briefcase. So, you don’t need to “save” pieces—that happens automatically.

Photoshop indicates a Smart Object file by the extension PSB. Actually, that is the Photoshop large document format and if you should ever really need to save a file larger than 2GB, the PSB file format—not inside another file—will handle it. As you can see from my Bridge snapshot above, when Photoshop un-embeds Smart Objects in a file, it also writes them as PSB files. Should you go out of your way to save a file as a PSB? No, not unless it is huge. It doesn’t hurt anything, but other programs that will otherwise be able to read your PSD file might not be able to interpret the PSB.


Wondering about Photoshop’s other file formats and when to use them? Join us in the Textile Design Lab to continue reading this in-depth post, where Sherry discusses things to be aware of when saving files as TIF, PDF, EPS and more.

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At Pattern Observer we strive to help you grow your textile design business through our informative articles, interviews, tutorials, workshops and private design community, The Textile Design Lab.