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Study Room resource: Pattern

Prints and drawings, including fashion illustrations, architectural drawings, design drawings, watercolours, posters and much more, not on display in the galleries, can be seen in the Prints, Drawings and RIBA Architecture Study Rooms. To make it easier for teachers and lecturers to access the most popular material with groups, we have developed themed study room resources which contain original prints and drawings.

This Study Room resource examines designs for wallpaper and texiles by designers from 1868 to 1978.

Teachers' notes

This resource could be adapted for different key stages. The notes are divided into three sections focussing on pre-visit preparation, using the resources in the Museum and post-visit follow up in the classroom.

Download: Study room resource: Pattern - teachers' notes (PDF file, 22 KB)

All around us we see shapes and decoration combined to form repeat patterns. The suggested activities here aim to broaden pupils' understanding of repeat pattern and help them to use this knowledge in the design and making of their own patterns. By studying examples of the V&A's vast collection in the Prints & Drawings Study Room and Museum galleries, pupils can learn to analyse designs and see how they are built up. Pupils can explore pattern in artwork, ceramics, graphics, printmaking, product design and textiles.

Before your visit

Pupils will need some experience of building shapes into simple patterns before they try to analyse the detailed patterns that can be seen in the works in the Prints & Drawings Study Room. The first step is to devise the basic unit that is repeated to make up a pattern. Pupils should start by using simple shapes as the basic pattern unit before attempting more complex combinations.

Ask pupils to draw rectangles, about 4cm by 6cm, on squared paper. Within each rectangle, pupils should draw a shape that is easy to understand as a line drawing. If pupils already have a theme for their pattern, their shapes should be linked to this theme. Flowers, plants, leaves or fruits can all be adapted; architectural details such as railings, windows or scaffolding are another rich source for shapes. Pupils could also produce shapes based on abstract geometrical designs.

The shapes should be asymmetrical, and could be a combination of curves and straight lines. Pupils who need more guidance can be restricted in the number or type of straight lines (vertical, horizontal or diagonal) to use. The shapes should touch the four sides of the rectangle as this makes it easier to repeat the pattern unit.

Pupils should select one of the shapes they have designed and produce a good drawing of it inside its rectangle in black line. This will be the pattern unit. It should be traced or photocopied several time on to an A4 sheet of paper, which can itself be photocopied. Pupils can colour their shapes black on one sheet to make silhouettes, and on another colour the background black leaving the shape white. Mirror-image patterns can be made by cutting out the shapes, turning them over, and sticking them into blank rectangles. Pupils can now practise building the units into simple repeating patterns. They should pay particular attention to how the units are joined together, and should experiment with their unit shape in order to become familiar with the ways of forming repeat patterns. The simplest repeat is made by placing one unit next to another. Patterns can also be formed by turning the unit through 180°, to give a mirror repeat, or by moving a half unit in any direction.

Discuss what the final pattern is to be used for. Pupils should be aware of the importance of scale. A pattern that is effective on the large, flat surface of a wallpaper or carpet may not work on the smaller scale of a scarf or dress that is subject to folds and movement.

In the Prints & Drawings Study Room

Ask your pupils to identify and draw the basic unit of a particular pattern. They should sketch the outline of the shape and any internal detail, noticing how these contribute to the impact of the pattern. Pupils should estimate the dimensions of the unit they are drawing. If you are studying pattern in depth, pupils may have time to examine only two or three patterns in detail. They may like to look briefly at other examples, especially any that relate to their own themes.

Next, pupils should examine the boundaries of each unit, and how the unit is joined to other units to form a pattern. They need not draw the whole of each unit, but should just sketch the boundary detail. In complex patterns it may be difficult to see the 'seams' between the units, and therefore work out the extent of the basic pattern unit. Pupils should sketch the layout of the pattern, recording the arrangement of the repeats. They should estimate the scale of the repeats, and how much space there is between pattern units. Lastly, they should record how colour is used throughout the pattern, including the background.

Around the Museum

The V&A's collections contain many examples of repeating pattern. Textiles (Rooms 98-100) houses a large range of woven, embroidered, printed and lace textiles from different periods and cultures, many of which use pattern.. The British Galleries (Rooms 122 - 125c) show examples of pattern from the Victorian period. The South Asia, Islamic Middle East, Japan, China and Korea galleries (rooms 41-47g) all display examples of repeat patterns.

Back at school

Pupils should use their preparatory work on the basic units of pattern and their research at the V&A in the design patterns for their own projects. They should work out an appropriate scale for the pattern, related to the intended use. They will probably want to move beyond the limitations of using simple line drawings or a shape that touches every edge of the rectangle. It is still helpful, however, to use a rectangle as a guide.

Pupils should pay close attention to the way in which the units are linked, as it is easy for the pattern to look disjointed. They should spend time experimenting with different ways of forming a repeat and the amount of space between pattern units. Drawing a few copies of the pattern unit on transparent film for overhead projects will enable them to experiment. Once the spacing of the repeats is decided, corner crosses can be marked around the pattern unit to ensure the correct alignment. Pupils should pay particular attention to what happens at the edges of the pattern, to ensure that the design is not spoiled if a pattern unit is dissected. Different colour combinations can be tested using hand-coloured photocopies or simple computer drawing and colouring packages available.

Further information

Allen, J. The Designer's Guide to Japanest Patterns, Thames & Hudson, 1988

Phillips, P., Bunce, G. Repeat Patterns: a Manual for Designers, Artists and Architects, Thames & Hudson, 1993

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