15 Days of Designing Repeat Patterns and My Entry in the Spoonflower Design Contest

This month Spoonflower hosted a Design-a-Day Challenge ending in a design contest. (If you're not familiar with them, Spoonflower is a company that "makes it possible for individuals to design, print and sell their own fabric, wallpaper and gift wrap". You can read more about them here).

Each day from the 1st of March through the 15th a fabric designer from their marketplace shared a prompt to inspire pattern design and experimentation in different techniques, media and genres. On the last day they announced the theme of the contest, choosing one of the prompts from the previous days as the theme.

I jumped at the chance to join the challenge.  I've been teaching myself pattern design (as you might have noticed in these posts) with the goal of offering designs for sale on Spoonflower. I figured this challenge would be great practice.

And it was.

surface pattern design, spoonflower, repeat patterns, fabric design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The prompts (my designs are in order right to left starting at the top): Pencil Drawing, Watercolor, Abstract, Block Prints, Pen & Ink, Geometric, Vector, Photographic, Free Software, Steampunk, Dyed, Typographical, Kawaii, Found Objects and Designer's Choice (follow the links to Spoonflower's blog posts for the prompts if you're interested in more information).

For someone just starting out I think the prompts might not have provided enough background and instruction to be successful in creating a design (for example, if you didn't already know how to create a vector image or create block prints, doing so would have been very difficult without more information), so I'm glad that this wasn't new territory for me. That being said, many of the prompts were quite a challenge and forced me to work outside of my comfort zone.

Will I ever do anything with most of these designs? Probably not, but they were fun to do even so and the practice was invaluable. Although I created the patterns on the computer, I look at them as if they're part of a pattern-making sketchbook. My own sketchbook of late has been all about experimentation. Not creating work with the intention of making finished products, but playing and stretching.

The geometric pattern taxed my brain more than any of the others despite its seeming simplicity. It required a lot of math and stretched my technical abilities. After working on it in frustration, I needed to put it aside overnight and pick it back up the next day.

repeat patterns, honeycomb, bees, watercolor, surface pattern design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Finally getting the repeat to work was more satisfying than you can imagine!

To give you an idea of how I started my design I'll share the scan of the original sketches created for it:

watercolor, sketches, bee, hexagons, process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Looks a bit different, doesn't it?

Another pattern that was very satisfying to create, although not technically difficult, was my design for the Typographical prompt.

typography, repeat patterns, gardening, surface pattern design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm not very fond of my handwriting, but exaggerating its wonkiness made for a fun result. This design was created entirely on my computer writing the words with a stylus and Wacom tablet. Although I love color, I liked the look of white on black better than other color combinations. I think this pattern would make fun tea towels, or in another color combination kitchen cafe curtains.

Probably the design that took me most out of my usual style (but was also super fun to create) was my Steampunk pattern.

steampunk, surface pattern design, repeat patterns, secret garden, honeybees, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I appreciate the steampunk aesthetic and have read some books within the genre, but it doesn't exactly mesh with my own artistic style. Even so it was fun to sketch and imagine my own version of steampunk (of course there had to be flowers and for some reason there had to be bees, too. You might notice those little bees appear a few times throughout this challenge).

Curious about how this pattern started out? Here are my original sketches (scanned and with the contrast adjusted for clean lines):

steampunk, sketches, pattern design, process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Since I've begun working on pattern design I've been looking at all the pen drawings in my sketchbook as possible material and inspiration. So many possibilities.

More in line with my own aesthetic, the block printing prompt gave me the kick-in-the-pants I needed to do some more lino carving. This time Japanese anemones were on my mind.

lino cut, lino print, block printing, anemones, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'd love to have a big piece of fabric (or paper) to print the repeat, but using the computer was far less messy.

pattern design, repeat patterns, surface pattern design, block printing, Japanese anemones, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It also let me quickly switch colors.

Don't worry, I love doing things by hand and won't be giving that up anytime soon. (Though being able to "undo" and "delete" make for a refreshing change from my normal way of working).

