Critiquing Your Pattern Repeats


What’s your critique face?

You’ve spent a lot of time working on your repeat. Your eyes may be feeling buggy, and your thoughts may have drifted to that caution zone of “I just want to get this done”. So what do you do? Writer’s often use an editor for that critiquing eye, but what about if you’re a textile designer?

When our objectivity has faded many designers, including myself, often turn to our clients for input. If that startles you, don’t let it. This isn’t always a bad thing! Some clients really enjoy and appreciate being a part of the process. However—getting input on the progress of a repeat is different than dumping the critique into the client’s or agent’s lap.

We’re busy, but so are our clients and agents. Asking them to critique our work, double check our work, or look for mistakes in our work is a cop-out. Mistakes do happen, but it’s our responsibility as pattern and textile designers to make sure that our repeats are as perfect as possible before passing them off to our clients.

I understand that you want to feel ready to submit your repeat work to your agent, studio, or client. And it is possible. Here are a few tips that will help you critique your repeats:

1. Take a break and return with fresh eyes.

If your time frame allows, give yourself a break from the design, the more time the better. Often enough my initial thoughts have lead me to believe that the repeat was terrible—or wonderful. By giving myself some time away from it and returning to it later (24 hours is helpful for me) I see a new picture. I quickly see: a) nothing needs to be changed and it is a successful repeat; b) the repeat has some issues that are now very clear to me, and; c) I see how these issues can be easily fixed without having to start over from the beginning of the process

2. Flipping or rotating the canvas.

Chelsea shared this method in the Textile Design Lab. “Sometimes I find that when I am so used to looking at a pattern in a certain orientation, I am blind to certain problem areas or imbalances in the design. Rotating the canvas and viewing it from another angle, or flipping it along its vertical or horizontal axis can give you a fresh way of looking at the design and often makes problem areas more apparent.”


This poorly designed repeat becomes more obvious when I change the background color from a tonal pink to a dark navy

3. Putting the pattern into a mockup.

Sometimes just getting a quick visual of how the repeat would look on a garment or home decor product can emphasize problem areas in the repeat. If one motif is larger than the others, or one color stands out from the rest, seeing it on an end product can make this more apparent.


4. Changing the colors completely.

Color can be a huge factor in a repeat feeling balanced or not. Chelsea likes to see how her patterns will look in a very different colorway. An example would be that if the pattern is tonal, she will switch it to brights. In the example above you can see how my poorly designed repeat becomes more obvious when I change the background color from a tonal pink to a dark navy. Isn’t the difference amazing?!

Critique-Your-Repeat-Training5. Test your repeat.

In this FREE training video I share my favorite method for testing to see if our repeats are ready to send out. I learned this trick while working as an in-house textile designer at Jantzen swimwear. Through my years of experience I have found that it is the easiest ways to check the quality and professionalism of your work. Get access here.

Not sure if your repeat is ready to send to an agent, studio, or client? Don’t worry about it, because I have a solution to help. It’s time to put your repeat to the test in this free training video!

There is an art to critiquing your repeat, and I know you can do this successfully!







The Right Way to Repeat

The Right Way To RepeatThere’s a trend emerging in the textile design industry, and as much as I’d tried to, I just don’t like it.

Over the years the industry has become more competitive, and along with that an increasing number of agents and studios are requiring that patterns be in a seamless repeat. Why? Each studio has their own reasons, but the most common reason is that it makes the artwork more marketable and offers more value to the consumer.

So why my dislike? It’s not that I’m opposed to this trend because I don’t want to offer value to my clients or because I am anti-repeat in anyway. However, I do appreciate efficiency, which means that I struggle to invest hours on a professional repeat only to have to start the entire process over again if:

  • The client requests a scale change
  • Factories are switched—which sometimes means a new screen size requirement

My Experience

In my work as an in-house designer I used to work with hundreds of patterns purchased from print studios around the globe. While most patterns were not purchased in repeat, a few were. I was always excited about the prospect of already having my work done for me. These dreams of quickly transferring the artwork to a colorway form and sending it off to the factory were delightful. And always quickly crushed by the reality of the industry.

