Geometry in Textile Design

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Do you love clothing with colorful patterns? Have you ever thought how those patterns are created? In this lesson, explore how geometry is used in textile design.

What is Textile Design?

Colorful and bold patterned textiles are all around us. We wear them and decorate our homes with them. They're made by people all over the world who have distinct customs and patterns. Many are the work of textile designers, who often use geometry to create their designs.

Geometry is used in the patterns on many textiles
colorful textiles

Before we get into specifics, let's cover some basics; what are textiles exactly? Textiles are fabrics; they are created by interweaving the threads of natural or synthetic fibers, usually through a process like knitting or weaving. And textile design is the process of creating patterns in knitted or woven textiles, as well as creating printed designs on fabric surfaces.

Textile designers create the look and feel of textiles. They might begin by hand-drawing rough designs, then scanning them into a computer and using CAD (computer-assisted design) programs to adjust and finalize the design. To create designs, they often use elements of geometry.

Geometry, a branch of mathematics, is the study of shapes, patterns, and sizes and their relation to each other in space. It involves shapes like circles, lines, and triangles. Many textile designs use elements like color and line organization in regular patterns. These patterns are often defined by geometry. So, in textile design, geometry is used to define how the design elements are laid out and how they relate to each other.

Examples of Geometry in Textile Design

Textile designers use geometry in several ways. Geometry helps define the underlying structure of how elements are placed in a given design. Among the simplest designs that use geometry are stripes and checkerboard fabric. Sometimes these patterns are woven right into the textile by using specific arrangements of horizontal and vertical threads.

Plain pattern woven into a textile
plaid pattern

Geometry is also involved in designing pattern repeats. A pattern repeat is how a design element replicates across a fabric surface, often based on variations of a grid of horizontal and vertical lines. Repeats like the full drop, where an element repeats in a straightforward grid, and the half drop where the element is staggered in rows, are based on shifting figures around on the underlying grid. Pattern repeats allow for textiles without distinct boundaries, which is useful when you don't want awkward gaps in a pattern used, for example, to make curtains or upholster a large sofa.

Some textile patterns bring geometry front and center. You've probably seen colorful textiles that have abstract patterns on their surfaces. When something is abstract, it doesn't represent anything found in the natural world. In addition to stripes, abstract patterns might include circles, triangles and zigzags. Some designs have layers of geometric elements and bold colors that work together to create exciting patterns. Examples include arching spirals with grids of colored lines and interlocking circles of different bold colors.

Some textiles have abstract geometric designs. This one is from the 1920s.
abstract design

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