Finding Inspiration for My First Pattern Collection

Last week we talked about Pattern Design: what it is and why I’m so passionate about it. I’m still participating in the 100-day challenge and my daily creative task is to make a pattern. As you can probably imagine, I’m learning a lot about myself, how to stay motivated and find inspiration to keep going each day. So this topic is very top of mind!

One of my goals during this challenge is to create pattern collections instead of just creating one-off or standalone patterns. We are on day 22 of the challenge and I’m super excited to share that I’ve just completed my first collection.

I’m excited to share my process with you over the next several weeks. We’ll cover everything from gathering inspiration to finalizing color and scale and creating product mockups. Creating patterns is so much fun. I needed help and support when I first got started designing patterns and you may too.

To help you, I've included a free guide called: Top 5 Tips to Getting Started in Pattern Design. Scroll down to see it!

Now, let's jump in and start with what a pattern collection consists of and how to find and gather inspiration.

What is a pattern “collection”?

Surface pattern designers frequently design in collections which are a series of coordinating prints that work well together. Quilters love collections because they can mix and match patterns from a collection to make interesting designs. Fabric companies and sewing enthusiasts also like collections because they enable interesting coordinating details on the cuffs of a blouse, for example. Or on the inside of a shirt collar.

Definitions vary but generally a collection is made up of 8-10 patterns. Within the collection you’ll find:

-       1-2 hero prints; these are the stars of the show; the print that immediately grabs your attention

-       3-4 secondary prints: these act like character actors if we stick with the star analogy or members of supporting cast

-       3-4 blender prints or tertiary prints: these are very simple, yet also beautiful patterns that really bring the entire collection together and blend beautifully with the more colorful or ornate patterns in the collection

A smaller, slightly less involved collection might be a mini-collection that includes:

-       1 hero print

-       3 secondary prints, and

-       2 blender prints

Here is a beautiful example of a collection by Elizabeth Olwen, a pattern designer currently living in Portugal. She is inspired by bold prints from the 1960s that she was surrounded by as a young child. She carries that style forward with a modern twist. I find her style distinctive, recognizable and joyful.

Elizabeth Olwen's Morning Song Collection. Available at Cloud9 Fabrics.

Elizabeth Olwen's Morning Song Collection. Available at Cloud9 Fabrics.

The last thing I’ll say for now about collections is that individual prints within the collection may be offered in two or more color options. As you can see in the image above, Elizabeth designed several hero and secondary prints and then offers her blender prints in two or even sometimes three different colors.

For example, the small leaf print is offered in orange, dark purple and grey. The number of color options offered may be based on the design brief from the fabric company or left up to the designer’s discretion.

Finding and Gathering Inspiration

Now let’s move on to the first step in the pattern collection creation process: finding and gathering inspiration.

Before I start sketching or painting elements for my patterns, I like to determine a theme or overall story for the collection. This involves gathering photographs, magazine images, objects and other items that inspire me and relate to the theme I’ve picked.

Other places to find inspiration include:

-       Objects in your home that inspire you

-       Doodles in your sketchbook

-       Stories in your journal

-       Photographs on your iPhone

-       Coffee table books with beautiful images that relate to your theme

-       Print and pattern blogs and magazines

Once you’ve found enough, and sometimes this part can get a little overwhelming, it’s fun to create a mood board. A mood board can be a physical board that you attach images to or you can build a digital version.

Create your own Pinterest board with images on it that relate to the theme of your collection. Pin additional images there so you have everything in one place.

Another option is to create a template in Illustrator or another design app and drop copies of your images there.  Include color ideas and key words that support your theme.  Name it to help give you a direction or a clear path as you start down the drawing and sketching process.

Here is just a small snapshot of what popped up when I searched Pinterest for Liberty prints.

I picked Liberty prints as the inspiration for my first pattern collection because I wore them as a child growing up in Paris. Read more about my experiences there. A fond childhood memory is a fabulous vacation spent in Greece with pictures of me and one of my sisters wearing matching Liberty print shirt dresses.

Another key piece of inspiration for this collection comes from a Kate Spade floral blouse that I purchased in her Soho store over 20 years ago. I wore this blouse until it literally tore into pieces. I can't wear it any more but I still have it! 

As a lover of flowers generally, and Liberty prints in particular, this seemed like a natural place for me to start when building my first pattern collection. I knew this theme would give me plenty of creative inspiration.

Creating a mood board is not entirely necessary but it can help keep you focused and bring you back to your original inspiration when you get distracted. It’s a great resource to keep near you as you start the design process. I referenced back to mine often and it always brought a smile to my face along with new energy and determination.

Join me again next week as we move into the drawing and sketching part of the process.

And before you go, download my Top 5 Tips for Getting Started in Pattern Design

Remember, It’s Never Too Late To Create!



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