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pattern design A Period Design Sourcebook SIAN EVANS



A Period Design Sourcebook SIAN EVANS

table of contents Introduction

THE NATIONAL TRUST................................02

Chapter 1


Chapter 2

THE NATURAL WORLD................................14

Chapter 3

ARTS AND CRAFTS.....................................30


OVER THE LAST TWO DECADES, THERE HAS BEEN A PROFOUND NEW FASCINATION WITH AND APPRECIATION for all aspects of life in the past. Alongside the current preoccupation with the social mores, buildings, fashions and technological achievements of former ages, there is a parallel resurgence of interest in the patterns, motifs and styles that comprised and defined the material culture of our history. The initial appeal of an ordered and restrained Robert Adam interior or an Arts and Crafts fireplace is selfevident; they can be admired for their intrinsic decorative qualities, as they represent in three dimensions facets of domestic life as it was lived in those centuries and in those particular circles. But there is a more subtle significance to be deduced from these flashes of creativity and consummate craftsmanship. What remains in a historic setting tells us more about the lives of the people who created or commissioned them, if we choose to analyze it; what they admired, how they saw themselves and their position in the world. Historic designs offer a glorious source of inspiration for all varieties of creative professionals, whether pattern designers, architects, artists or illustrators, working in the twenty-first century. Enormous decorative potential lies in the material holding of the National Trust. The charity looks after hundreds of historic buildings, from humble Charist cottages to opulent Renaissance-style mansions, Victorian pubs to medieval castles. The Trust exists to care for historic buildings and places of natural beauty, balancing public access with the necessity to conserve its sites in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This problem provides ample and unparalleled opportunities for visitors to examine in person, and in detail, the kind of settings previously only accessible to the very wealthy. Taken as a whole, the charity now cares for an almost encyclopedic collection of objects, far exceeding in number the art and artefacts held by any of the greatest museums. There are millions of artefacts, from the most lavish to the most humble. All of them are of some interest, many of them are patterned, a section of which have been selected for this book.

There is a certain democracy in the approach to inclusion here; the art and artefacts featured in this

and pattern makers frequently referred to the styles and forms of previous eras, in response to their clients’

book range from Roman mosaic floors to medieval

passion for the past, whether it be classical antiquity

carvings, ornate bed-hangings to gem-encrusted

or to hint at noble antecedents to raise their own social

cabinets, intricate stained glass to nursery friezes.

status; indeed, it would appear that historic revivalism

Each of these objects was originally designed and

has a long and honorable history when it comes to

made by someone for a variety of reasons – usually

pattern design.

and primarily to fulfill a practical function, but also to enhance everyday life, and to reinforce a client’s view of themselves or of their aspirations. The designs of the past tell us a great deal about the individuals that produced them – their sense of progress and development, their hopes and desires, their ambitions and sense of self.

The artists and craftspeople of former eras relied on printed and illustrated sources as inspiration, and as a useful graphic device for consulting potential clients and agreeing an approach to particular commissions. In the same way, contemporary pattern designers, illustrators, artists and interior decorators can use this book as a source of images and motifs, color schemes

This book provides an authoritative, if necessarily brief, historical overview of the major art and design

and reference material to inform their own work. The recycling of the patterns of the past occurs across all

movements to be found in the wide variety of properties

cultures. In the same spirit, this book is intended to

cared for by the National Trust. In terms of source

be a reference work, a compendium of visual ideas,

material, the book celebrates the frequent cross-

cultural associations, motifs, symbolic meanings,

fertilization of pattern design, demonstrating how fine art and statuary often informed and inspired the applied art. Issues of ‘cultural shoplifting,’ the wholesale

though not all images are out of copyright. Above all, this book sets out to show a selection of the most imaginative and elegant pattern designs taken from

borrowing of motifs and materials of other civilizations,

some of the most historically important and beautiful

are also explored. There is an awareness that designers

places in Britain.

Ceiling decoration in William Morris’s upstairs studio c. 1860. RED HOUSE, BEXLEYEATH, LONDON.

1 geometric GEOMETRIC PATTERN IS DEFINED AS A DESIGN DEPICTING ABSTRACT, non-representational shapes, such as lines, circles, ellipses, triangles, rectangles, and polygons. The simplest geometric patterns are regular repeats of an easily replicated motif. A rectilinear design can be incorporated into any woven or interlocking materials, by exploring contrasts in color or texture. Stripes and checks are created in woven fabric by using contrasting threads in the warp and weft. Similar effects can be achieved in almost any medium, from decorative to the disposition of tiles, patchwork to parquetry.


