Exerpt from Textiles: a handbook for Designers by M. Yates



Techniques for Repeats


As previously discussed, textile designs are developed in such a way that along the entire length of the fabric one unit of the design will be repeated, side by side and end to end (figure 9-1). The size of these repeat units varies, depending on the width of the fabric, the type of printing, and the machinery used for the printing.

Upholstery fabrics are almost always 54" wide, and a half­width (27") is the measurement on which most furniture cushions are based. (Because the selvedges are not usable fabric, fabric widths are measured from within the selvedges.) The selvedges and vertical middle of the goods become seam areas and edges of furniture cushions, therefore motifs are not usually centralized on these portions of the fabric (figure 9-2). Because upholstery fabric widths are standard, they can be designed in a 27"-wide repeat. For fabric manufacturers, these repeats are usually square (that is, 27" vertically and horizon­tally) because this size fits furniture easily; however, more expensive home furnishing fabrics often use 36” vertical repeats.


Drapery fabrics, likewise, are of a standard width. The goods are almost always 48" wide, and designs are developed in a 24" horizontal repeat. The vertical repeat is often the same length.


For apparel fabrics, repeat sizes can vary tremendously not only because fabric widths may be from 36" to 60" but because any printing method can be used. Textile designs intended for apparel are most often designed in croquis form, to be sized later into the repeat required for a specific project. Usually the repeat will measure approximately 14" to 16"ver­tically and horizontally will be any size that divides evenly into the fabric width.

Other products have specific repeat sizes for specific end uses. For sheeting fabrics in the United States, for example, repeat sizes are usually 36" square; and engineered patterns are also common for sheets. Pillowcases may be engineered, may be the same fabric as the companion sheets, or may be an adaptation of the sheeting pattern that is mirrored so that the pattern is "right side up" no matter which side of the pillow faces up. Towels are not designed in repeat but are so engineered that focal points appear interestingly when the towel is folded. Towel sizes vary greatly from company to company.Repeat sizes can also be a smaller dimension dividing evenly into the required repeat size. For example, a very small-scale, all-over floral could be developed as a 4" repeat when a 12" roller or screen is being used. The repeat size need only be large enough to accommodate the motifs desired in the layout; designing a larger size than necessary only makes extra work for the artist. No matter how small, however, the design unit must fit, firstly, an even number of times across the width of the goods to be printed, and, secondly, an even number of times into the machinery to be used. A design with a 12" vertical repeat will not fill a 16" copper roller without adap­tation.The unit of the required dimensions may repeat on the fabric in a number of ways, but half-drop repeats are most common. In a half-drop, the repeat unit repeats directly above and below itself, but at the side the new unit is dropped down so that its top edge meets at the center of the first unit (figure 9-3). Straight (or block) repeats, in which the unit repeats directly above, below, and to the side, are also widely used (figure 9-4).

Five-star repeats, which are produced as a straight repeat, feature a large motif in the center of the repeat unit with a quarter of the motif appearing at each corner of the unit. It should be noted that, when a 27" half-drop repeat is used on a 54" upholstery fabric or when a 24" half-drop repeat is used on a 48" drapery fabric, the two vertical halves of the fabric will differ. Usually this is not a problem; two lengths of drapery fabric are usually sewn together to form a drapery, and upholstery fabric is usually cut to 27" squares to fit furniture cushions. Sometimes, however, it may be preferable that when the fabric is split in the warp direction the two halves be identical. In this case, the horizontal repeat size must be half the usual size.



Fabrics produced in countries other than the United States are usually measured according to the metric system. Com­mon apparel widths are usually produced in widths of 110 cm, 120 cm, 130 cm, 140 cm, or 150 cm, roughly corresponding to 43", 47", 51", 55", and 59" respectively. Horizontal metric repeat sizes can be any evenly divisible unit of the fabric width, although upholstery repeat sizes are usually 70 cm and drapery repeat sizes usually 60 cm, corresponding with Amer­ican practice. Vertical apparel repeat sizes vary. Because Euro­pean sheets, towels, and pillowcases are manufactured in completely different sizes from those available in the United States, metric equivalents of repeats used in domestic prod­ucts are unimportant to American textile designers, since they are rarely, if ever, involved in such projects.