Truly, the only constant is change. I would estimate that I had to update the repeat on about 99% of the patterns we purchased. Some reasons for this include:

  • The product designer requested a scale change, which meant that I had to completely recreate the repeat so that it fit into the factory’s screen sizes
  • The design needed to be changed to appeal to the sales, merchandising, or executive teams
  • The original repeat was of poor quality and needed to be less obvious to avoid stripes or tiles on the final product

Having this perspective on the industry is why our Pattern Observer Studio patterns are not sold in repeat and why we never waste our clients time (aka budget) by investing time in putting a pattern into repeat, before the client has approved the initial artwork. It’s great for our clients, and definitely good for our sanity.

When Repeats Are Required

But for those of you who are currently being asked to put all your work in repeat or looking to apply for representation from an agent or studio that has this requirement, what should you do?

Basically, you need to learn how to create higher quality repeats in less time. If you try to save yourself time (and I don’t blame you) by creating quick repeats, you run the risk of losing out on sales and getting lackluster responses from agents, studios, and clients.  None of us want that for you.

You’ve got to do repeats the right way, because if your agent or studio sells your work in repeat, your repeat must be as beautiful and as professional as your concept.

Time Saving Repeat Tips

Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips:

Fusion Studio TIFF File

This repeat mockup showed me that a half-drop repeat would be a better option

1. Get comfortable with half-drop repeats. Half-drop repeats are a great way to create a professional repeat that flows easily with no apparent “lines”. Adobe Illustrator’s Pattern Making Tool and Photoshop’s Offset Filter tool are both great options to start using this essential repeat style.

2. Try creating larger repeats. I know it seems counterintuitive, but sometimes I find it more time consuming to create smaller repeats than larger repeats. While smaller repeats require less motifs and layout development, it can often be difficult to disguise the repeat and get rid of unwanted lines and stripes. If you are struggling with a smaller repeat try creating more artwork and working with a larger repeat dimension.

3. Create a repeat mockup. Before spending hours of time painstakingly developing your repeat only to realize “d’oh! I should have created a half-drop repeat,” or, “oops! I should have used a larger repeat size,” create a quick repeat mockup. This is the best way to see what issues you may encounter within your repeat. Be on the lookout for possible lines, holes, or other balance issues that you may encounter.

4. Learn to self-critique. Sometimes we work on a repeat for so long that our objectivity fades. Not sure if your repeat is ready to send to an agent, studio, or client? Put your repeat to the test in this free training video.

















Found Patterns: Stacked Objects


Images via: (clockwise from top left)  “Stacks” by studio tdes “Pebble Stack” by Ian Griffiths “Ceramic bowls” by ~My aim is true~ “coin stacks” by frankieleon “stacked” by Magnus Hagdorn “stacks” by Michael Cory “Wine Corks_2813” by Barta IV “tire stack”  by Markus Spiske (all images cropped from original sizes)

Upcoming Event: Home Decor Intensive

Designing Textiles for Home Decor

The home decor industry consists of companies that design products for the consumer’s home environment. These companies create products such as bedding, curtains, kitchen towels, shower curtains, rugs, etc. The list goes on and on. Does the thought of seeing your designs on these types of products appeal to you?

If this concept intrigues you, you are invited to the Textile Design Lab Home Decor Intensive from March 20-April 23, 2017. This is an online intensive event, which includes:

Our Sellable Sketch Home Group-Study, which starts on March 20, 2017.

In the Sellable Sketch Home Group-Study you’ll receive bonus content which is focused on the home decor industry, in addition to our famed Sellable Sketch course.

You’ll bring clarity and focus to your collection development process. We’ll help you remove the guesswork about what to design each season and help you tap into your own artistic style.

The biggest question about the home decor market for designers: what home decor do buyers want? We’ll share the latest information and help you discover how to tailor your work to best fit this market.

During the Sellable Sketch Home Group-Study you will:

  • Discover your own artistic style
  • Get tips and advice from industry insiders
  • Learn how to pick appropriate trends and inspiration sources for your target market
  • Create your irresistible surface pattern design collection
  • Receive free access to WGSN for the five week duration of the course
  • Have access to personalized feedback on your work through our private forum and live art critiques


A live training event with Laura Olivia.

We are excited to announce that our Textile Design Lab home decor expert, Laura Olivia, will be joining us for a live training event in April. Laura will be sharing her tips for developing collections for the home decor industry and will be available for questions immediately following the presentation.


Home Decor Tutorials.

This intensive also highlights home decor training from past Textile Design Lab guest experts including: Jackie Shapiro, founder of French Bull, Kat Karnaky of Williams Sonoma Home, and Caroline Cecil.


