Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Pattern Work, Variations on a Theme

Illustration: Crossley of Halifax. Carpet design, 1850.

Pattern work can often appear to be both complex and diverse, with each design being seemingly unique in its own right with only one way of producing it and equally only one way of viewing it. However, pattern work can be much more adaptable and versatile than first appearances show, with some work producing infinite varieties of uniqueness with just small adjustments.

The three carpet designs illustrated in this article were produced by Crossley of Halifax in 1850. At first, all seem to be the same design, but on closer inspection it can be seen that the pattern has been manipulated to produce more than one alternative effect. Although this is a relatively crude example and to be fair the joins are more than apparent in the pattern work, it is still a good example of how pattern can shift emphasis in colour, tone and shape by a matter of taking a key element and inversing, reversing or transposing either a complex or a relatively simple character in the design.

Illustration: Crossley of Halifax. Carpet design, 1850.

It is these manipulations of motif and general pattern that gives infinite variety and can sometimes even give the impression that dozens of individual design pieces have been created while still using the one original design idea. This has been part of the vocabulary of decoration and ornamentation since humans first developed pattern work. It has been legitimately used by designers to give variety and full expression to decorative work. However, it has also been exploited by manufacturers, buying one small design from a freelance designer and then endlessly duplicating that one piece in a variety of incarnations.

It can be difficult to draw the line between the legitimate and full development of a design idea, and the cynical abuse of that same idea. It is perhaps a muddied area of the decorative world in which both sides, art and industry could conceivably be accused of the manipulation of the consumer. However, the creative journey of one piece of pattern work, or even one element of a pattern can be an extraordinarily inventive and inspired voyage of discovery and of often accidental revelations.

Illustration: Crossley of Halifax. Carpet design, 1850.

The Crossley carpet designs are perhaps not the best examples of the creative journey of pattern work; they are perhaps best seen as monikers of the endless manipulation of pattern. By understanding that pattern is by its nature both incredibly fluid and dynamic, and not a static medium set in stone, we are free to examine and endlessly manipulate countless ideas in decoration and ornament, from line to colour, from tone to motif.

Pattern work is perhaps one of the best and endlessly individualistic mediums and although, like any other medium, there are rules and regulations for the successful completion of work, the variety and vocabulary of pattern work is so old and so diverse that it could be said that there are still endless possibilities within the surface pattern world to produce work that is unique and uncopied. That also implies that there is no real need to reinvent, reimagine, reissue, or reincarnate existing pattern work. Every year colleges around the globe produce new surface pattern designers who are only too often vastly underused by industry and the retail market as back catalogues are manipulated and plagiarised. This is not to say that all pattern work bought should be contemporary, this has never been the case. However, contemporary pattern work should be reflected perhaps a little more prominently than it sometimes is.

Reference links:
Surface Pattern Design: A Handbook of How to Create Decorative and Repeat Patterns for Designers and Students
Patterns: New Surface Design
The Pattern Sourcebook: A Century of Surface Design
Surface Design Concepts in Sulky [ 1993 ] Rayon and Metallic Decorative Threads for use with any Sewing Machine (Bonus: full-size toucan applique cutwork neckline pattern, Step-by-step full color instructional photos)
Cutting Edge Surface Patterns & Palettes
Pattern: An Exhibition of the Decorated Surface
Surface Pattern Desgin

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