A geometric structure can also be used as the

wallpaper design was ‘Trellis’, a pattern suggested by

framework or background to a more interpretive

the rose-trellis in the garden of his RED HOUSE home

pattern. A simple lattice-work design, for example,

in Bexleyheath. In designs of this nature, non-geometric

makes an effective base to which pattern-makers can

patterns are repeated at regular intervals to give an

add more decorative elements. William Morris’s first

overall ordered effect.

Red House in Bexleyheath in southeast London, England, is a major building of the history of the Arts and Crafts style and of 19th-century British architecture. It was designed in 1859 by its owner, William Morris, and the architect Philip Webb, with wall paintings and stained glass by Edward BurneJones. Morris wanted a home for himself and his new wife, Jane. He also desired to have a “Palace of Art” in which he and his friends could enjoy producing works of art. The house is of red brick with a steep tiled roof and an emphasis on natural materials. Red House is in a non-historical, brick-and-tile domestic style. It is now a Grade I listed building.



Circles Interlacing circles, combined with the intersection of other elements, provide a receptive ground suitable for covering large areas. Used creatively they can provide tesselations— a repeat pattern of interlocking shapes that can be extended indefinitely. A design of interlocking circles in a detail from an encaustic tiles on a hall stove, installed in 1858. It shows the influence of the mid-Victorian Gothic Revival. HUGHHENDEN MANOR, BUCKINGHAMSIRE

Despite its rustic, hand-crafted quality, there is a sophistication to the geometric forms within a limited color range in this mid-Victorian woollen tablecloth. CARLYLE’S HOUSE, LONDON

Detail from the neo-Gothic fanvaulted plaster work ceiling, installed in a 16th-centruy hall in the 1780’s. COUGHTON COURT, WARWICKSHIRE




The ceiling centerpiece in the Saloon, depicting Apollo’s horses watered by the Hours, by Antoniao Zucchi.

One of a set of nine embroidered panels from the late 16th century with inlaid patchwork and painted birds in roundels. Many of the birds were copied from a single engraving illustrating ‘Air’ in The Elements published by Gerard de Jode, c. 1852.





Detail of a circular mid-18th century micro-mosaic tabletop with inlaid specimen marbles. The central scene of doves derives from a model discovered at Hadrian’s villa in 1737.

An 1840’s wallpaper with a diaper pattern of mythological figures in roundels.




Squares & Rectangles Subdividing a surface into quadrilaterals creates enormous potential for pattern-makers. The rectilinear foundation allows designers to ‘play’ with contrasting elements of color and texture.

Rectangular panels appear to ‘frame’ each of the central square motifs and are combined to give a checkerboard effect on these fireplace tiles, which date from the library extension in 1878. PECKOVER HOUSE, CAMBRIDGESHIRE

‘Trellis’ wallpaper (1862) was inspired by the gardens at Red House. It was the first wallpaper designed by William Morris and incorporated birds drawn by Philip Webb. The pattern was available from Morris & Co. in a number of color ways. RED HOUSE, BEXLEYHEATH, LONDON


Spirals A geometrical design usually applied to architectural elements, the spiral is a complex form with aesthetic appeal derived from innate sense of order and proportion.

View looking down the spiral staircase, designed by Patrick Gwynne. Concrete with terrazzo finish and large sunken uplighter at base. THE HOMEWOOD, SURREY

The hexagonal glass panes of one pair of 1850’s Japanese temple lanterns. SNOWSHILL MANOR, GLOUCESTERSHIRE


Hexagons Hexagonal designs ensure an even coverage of the surface with no voids or empty spaces. They occur in nature, in both crystalline structures and organic ones, such as honeycombs, and are highly effective in creating all-over coverage in pattern-making such as patchwork and tiling.

A plaster work ceiling in the Elizabethan Revival style, by Thomas Willement, c. 1830’s. CHARLECOTE PARK, WARWICKSHIRE

The mosaic top of an intricately patterned gilt table in the style of Giuseppe Bonzanigo, c. 1790. ATTINGHAM PARK, SHROPSHIRE

Late 19th-century Moorish coffee table, with inlaid mother-of-pearl and ivory. STANDEN, WEST SUSSEX

A repeating pattern of pink dog roses on a mid-Victorian wallpaper in the Parlour. RED HOUSE, BEXLEYEATH, LONDON

2 the natural world REALISTIC AND STYLIZED PORTRAYALS OF NATURAL FAUNA HAVE BEEN a great source of inspiration for pattern-makers over the centuries. The decorative possibilities are endless, and as informed knowledge and personal observation of living spaces grew, craftspeople and designers were quick to adopt natural motifs when designing decorative details, textiles, wallpaper and stained glass. Birds have been variously portrayed as harbingers of doom, bringers of peace, and sources of aesthetic delight for millennia. Individual species are associated with symbolic attributes; the eagle signifies power and authority and the peacock is a by-word for personal vanity, while ducks are thought to represent marital fidelity.

