SPECIAL FEATURE: Turn Your Artwork Into A Fabric Print Pattern

Hi, I’m Eileen McKenna. I’ve been painting in watercolor for close to 10 years. This year my focus has been on painting the beach – my favorite place. I’m lucky enough to live on Long Island in New York, close to the beach. Whenever I visit, I take lots of pictures, which I paint from. You can see many of my beach paintings here.

Blue Wave #11

Watercolor Painting by Eileen McKenna

I’ve been blogging about my creative projects since January 2014 at www.mycreativeresolution.com. When I entered the blogging world, I quickly became fascinated by the print patterns I saw – those repeating patterns for fabric, gift wrap, wallpaper, any surface!

Artwork Fabric print patterns by Eileen McKenna

In my second year of blogging I set a goal to design one pattern a month. Since then, I’ve designed over 25 print patterns. Most are available for sale on Spoonflower.

I try to work regularly in my sketchbook – doodling with a smooth black gel pen. Sometimes I paint these doodles with watercolor (sometimes it’s watercolor first, pen second). When I’m ready to design a pattern I’ll look in my sketchbook for illustrations that stand out.

Creating A Repeated Pattern

The trick with designing patterns is creating a “repeat” – a small image that you can place to the left, right, above, and below itself and it will seamlessly repeat, so that you don’t see any edges and none of the elements get cut off.

artwork fabric print pattern by Eileen McKenna

Recently, I took this sunflower painting/illustration I created and scanned it to make a repeating pattern. In Photoshop, I create an art board larger than my intended repeat size and use guides to mark the repeat. Elements can overlap the guides, but anything that goes over gets cut off. So for a sunflower that gets cut off on the top, the rest of the flower must exist at the bottom to complete the sunflower. Like this:

Creating repeating pattern Photoshop fabric print

When I’m finished laying out the elements, I crop the image at the guidelines to create my repeat. Here is the final repeat:

Repeating Pattern example by Eileen McKenna

When it is repeated it looks like this:

Repeating pattern example by Eileen McKenna

Another fabric pattern I created is called Swimming Laps

artwork fabric repeating pattern swimmers by Eileen McKenna

This is what the repeat looks like:

Repeating pattern example swimmers by Eileen McKenna

Once I drew the swimmers in my sketchbook, I knew I wanted to turn them into a pattern. Because of this, I drew the lane lines separately, as well as painted dabs of water for the background separate from the swimmers. I did this because I thought it would be easier (to make the design seamless) if the background was in pieces that I could manipulate and overlap in Photoshop.

Artwork for repeating patterns by Eileen McKenna

Currently, I’m working on a wave print pattern – merging my two loves, painting the beach and designing fabric prints. If you’re interesting in turning your artwork into a repeating pattern, this post provides step-by-step instruction.

Eileen McKenna

Recommended8 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists, Tutorials

36 thoughts on “SPECIAL FEATURE: Turn Your Artwork Into A Fabric Print Pattern

  1. Thank you! As a textile person, I have been interested in creating my own fabrics like that, and I have even tried it once or twice but didn’t like the results. I think your instructions on planning the repeat will be very helpful for me!

  2. Eileen, your artwork is fun, vibrant, and translates well to fabric. You found some interesting ways to make the process smooth.

    Thirty years ago, I was a designer for a large California fabric business. We did all the work by hand, including planning half drops and other repeating patterns. Once learned, it was easy to determine how to create a pattern that could repeat seamlessly and endlessly. We usually painted with Luma dyes, similar to watercolors but with very intense hues. I loved the work, despised the office politics, and was glad to leave to work with kids. How much easier it is now with Photoshop and other computer apps.

    1. Sharon, Thank you so much. Wow, that sounds like a fantastic experience! I can somewhat imagine as I got into graphic design just as computers were taking off. I had a few teachers that were reluctant to let go of the old ways and had us cutting and pasting letters to create our type layouts. Even working for over 20 years designing with computers, I never could have predicted how the internet and social media would change things!

  3. I love your designs! And what a timely post, as this is exactly what I’ve been wanting to do with some of my pen and watercolor botanical sketches. It’s the seamless “repeat” aspect that I have trouble imagining, now that I no longer have Photoshop or the option of buying it. Do you have any suggestions for how a person might go about this without Photoshop? Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    1. Hi Quinn, sorry I missed your comment. I’ve always had the luxury of using Photoshop because I work as a graphic designer, so off the top of my head I don’t know of any other programs. I’ve heard of Photoshop Elements which is cheaper but which features you lose out on I don’t know. If you have students in the house you may be able to get a discount on software through http://www.academicsuperstore.com/ I currently have a monthly subscription to Adobe creative cloud which gives me all the software I’ve always used plus great apps like Adobe Draw and Adobe Sketch. They’ve allowed me to start drawing on my iPad. If I come across other ideas, I’ll let you know. 😀

  4. Hello Eillen,
    Good morning.
    My name is Alex Fernández and am based in the City of Merida Yucatan in the South of Mexico.
    I have some images that I want to turn into a repeat pattern to make digital printing.
    I will need to develop 4 patterns per month.
    Would like to know if you can help us with this project and do business..
    Will look forward for for your response..
    Thank you!
    Best regards.

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