The chart on that follows outlines repeat sizes for specific uses measured in English and metric units. This is intended only as a guideline. Many factors cause deviation from these measurements: each company's equipment varies, copper roll­ers become worn down, new problems arise with fabric for every end use. Consistencies regarding repeat sizes are truly the exception.
















(primarily for decorative                  

industry) with fewer colors     

Flat bed screen



90-120 cm

70 cm Larger size possible with fewer colors


140 cm


Rotary screen

25 1/4"


64 cm

70 cm







72 cm








92 cm





Heat transfer



46 cm   

    70 cm





23 5/8


60 cm






31 1/2


80 cm




Drapery (primarily for contract industry

Rotary screen     

25 1/4                  27 



This width not common in Europe



Width not common in Europe for this industry


Flat-bed screen

Rarely used in                  



90-120 cm Larger size possible with fewer colors

Any size evenly divisible into width of fabric






110 cm

120 cm

130 cm

140 cm

150 cm


Rotary screen




Any size evenly divisible into width

of fabric

64 cm

72 cm

92 cm






Engraved roller(rarely used)

-14-16" roller becomes slightly smaller each time it is burnished down and re-engraved




40-42 cm

roller becomes slightly smaller each time it is burnished down and re-engraved







Heat transfer


23 5/8

31  1/2

46 cm

60 cm

80 cm





Repeat sizes for specific uses such as sheets, towels, pillowcases, and scarves vary between manufacturers and are often engineered.

The American sizes/metric sizes may not be exactly equal. Rather, they are customarily used sizes for the same printing method in the different systems of measure. Also, exceptions to these rules are as common as the rules themselves. (For reference: 1" 2.54 cm.)

Repeat sizes as given above refer to the maximum possible size for the specific use and equipment. Any smaller size that evenly divisible into the number given is also possible. For example, with a 27" screen, 131/2" & 73/4" are common design repeats.






Mill Styling

An additional aspect of a textile designer's job involves styling fabrics at the exact time that the initial production run is made at the mill or print plant.

A few companies locate their studios at the mill. A large mill's staff often includes a mill stylist, whose entire job is to evaluate these initial fabric runs to be sure that the fabric cor­responds accurately with the original artwork on paper. Most often, however, mill styling is done by the firm's studio artists, who travel from the main office (usually in New York) to the mill (usually in a small town somewhere) on a rotation basis when it is time for new fabrics to be produced.


In printed fabric, the initial production run is called a strike-off. Print plants usually operate twenty-four hours a day, and necessary strike-offs are usually scheduled to begin early in the day. The night before, the designer arrives in the town where the print plant is located so that early in the morning he can be at the plant to begin. As the fabric production on the new pattern begins, enough fabric is printed to run completely through the machine; then, a yard or two is cut off to show to the designer. A particular place with the best light available within the plant is usually designated for the designer and head printer to view the fresh fabric swatch (called a patch) and compare it with the artwork. Because the light in the fac­tory is usually not good enough, it is difficult to evaluate the fabric on the print machine.


The color of the fabric is, of course, compared with the art­work for correctness of hue, value, intensity, and fullness (heaviness or dilution of the color). The design is checked both for fit (proper registration), to ascertain that motifs occur at the desired location in the design, and for quality of the mark (clar­ity and precision of desired line and shape). If other mistakes have been made in printing, such as the accidental interchang­ing of two colors, they must be corrected at this point.

The designer comments on adjustments that need to be made in production; then the printers go back to work and try again. In a few minutes or a couple of hours, another patch will be ready to show the designer.


The decisions must be made quickly and precisely. During this interval the print machines are stopped and waiting while the designer makes adjustments; every minute that the machines are not printing fabric costs the printing plant money. Depending on the clarity with which the designer can explain the necessary changes and the cooperation of the mill person­nel, one or two patches may be enough to reproduce the art­work accurately; or many more changes may be required. Strike-offs of several patterns are usually done in one day, and the designer may be at the print plant until all hours of the night, or he may be sent back to this hotel and called to come in at an odd hour. With strike-offs, when the machines are ready the decisions must be made expertly so fabric can con­tinue being printed and production can recommence.


