Fits and Stripes (or, How NOT to design a striped pattern!)

Aslan Stripes © 2012 J. Thomson. All rights reserved.

Who would’ve thought that designing a simple repeat pattern of hand-drawn diagonal stripes would be so difficult? Certainly not I. But more than almost any other design I’ve done so far, this one has given me fits trying to get it just right. (And if you think this looks familiar, you’re right… I first made a version of this pattern for Zazzle last year. But I needed to create a new version of it for fabric on Spoonflower.)

Why does it matter? Well because I wanted to see if I could do it. And also because there are lots of striped fabrics on Spoonflower, but none of them have a wavy, hand-drawn line like my stripes do, and still repeat seamlessly. It ended up being quite a challenging learning experience for me, and it makes me wish I’d taken some surface design courses in art school.

The key word in my opening sentence is hand-drawn. Regular stripes are relatively easy. Or at least they are since I finally realized that there is a geometric/mathematical relationship between the width of the stripe, and the size of the repeat. Duh. I’d been designing all of my repeat patterns at the same scale, and couldn’t figure out why my stripes weren’t lining up. Here’s a simple stripe test to illustrate my point. Can you guess which of the three patterns will produce the stripe below? Scroll down for the answer at the end of this post.

© 2012 J. Thomson

Which of these patterns will create the stripes shown? (Scroll down for answer.)

In the first version of my striped pattern I made last year (that was before I knew how to use Adobe Illustrator) I scanned a bunch of lines drawn with a marker, and arranged them in Photoshop. I worked on it for hours to eliminate any traces of the repeat edges. They were still sort of visible (see circled area in image), but it was as good as I could get it using Photoshop. The problem was that even adjusting width and angle of each line in Photoshop, there was still a discernible seam at the edges of the pattern. The human eye is remarkably good at perceiving things like this. It really bugged me that I couldn’t fix it.

Aslan Stripes, © 2011 J. Thomson All rights reserved

Wanting to make an improved version of this design for Spoonflower using Illustrator, I opened up the original Photoshop “repeating” (not really) pattern I made in black and white. Doing a “live trace” resulted in wavy lines with nice crisp edges like I wanted them, but now the mismatch at the pattern edges was pretty bad. To make matters even worse, I discovered that the odd number of stripes caused a bizarre zebra effect when repeated. (Black stripes turned into white stripes at the edges of the pattern.)



© 2012 J. Thomson All rights reserved

See how the original pattern creates an obvious seam when repeated?

I had to manually edit each stripe’s bezier curves at the margins so that (for instance) the top of the stripe matched the bottom, and the left edge matched the right. Even if Illustrator hadn’t crashed without saving my edits, it still would’ve taken me half the day to do it. Then I recolored the stripes, eliminating a few of them so that I had the correct number of stripes to repeat correctly.

After all of that work, I now have a beautiful pattern of hand-drawn stripes that repeats invisibly! Whew!

The scale of this preview image is a fat quarter… 22″ wide x 18″ tall. The pattern itself is 12″ x 12″. See if you can detect the pattern edges now!

Aslan Stripes © 2012 J. Thomson. All rights reserved.

22″ x 18″ swatch. Can you see the pattern repeats at 12″?


Aslan Stripes © 2012 J. Thomson. All rights reserved.

22″ x 18″ swatch. Can you see the pattern repeats at 12″?

So now that I know that I can make a real repeating pattern of hand-drawn diagonal stripes, the next challenge is to see if I can do it where the angle of the stripes is not 45˙. I found it impossible a year or so ago using only a marker on paper and Photoshop. Stay tuned. I suspect that more math will be involved…

Here’s the answer to the simple stripe test above. Did you pick the right one?

© 2012 J .Thomson All rights reserved.

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