Grab Your Spot

The Home Decor Intensive is part of our popular membership community, The Textile Design Lab. To be a part of this amazing online experience, you’ll join our community inside The Lab. Not only will you get everything we’ve talked about already, you’ll also have access to the 10 courses and over 40 tutorials included in The Lab. There is no better way to commit to your success and improve your design skills so you can start marketing your business in a big way! You get it all this for just $42/month.

If you’re ready to spring into action this year, show it by joining us in the Textile Design Lab. The Home Decor Intensive starts March 20, 2017. Grab your spot by joining the Lab here.



Interview with Cheryl Phelps, Guest Expert for March in the Textile Design Lab

CherylPhelpsHeadshot1We are thrilled to introduce our next guest expert in the Textile Design Lab, the talented Cheryl Phelps! We can’t wait to share Cheryl’s guest expert training on designing for the stationery market later this month in the Lab (this training will be available exclusively to Textile Design Lab members–join here to gain access!) Today we invite you to learn more about this inspiring designer in the interview below. Enjoy!

Please tell us about your design background and career path. How did you become interested in the world of surface pattern design and art licensing?

I received a Double Major BFA in Surface Design and Painting at the Memphis College of Art and worked for Hallmark Cards as an Artist in Kansas City, designing cards, stationery, gift wrap, paper party decor and more. I’ve been a freelance illustrator, designer, and teacher since 1987. I do workshops, seminars and art licensing consulting and coaching. Surface pattern design has been a passion of mine throughout college and my art career. Over the years, I have sold tons of prints to the garment, paper, gift and home decor market and in 1997 added art licensing to the mix. I have exhibited my surface design prints, humor characters and illustrations in the two art licensing trade shows for 14 years total, 11 years at Surtex and 3 years at the License Expo. Art Licensing has been a way for me to take a single print and spread it across multiple product platforms and years of income, rather than just a one off flat fee sale of the print.


PhelpsAnimalTotemTell us a bit about your design process. What media/design tools do you like to use? What are your go-to sources for design inspiration? (Books, blogs, magazines, etc.)

Primarily I work in Gouache with brush, ink and some computer. I like to paint and then scan the image into Photoshop on the computer, for archival purposes and for adjustments, applying the painting to different product prototypes.

My “go-to sources for design inspiration”, is first, my own imagination. I tease people who ask me that, and usually say, I have so many ideas waiting to come out of my hand, it’s like the planes circling, waiting to land at LaGuardia! There just isn’t enough time to paint all the ideas I think of.

Of course I am addicted to Facebook and seeing my friends wonderful creations. Other artists following their passions in their work, inspires me. I enjoy checking in on, Print + Pattern, FoltBolt and Colossal on Facebook.


What role do trends play in your design process? What are your current favorite print & pattern trends for the stationery market?

Trends of color, subject matter and styles can be helpful for artists who might need a jumpstart to do a collection or address industry and market needs. The challenge is being on the forefront or midpoint of a trend and not the saturation or downside of it. For me personally, and what I tell my students and consulting clients is, Try being more of a Trendsetter, instead of always being a Trend Follower. The cosmos is always sending you ideas, whispering inklings of what to paint or create next and I try to listen, because the cosmos sends other artists ideas every day too. That’s how trends can start out of seemingly unrelated sources and artists. Color trends can be helpful, but colors can be changed, so I don’t let that dictate my color choices. As an example, “Greenery” may be Panatone’s color of the year for 2017, but more than that exact color, it’s telling that “Green”, is in and that can apply to a color or a mindset.

My favorite trend that is always a staple for me is, Nature. Florals and Botanicals are applicable for both Everyday and Seasonal occasions and can be applied across a broad range of products from stationery to home decor and more.


Could you talk a bit about the design cycle for stationery? How far ahead do you design stationery before it lands on the sales floor?

Different products have different lead times. Calendars, as an example are a year and a half to two years out, because calendars for the following year go on sale in the middle to end of the preceding year and there are so many illustrations, designs and photos needed to complete just one calendar. Cards and stationery fall into a 6 month to one year design process before they hit the retail shelves. Production times are getting faster from design to manufacturing to retail delivery. Holiday specific is one to one and a half years out, especially Christmas and Winter Holiday as it is ordered at trade shows in May and on the retail floor by September in time for sales through the end of the year. Everyday sending occasions like Birthday are a 6 month to one year cycle out. Consistently across the paper industry, one year from design to retail is pretty much the norm.