For 8 out of the 15 days I created my designs in Adobe Illustrator and that's something I'm very proud of. It's not an easy program to learn. (I'm sending out a HUGE thank you to the ever-so-talented Bonnie Christine for her design classes on Skillshare. If you're interested in learning Illustrator for surface pattern design, I couldn't recommend Bonnie's classes more! Skillshare is really a wonderful place to learn and I've picked up something with each class I've taken there. You can try it for a special price of $.99 for three months with this link).

One big advantage to using Illustrator is the fact that it creates designs that are infinitely scaleable (a vector image, created in Illustrator, is not made up of pixels, but mathematical formulas). Small sketches can be translated into much larger patterns without distortion. Illustrator makes it fast and easy to change colors and move things around, too.

I had so much fun digitizing my sketches and I love coloring and re-coloring my designs. This garden-themed pattern was especially fun to work on. I'll probably spend some more time refining it.

surface pattern design, repeat patterns, fabric design, gardening, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Although watercolor was only one of the prompts, quite a few of my designs incorporated watercolor elements, which shouldn't be surprising.

This watercolor bubble pattern made use of some of the little color-play paintings I like to make on scraps of watercolor paper, proving, once again, that nothing is ever wasted and that the simplest things can make fun patterns.

The butterflies and the goldfish might look familiar to you, too, as they're subjects of two of my watercolor series. 

The first butterfly pattern I created was my response to the "Free Software" prompt and in truth it was a cheat (I created the design in Photoshop and added the text using the free software: Canva). I didn't want to spend a lot of time learning a new piece of software and it wasn't immediately apparent how to create original repeat patterns using the software they suggested. I reworked my pattern for Designer's Choice on Day 15.

watercolor butterflies, watercolor, butterflies, Repeat Patterns, Pattern Design, Surface Pattern Design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I like the sense of movement in this one better than the lineup of butterflies in the first design.

You might remember that I created a goldfish pattern last November. I liked that one, but I wanted to make a pattern with more fish. I really love how the new pattern turned out and want to use it in some sewing projects (pajamas!).

I was thrilled that Watercolor was the theme Spoonflower chose for their contest and had a hard time deciding which pattern to submit. In the end I submitted my fish design (tweaked a tiny bit):

goldfish, watercolor goldfish, goldfish pattern design, repeat pattern design, fabric design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I would love for you to pop over to the Spoonflower site and vote on my design. You can vote for as many of the designs as you want (there are many lovely ones!). Each person who votes gets to see the entries in a different order, so you may have to scroll down the page a bit before you find my fish.

This challenge was just what I needed to get fully in the pattern-designing groove. I'll be continuing to work on my designs and hope to be adding more to my Spoonflower storefront soon, so stay tuned!

Edit: both the butterfly fabric and the goldfish fabric are now available with 9 other garden-inspired designs as part of my Summer Bliss fabric collection on Spoonflower.


  1. This is such a wonderful post Anne! You have been so busy! I love your designs and have just voted for you over at Spoonflower. Well done on rising to the Design-a-Day Challenge. You have done so well. Happy weekend. :-)

    1. Thank you, Simone! I have been busy! It was important to me to commit to this and I'm glad I was able to make it happen. Had to play catch-up a few of the days, but it all worked out in the end.

      Thanks so much for your vote!

      Enjoy your weekend! (I woke up to snow this morning after having spied the first flower of the year, but that's March for you!).

  2. Wow, Anne! I'm very impressed with your skills and artistry. Beautiful designs! My favorite is your gardening pattern, but each has its own beauty. Interestingly enough, I am making a paper pieced hexagon quilt with many of the same colors as your geometric pattern. I'm going over now to vote for your fish design - good luck!!

    1. Thank you so much, Judy!

      I'm so glad you like the gardening pattern. I like it, too, and want to fine tune it. The better I get to know the program, the better I'll be at working on my designs.

      I'd love to see your hexagon quilt (need to head over to your blog to see if you've given us a glimpse of it)! How interesting that we chose the same colors! I keep thinking I'd like to try a hexagon scrap quilt, but I don't think I've got enough patience (or technical skills!) to pull that off quite yet.

      I appreciate your vote!


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