Plant and floral motifs are a perennial form of

artists to refer to accurate representations of plants they

decoration. The astonishing wealth of shape and color

were unlikely to encounter in real life. The dissemination

visible in the world of horticulture and botany has

of factual knowledge about the world coincided with an

informed and inspired pattern-makers for millennia,

appetite for the designs of other cultures, and informed

and continues to be a rich resource for all areas of two-

and influenced ornament.

dimensional and three-dimensional design. The growth of trade with India and China provoked The changing treatment of flowers and plant forms on

further stimulus; British and French textile

patterned surfaces is an indication of the aesthetic and

manufacturers were quick to copy the designs found

aspirational values of each era. At times of strife, the

on Chinese imports and Indian calicoes, so much so

promotion of certain floral symbols denoted political

that trade in traditional woven fabrics was adversely

and dynastic alliances. There was a gradual move

affected. Domestic demand was so great that in the

from identifiable native species, as seen in the ‘mille fleurs’ borders of illustrated medieval manuscripts, to

1770’s the British government lifted their previous restrictions on the importing of Indian cotton chintzes.

more stylized ‘generic’ plant forms, exploited for their decorative appeal. The adoption of symmetrical and even abstract floral designs, coupled with arabesques, can be attributed to the influence of highly sophisticated middle Eastern patterns on ceramics, reinterpreted by traders, merchants and silk weavers in Italy and France.

Technological improvements also had an effect: printed fabrics and wallpapers tended to be hand-blocked, a craft-based activity which required great skill. The more complex he pattern, the more numerous the colors, the greater the risk of errors. The development of copperplate printing in the 1750’s allowed manufacturers to increase

With the invention of printing and the spread of illustrated books, followed by the early advances made in botanical studies and classification of the 17th century it became easier for pattern makers and

their output, reduce their costs and improve the quality of their designs. Consequently the Victorian era heralded a chance in scale of patterns­—designs, depicting ‘larger than life’ florals in a rich complexity of colors.


Flowers & Foliage Designers and artists have always relied on the decorative possibilities of generic flowers and foliage, motifs not instantly identifiable as belonging to a particular species, as this gives their imagination free range. Contrasting leaves from different plant forms offer enormous pattern potential to designers, artists and makers.

Eton Rural fabric (early 20th century), featuring poppies. MR. STRAW’S HOUSE, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

North Italian chain-link screen decorated with ceramic fruit and flowers. ERDDIG, WREXHAM



A fragment of brightly colored 18th-century wallpaper, found in an attic, with an excise stamp on the reverse which dates it as 1712-14. The influence from Indian chintz is undeniable, with its intricate design, brilliant colors, and PAISLEY motif-shaped leaves.

An 18th-century Sevres basin decorated with a repeating pattern of medallions with roses. RED HOUSE, BEXLEYEATH, LONDON.


Red japanned bureau-cabinet, made in England c. 1720’s. Chinese-inspired decoration adorns the inside s of the doors and drawers. On the wall behind is a Chinese-patterned wallpaper.

A stylized motif based on the palm shoot, which originated


in Indian textiles and was reproduced by weavers in Paisley, Scotland, hence the name.





A section from a late 17th-or early 18th-century crewelwork bed hanging, depicting the Tree of Life.

A detail of the blue and white wallpaper, reproduced from the original 19th-century paper.





Details of a decorative print on Sultan Tipu’s tent (c. 1725-50).

Silk voided cisele velvet in a restrained ‘bizarre’ design, c. 1695-1712. This fabric was used for the curtains, upholstery and pole screens but its origin is unknown.




Alternate Materials ‘A short life, but a happy one’: ephemeral by nature, but gloriously decorative, the natural world can become the material used in the creation of patterns.

Detail of the polished surface of an Italian table top (c. 1800), decorated with different geological specimens. CROFT CASTLE, HEREFORDSHIRE

Marbled endpapers from a volume in the Library collection. FLORENCE COURT, CO. FERMANAGH

A collection of silver fish used as novelty scent containers, vinaigrettes and as ornaments owned by the 3rd Marchioness of Bristol. ICKWORTH, SUFFOLK


Birds & Insects Birds have been variously portrayed as harbingers of doom, bringers of peace, and sources of aesthetic delight for millennia. Individual species are associated with symbolic attributes; the eagle signifies power and authority and the peacock is a by-word for personal vanity, while ducks are thought to represent marital fidelity.

