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Designing Patterns
By Marcie Cooperman on Jun, 22 2015
Moschino, AW 2015-16Moschino, AW 2015-16


Suddenly, after years of flat color blocking, patterns are on everybody’s minds for AW 2015-16.  In our last blog we identified 1960’s cultural color and design icons, and explored their influence on the current crop of patterns.  This week, let’s explore what makes a pattern.  At the end of this blog, we’ll see what those cover Moschino patterns are up to.

A pattern is an arrangement of shapes, lines or colors that repeat in a predictable manner.  There are three ways to form the repetition:  alternation, sequence and rhythm.

Alternation:  A repetition includes at least two factors alternating and contrasting against each other – colors, hues, values, intensities, types of lines or shapes.  For example, Tanya Taylor’s dress includes a simple repetition of lines, forming stripes.  Repetition is not always simple and not always in a line – for example, the Colorways Villa Nova paisley.

Tanya Taylor AW 2015-16Tanya Taylor AW 2015-16


Colorways Villa Nova PatternColorways Villa Nova Pattern


The particular set of colors, lines and shapes in a pattern establishes an expectation for it all to repeat.  So, any element that differentiates from the repetition is noticed immediately and becomes the focal point.  It’s useful for sending an artistic message or spotlighting an area, like Mary Katrantzou’s coat, which alternates gray with high value pink, drawing the eye to the more intense pink shoulders and pockets. 

Mary Katrantzou AW 2015-16Mary Katrantzou AW 2015-16


Sequence:  A repetition of several elements forms a discrete arrangement of shapes, lines or colors – a sequence.  The sequence can be repeated to form the pattern.  Also, two different sequences can work together, like the Tanya Taylor dress above.  The bodice sequence repeats two adjacent black lines.  The skirt pattern repeats a sequence of a narrow then a wide black line.  The sides repeat the vertical bodice sequence horizontally.

Mary Katrantzou’s patterned skirt illustrates two sequences:  the paisley-like element and the blue background elements.  The achromatic fabric pattern alternates two sequences that are similar except for the colors – one is gray, the other black.

Mary Katrantzou skirt, AW 2015-16Mary Katrantzou skirt, AW 2015-16


Two similar sequences that alternateTwo similar sequences that alternate


Rhythm:  Rhythm is the harmony and movement a sequence gains from its design contrasts – high values next to low; complex lines abut simple lines; orange next to blue.  This rhythm creates an aesthetic result with emphasis and rest within and between each sequence.  Rhythm is the heartbeat, the emotion – harmony or discord – we feel from the rise and fall of those elements.  For example, Pucci’s rhythm expresses excitement through the repetition of curves with alternating orientation, and also through the sequence of intensities of reds, yellows and white. 

Emilio Pucci, 1964Emilio Pucci, 1964


The twisted lines give the Marimekko strip pattern a totally different rhythm from the straight Tanya Taylor stripes – softer and more organic.

Marimekko SP2008Marimekko SP2008


Temperly’s stripes feel ethnic due to the linear repetition of shapes and the strong value contrasts, with secondary hues placed against white and black.  Balmain’s hues are also high intensity, but their allover pattern in an uneven repetition against a black ground creates a softer rhythm.

Temperly AW2015-16Temperly AW2015-16


Balmain AW2015-16Balmain AW2015-16


Now that you understand the elements of a pattern, we can evaluate the Moschino patterns in the cover image:  a very sophisticated combination of repetition and surprise.  The pale blue outfit on the left repeats oversized gray curvy elements with an asterisk center, although their size camouflages the repetition.  The center dress repeats two sequences of blue florals on a black ground, with a seemingly random overlay of white text.  The dress on the right repeats colors, if not shapes.

Now you can evaluate more designer patterns with your new-found knowledge, and you can even begin to separate the good from the ordinary.  Not all patterns are winners like Moschino!


Feel free to check out my textbook called Color: How to Use It by Marcie Cooperman, published by Pearson.

Color and how to use it