Types of Repeats in Textile Designing

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.

Have you ever tried to make an item of clothing or a pillow cover? Did you have to pay attention to the pattern on different fabric segments? When that pattern starts again, it's called a repeat. In this lesson, explore five kinds of repeat patterns used in textile designing.

What is a Repeat?

Have you ever tried to sew an item or clothing or make a pair of drapes? Were you able to match fabric pieces so the pattern on them lined up without gaps? The point where an identical design begins again on a textile is called a repeat. Textile designers use repeats because they can enable large pieces of fabrics to be printed without breaks or awkward gaps in a pattern. The idea of repeats in textile designs has been around for a long time, and there's an endless variety of them. Why use repeats? The goal is to make a textile design look like it never ends. It can be an effective decorative strategy and can be done on almost any type of fabric. Today, with digital technology, the variety and complexity of repeats can be almost endless. And by the way, if you've ever tried to wallpaper a room and worked to make sure the pattern lined up, that's another example of a decorative material using repeats.

Fabric sample booklet with examples of different kinds of repeats, ca. 1850
textile sample pages

Within the textile industry, there's another, more specific meaning for repeat. It's also the distance between identical figures in a repeat pattern, the number of inches before the whole pattern starts over. Small repeats like dots simply cover the fabric for a uniform appearance. Large repeats (for example, paisley prints on drapery fabric) may take up more inches before the pattern repeats. In fact, the standard for upholstery fabric is a 48-inch wide piece of fabric with designs that use a 24-inch horizontal repeat. That means the design starts over every 24 inches.

Different Types of Repeats

Repeat patterns may run horizontal or vertical. Designers have many ways of taking a single figure and covering a textile with it. Now let's look at a few of the most basic types of repeats. For this discussion, the word 'figure' means a single design element. It's this element that will be used to create the repeat.

A block repeat takes the figure and places it on a simple grid. The figure, always pointing in the same direction, appears over and over again in rows that line up vertically and horizontally.

Example of a block repeat on a 17th century silk
block repeat pattern

A half-brick repeat takes each horizontal row and staggers it so that it doesn't line up with the rows above and below it. This repeat pattern gets its name from the resemblance to how bricks are laid to form a brick wall. The figure is placed over and over again along a horizontal row. Then, when the next row is placed, instead of forming a simple grid, the pattern is offset so the figures don't line up vertically.

Example of a half-brick repeat. Notice how each row of figures is offset from those above and below it.
half-brick repeat pattern

Now, take that type of offset pattern and make it vertical instead of horizontal. A half-drop repeat places the figure over and over again in a vertical column. Then, in the next column, each figure is offset halfway from the ones in the neighboring column so the figures don't line up horizontally. Think of a brick wall placed on its side so that each row of bricks runs in long vertical columns. This kind of repeat, by the way, is one of the most popular in textile design.

Example of half-drop repeat.
Half-drop repeat

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