It is the designer who guides the printers in producing the planned textile design. With experience, he knows what can realistically be accomplished through printing and what goals are only wishful thinking. Printing capabilities differ vastly from printer to printer and fabric to fabric. The designer's enthusiastic cooperation with the mill personnel contributes mightily toward accomplishing direct and rapid success. Mill styling (also called mill work) can be tiring, draining, and even boring after many hours of waiting for strike-offs; but it is almost impossible to be a successful designer without a thorough knowledge of this aspect of textile production. Once a designer sees firsthand what can and cannot be accomplished in printing, studio work becomes much more realistic and meaningful.

Mill styling of woven fabrics is a completely different mat­ter. Woven stylists often spend time at the mill because famil­iarity with and understanding of each mill's machinery and capability is an integral part of their design work. Woven design largely involves inventing new ways to combine and use what a particular mill can do.

However, new adaptations and new colorings of woven fab­rics involving changes of warps cannot be made within a mat­ter of hours, as with prints. Therefore, woven fabrics are rarely evaluated, changed, and developed during a day at the mill. Rather, the designer submits requests to the mill and visits it to observe progress; also, samples (called headends) are returned to the designer for necessary changes. All this may take days of weeks, usually not hours.


However, when only filling changes are necessary, woven fabrics are often colored at the mill. Once a yarn-dyed fabric has been developed, a blanket is usually woven, showing all (or many) of the possible color combinations using the avail­able yarn colors. This involves weaving samples on a blan­ket warp, which is set up on a loom with different sections of all available warp colors in the particular construction (fig­ure 10-2). For example, if twenty warps are available in the specific construction, a 54" warp could be set up with approx­imately 2 Y2' sections of each warp color arranged side by side across the width of the warp. Alternate filling choices are then tried, by sequentially weaving sections of a few inches of each choice so that each crossing of colors shows a different possi­bility.

Coloring fabrics in this manner is especially common in upholstery fabrics and multicolor fabrics, which are often done at the mill by a designer. (For fabrics with a solid filling color, all possible choices are usually tried.) The designer may write out many possible combinations ahead of time so the sample weavers at the mill can set up all necessary yarn colors ahead of time, setting up also the correct pattern on the loom. The designer works with the sample weaver, evaluating each com­bination as it is woven, making changes as required, and adding other possibilities as desired. Although this on-the-spot evaluation is much more expedient than waiting for blankets to be shipped to the studio, it is in some ways less beneficial than with printed fabrics. For example, the blanket, unlike strike­offs, cannot be cut off the loom and viewed under better light as it is produced; and the light in the weaving shed may be deceiving. Because blankets are samples and not the beginning of actual production as strike-offs are, woven coloring at the mill is a somewhat less pressured situation than print mill work.

Once the combinations are tried and the blanket is com­pleted, it is taken off the loom and sent back to the designer at the studio (figure 10-3). The colors are cut from the blanket and evaluated, and a color line is chosen. If the designer was able to try desired possibilities at the mill, little change is nec­essary after the blanket is received. In this manner, much time and inconvenience is saved sending requests and samples back and forth from the mill to the studio. For both woven and printed fabric designers, mill work is and important aspect of professional performance.


Presentation of Designs


When a designer puts together a portfolio of work to show for job interviews, individual designs, sales, or any presenta­tion, certain formats are customarily used.

Designs for apparel, which are usually small-sized croquis, are mounted on white Bristol board or similar stock. The designs will probably vary in size, but all the mounts should be of the same size for uniformity. Two or more very small designs that were designed to go together or simply look good together may be shown on one board. With a long-reach stapler, designs are stapled to the board with one staple at each of the two upper corners of the design. On the back of the mount board, the staples are covered with masking tape so that they will not scratch other designs in the portfolio. When mount boards become tired and worn looking, they should be replaced.


Designs may instead be spliced into sheets of board. This makes an attractive presentation and is much lighter when many designs are carried in a portfolio.

