Design and make your own Islamic tile and printed pattern

Produced as part of Epic Iran

Ran from 29 May 2021 to 12 September 2021

More about this Exhibition

Discover new shapes and patterns though our collection of Islamic art. Learn about symmetry and calligraphy, and design your own Islamic tile and tessellating pattern. Designed for ages 7 and up.

Islamic art is often found in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Egypt and Turkey. It celebrates design and creativity relating to the Muslim religion.

What are Islamic Patterns?

When making objects for mosques and other religious buildings, Muslim artists do not usually include people and animals. This is because it might look like people are praying to them, instead of to God. Instead artists often focus on rich colours, patterns, geometric shapes, plants and flowers.

Tesselating cross and star pattern, made from intricately patterned tiles in brown, and golden tones.
Tile panel, decorated by Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Abi Tahir, 1262, Iran. Museum no. 1837&A, C, E, F-1876, 1487-1876, 1489-1876, 1838&C, E-1876, 1077-1892, 1099&A-1892, 1100&A-1892. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

These beautiful tiles come from Iran and are over 750 years old! Can you see the cross and eight-pointed star shapes? This arrangement of shapes can be repeated infinitely, over and over again, and is called a tessellating pattern.

The tiles are also symmetrical. If you drew a line down the middle of one of them, the pattern would be the same on each side. What symmetrical objects can you find around your house?

Left: Blue ceramic cross with intricate botanical detailing. Middle: Four tiles making up a yellow, blue and green circular pattern. Right: Hexagonal blue tile, with a white six pointed star in the centre. Inside the star is a geometric blue pattern.
Left to right: Tile, early 14th century, Iran. Museum no. 1835A-1876. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Tile, 17th century. Museum no. 964B-1873. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Tile, about 1420 – 1450, Syria. Museum no. 411-1898. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

What is calligraphy?

Decorative writing, called calligraphy, is often used in Islamic art. It can be used for messages, to add a texture to an artwork, or to make it even more beautiful. The writing could be a poem, or might quote the Qur’an – the main religious text of Islam.

Large intricately patterned carpet in blue, burnt orange, and yellow tones. Decorative circular pattern moving out from middle.
The Ardabil Carpet, about 1539 – 1540, Iran. Museum no. 272-1893© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This is the Ardabil carpet, one of the biggest and finest carpets in the world. It is more than 5 meters wide and 10 meters long. The maker of the carpet has used calligraphy. A piece of poetry, a signature and the year it was made have been added in Persian. Can you see it written below?

Section of the Ardabil Carpet. Intricate floral pattern on a blue background. Calligraphy text.
The Ardabil Carpet, about 1539 – 1540, Iran. Museum no. 272-1893© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

There are many more examples of Islamic calligraphy in our collection.

Left: Islamic glass vase decorated with calligraphy, middle: woodblock print with ornamental calligraphy in the form of a gazelle, right: gilt copper falcon decorated with calligraphic detailing.
Left to right: Mosque lamp, about 1382 – 1399, Egypt. Museum no. 325-1900. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Gazelle woodblock print, 19th century, Pakistan. Museum no. IM.6-1916. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Falcon shaped standard (alam), 17th Century, India. Museum no. IM.163-1913. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Design your own Islamic tile

Now it’s time for you to design your own Islamic tile. For this activity you will need:

  • Thick card or packaging, such as a cereal box
  • A pencil and coloured pencils
  • Coloured paper or magazines
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Natural materials such as leaves, sticks or flowers
Leaves, coloured paper shapes, pencil, and card, spread out to start the activity
Materials ready for the activity. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

What to do:

1. Find some small leaves, sticks or flowers that you think have interesting shapes.

2. Put these objects on top of coloured paper or a page from a magazine. Draw around each object with your pencil.

3. Move your object to a different coloured sheet or magazine page and draw around it again. Repeat this several times.

4. Carefully cut all the shapes out, using scissors (with adult help if needed) and put them to one side.

Scissors cutting card
Step 5 – cutting a tile shape out of folded card. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

5. Now you need to make a tile base out of card or a cereal box. It can be any shape you like. For inspiration, look back at the tile shapes you have seen already.

To ensure your tile has at least one line of symmetry, fold the card in half and cut out your shape. Then unfold it to see your creation. The more folds you do before cutting out the shape, the more lines of symmetry your tile will have.

6. Gather your colourful shapes from earlier. Start to arrange them on top of your new card tile base. Can you layer them so that there is a symmetrical pattern similar to the examples from the V&A’s collection? Can you also find space to draw your name in a decorative way, in the style of calligraphy, using coloured pencils?

7. When you’re happy with your design, use glue to stick down your cut-outs. You have just made an Islamic-inspired tile!

Example tile pattern on paper, with shapes glued on top to decorate
Example of a symmetrical Islamic tile inspired by natural shapes. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Design your own tessellating pattern print

For this activity you will need:

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Any type of paint or ink, different colours if possible
  • Potato or other firm root vegetable
  • Knife (for an adult to cut the potato)
  • An old plate, tub, or a paper plate
  • Either card, cardboard (could be a cereal box or recycled packaging) or a piece of fabric
Hand drawing tessellating cross and circle pattern
An example of tessellating shapes. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

What to do:

1. Go on a hunt for shapes around your house. Find two interesting shapes that fit together – or tesselate – just like the cross and star tiles. If you need to, you can alter or simplify the shapes you find to make them tesselate.

2. Draw your tessellating pattern on a piece of paper to test if it works and can be repeated again and again.

3. Ask your adult to cut a medium sized potato in half. Then use a felt tip and draw your two shapes on the cut side of each half of the potato.

4. Ask your adult to cut out these shapes.

5. Pour some paint or ink into an old plate or tub.

6. Dip your potato slice shapes into the paint or ink, and press it onto the paper or fabric to print your shape.

7. Now try to use another shape that fits with your first shape and print it next to it with a different colour.

8. Repeat this process as many times as you can.

Where would you use this pattern? Perhaps for tiles in the kitchen? Or to decorate your clothes?

Potato print of blue cross and red circle pattern
An example of printed tessellating shapes. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Share your Islamic art inspired designs with us using #VAMFamilies

Background image: Tile panel, decorated by Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Abi Tahir, 1262, Iran. Museum no. 1837&A, C, E, F-1876, 1487-1876, 1489-1876, 1838&C, E-1876, 1077-1892, 1099&A-1892, 1100&A-1892. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London