Could you tell us about your experience with stationery buyers and what they are looking for? What can designers do to stand out?

Stationery companies are always looking for Birthday, Christmas, Winter Holiday themes, Florals for Everyday and Seasonal, Print Patterns, Humor, Animals, Fun, Whimsical and Celebratory.

The most important thing a designer can do to stand out is; be unique and express your own creative voice through your work. This is where paying attention to your own artistic visions comes first. I walked Surtex last year and so much of what I saw was the same! Yes, there are some incredibly talented stand out artists and designers who exhibit solo or through their reps and agents at Surtex and the License Expo, but also many who seem to be doing the exact same look.

If you want to stand out, ask yourself; What is your brand? What unique design and artistic expression do you bring to the creative mix? Start with that and then create solid collections of groups of designs or illustrations that can be placed across a broad spectrum of products within the industry. Begin with a central figure or design motif theme and create coordinates that go with it. I call it creating the Prom Queen/King and their Court. Buyers love artists who can create in both collections, as well as individual one off prints. Thus the reason Surtex features both, art licensors specializing in licensing focused collections and
print houses that sell one off or groupings of prints.


What are some of the challenges of designing for stationery? What do you love about it the most?

I’ll start with what I love most. I absolutely love painting, playing with color combinations, working with line and composition and the dance of pattern on the paper. I think of music when I work and the idea that the design motif has a rhythm that resonates on the page, to create the flow and spacing in a pattern. I love the magic that can happen when your imagination manifests a piece that entertains you, as well as the buyer.

I love the idea phase, brainstorming designs and new product applications. I still get a thrill when I see my artwork on cards and other products in the retail stores. And, I love working with other artists and designers in the collaborative process of bringing a seed of an idea, from concept to finish, then to market and to the end consumer, to purchase for all kinds of celebrations, decorating and communicating, with my art as the visual vehicle for those interactions.

Challenges, yes, they are numerous, but for me they are not so much around the designing. The business side of my art biz presents the biggest challenges. Some budgets and fees in the Stationery and Gift markets have not reflected cost of living increases. Some contracts tend to favor companies, more than the artists and some companies have eliminated paying advances for art licensing, instead paying after first quarter of sales or trying to bargain for all flat fee, sales buyouts.

Many companies in the industry, now expect artists and designers to be three artists in one, from art/print/designer, to packaging design and catalog designer, all rolled into one, for one fee, for all those aspects! With most artists being computer savvy now, they are expected to do multiple jobs, for the same fee they used to get paid, to design the print or illustration for. I’m a fierce artist advocate and each of those services used to mean more individual jobs for creatives. Even with all the challenges, there are still many prosperous, mutually fair, artist and client partnerships, that make it all worthwhile. Artists and Designers
continually have to value our own worth in this industry and acknowledge the success we bring to the client’s products with our creative work.


Who are your design heroes (past or present)? What about them inspires you or influences your work?

At the very foundation, since my days in art school, has been a love for fine art, that also has a sense of design. I love Matisse for his color, Picasso’s flowing line, Miro and Calder for their painterly and sculptural whimsy. My contemporary art pals and fellow designers also inspire me, they are too numerous to mention, but I appreciate all of them, for their friendship and motivation

What would you consider to be your most proud achievement(s) or greatest success(es) so far in your design career? What are your goals for the future?

As a personal achievement, I’ve been in this biz a very long time. Art has been my job forever! It’s been fun to see my artwork on all kinds of products. As a veteran of the industry I’ve been happy to share by experience and knowledge with other creatives through my teaching, workshops, coaching and consulting. I’m very proud of being part of other artists paths to art licensing success as well as celebrating my own journey as an artist, designer, illustrator and teacher.


What advice have you received in your career that has stayed with you or influenced you? Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring designers trying to build successful careers of their own? Any advice for designers hoping to break into the stationery market in particular?

Best advice I ever received: Breathe!

Words of wisdom for aspiring designers: Believe in yourself and your talent, the Universe doesn’t bring you this far to drop you.

Advice for designers hoping to break into the stationery market: Research Holiday and Everyday sending and buying occasions, it is the starting point to designing for the Stationery and Gift industry.


Interested in learning more about the stationery market? This training will be available exclusively to Textile Design Lab members–join here to gain access!














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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.