Butterflies, beetles, and other insects in a display case, part of the idiosyncratic collection assembled by Charles Paget Wade. SNOWSHILL MANOR, GLOUCESTERCHIRE

Printed cretonne fabric wall hanging, depicting a bird of paradise in a pomegranate tree, 1872. BELTON HOUSE, LINCOLNSHIRE

Individual species are associated with symbolic attributes; the eagle signifies power and authority and the peacock is a by-word for personal vanity, while ducks are thought to represent marital fidelity. Butterflies and insects were ardently collected by amateur and professional naturalists. Designers and artists represented their brilliant colors and exquisite patterns in all media.

This wall covering was made of panels of calfskin in the 18th century. A framed illuminated miniature of Christ and his disciples appears to hang from a branch of the painted tree. BATEMAN’S, EAST SUSSEX

26 A 19th-century Chinese wallpaper, depicting a hen and a crowing cockerel in a flowering tree. POWIS CASTLE,POWYS

Despite its rustic, hand-crafted quality, there is a sophistication to the geometric forms within a limited color range in this mid-Victorian woollen tablecloth. CARLYLE’S HOUSE, LONDON

Famille rose porcelain dish from China; part of the cargo of a ship captured by the British off Manila in 1762. MELFORD HALL, SUFFOLK

Detail of a mid-18th-century hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, depicting a pair of pheasants. FELBRIGG HALL, NORFOLK




Detail from a pietra dura panel from the Florentine cabinet c. 1620, which stands on a low base designed by the collector and connoisseur, William Beckford.

Detail of a hand-painted wallpaper designed by William Burges c. 1870 but not believed to have been commercially manufactured. Installed in the Boudor in 1991.



Detail from an early 19thcentury scrap screen featuring marine and insect life and caricatures of the period.

An 18th-century tapestry on an upholstered chair.


William Morris


windows, utilitarian objects of metal and ceramics,

England, in 1834. As the founder of the British “Arts

wallpaper, textiles, jewelry, etc. The William Morris

and Crafts” movement, William Morris was committed

philosophy behind this business was to propagate

to the renewal of the arts as well as the linkage of the

his idea of art and put his ideas for social reform

applied and fine arts as practised by the medieval

into practice. The “Arts and Crafts” movement was

crafts guilds. While still a theology student (from

ultimately a reaction to industrial mass production

1853) at Exeter College, Oxford, William Morris was

and the low quality of factory-produced wares.

heavily involved with medieval poetry as well as the writings of John Ruskin and Augustus Welby Pugin.


At Exeter College, William Morris met the painter

satisfying and beautifully crafted things available

Edward Burne-Jones and later also the poet and

to as many people as possible for use in all possible

painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It was at the

areas of everyday life. William Morris’ rejection of

latter’s urging that William also began to paint but

mechanical mass production, however, made his

Morris soon turned to crafts. The furnishings and

objects so expensive that only very well-off could

appointments of the “Red House”, which Philip Webb

afford to acquire them. Consequently, William Morris’

designed in 1859 for William Morris in Bexleyheath,

original Socialist ideals were doomed to failure

induced Morris to found Morris, Marshall, Faulkner &

although the William Morris aesthetic exerted an

Co in 1861.

enormous influence on “Art nouveau/Jugendstil” in Europe and even on early Modernism. William Morris

IN 1875 WILLIAM MORRIS TOOK OVER THE BUSINESS as Morris & Co. It produced furniture, stained glass,

was also active and prolific as a poet and writer; his writings reflect his quest for a social utopia.







1 The Woodpecker tapestry by William Morris. Designed with the themes of native birds, trees, and foliage and based upon a classical legend from the Mediterranean. 2 Cray furnishing fabric, 1885 3 Detail of Art Needlework embroidery “Artichoke” in wool on linen, designed by William Morris for Ada Phoebe Godman in 1877 and subsequently available from Morris and Company.


4 Angel holding the Sun, designed by William Morris, manufactured by Morris and Company, seen in St. Jame’s Church in Stavely, Cumbria (UK). 5 Chair by William Morris, Upholstered in Original “Bird” Woollen Tapestry, circa 1870. 6 Work by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, Dante Rosetti, drawings by William Morris, Ballads and Narrative Poems, Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1893. 7 Pages from The Tale of the Emperor Coustans and of Over Sea (Kelmscott Press, 1894), using Chaucer fonts.

Pattern Design  

A Period Design Sourcebook

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