Color tabs may or may not be shown with croquis but usually are shown with color combinations. Color combina­tions are usually shown together on one board. So that each board is loose and may be easily pulled out from the group when necessary, all of the mount boards with designs are usually carried and shown in a large, black, zippered porfolio.


Because decorative designs, being much larger than apparel designs, may not fit into a portfolio when laid flat, they are not usually mounted, but are reinforced on the back of the design around the edges with a continuous strip of masking tape. The designs may be cropped to the exact boundaries of the painted design or may show the entire sheet of paper with boundaries and margins around the design. Color chips are usually shown, and designs that are in repeat are always shown, not only as one repeat unit but also with the beginning of the next repeat units on the right and bottom sides of the main unit. These large designs are rolled and carried in a large mailing tube, or the roll is simply covered with brown wrap­ping paper for hand transport.


Woven-cloth designers may either mount individual swatches on small boards or place the fabrics in a portfolio with a ring binder and vinyl-covered pages.

Once a designer has some work experience, actual fabric samples will almost always be included in the portfolio along with the artwork. The fabric is neatly folded and placed in the large portfolio or in another bag to be shown when necessary. Publicity, advertising, and other printed material showing photographs or fabric, either alone or in use, may make up a part of a portfolio. To illustrate his way of thinking during the design process, the designer may also show sketches to show ideas about the end product with swatches or croquis.


Many artists develop original, attractive, and innovative ways of showing textile designs. Any presentation that not only clearly exhibits the work but also demonstrates the designer's overall personality and sense of style will only be more interesting to potential employers or customers.


Artwork intended to be sold or shown to a customer should have a clean, neat, and precise appearance. This has been one focus of this text, but it should also be understood that a lot of textile artwork developed in studios goes directly to the engraver who prepares the screens or rollers, the artwork being purely a working record of the design. In real life, artwork does not always look perfect; on the contrary, it is done in the quickest, simplest way to accomplish the neces­sary results. If this artwork is later shown, any observer will appreciate the accomplished result while understanding that it was not developed to be a presentation piece.


Although it is difficult to define exactly what should be shown in a portfolio, a general guideline is that it should show both the artist's breadth of ability and his ability to develop a focused approach to one design area. To show both capabili­ties, the portfolio should include different types of layouts, designs (florals, geometrics, etc.), and rendering techniques as well as one or two series of designs that work together and make a "story." A variety of color looks is also important, and at least one color group that weighs in should be shown. Each artist has a particular hand (that is, style of drawing and rendering), but it is most desir­able that an artist show designs with both a tight and loose hand (realistic, controlled and free, stylized rendering, respec­tively). Versatility and an ability to compose a cohesive pack­age of designs are the traits most sought in a textile designer.


Before designs are shown to a prospective buyer, the designer should thoroughly research the company so he can show appropriate designs. Portfolios are often adjusted according to the types of customers to whom they will be shown.


Although a portfolio may contain artwork that is several years old, it should contain nothing that looks dated or in any way problematic. A portfolio is much better with fewer pieces of the highest possible quality than with a large number that include a single piece requiring explanation and apology.


On the back of all designs should be written not only color recipes but also the repeat size, if the design is in repeat. Finally, and most important of all, for the designer's own pro­tection the artist's name and the copyright date should be let­tered prominently on the back of each piece of artwork.


Whenever possible, original artwork should be shown rather than a photostat, photograph, or color photocopy, since much of the character of the original work is lost through reproduc­tion.


Professional Practices


The textile industry is an exciting and rewarding field for designers. However, business practices are somewhat weighted in favor of management, often to the unfair disadvantage of the design professional.

Compared with artists in other disciplines such as graphic design, illustration, and photography, textile designers tradi­tionally receive less pay, receive credit for their work less frequently, very seldom receive royalties, pay their agents a larger percentage, and must often relinquish copyrights on their work. Most of these practices have become common­place because of the designer's ignorance, and the almost universal acceptance of low standards makes it even more difficult for individual designers to demand what they are due.


Nowadays, however, designers are becoming much more aware of professional standards, largely through improved and increased communication among themselves. Flow of information among practicing artists of all disciplines allows standardization of pricing and of business practices.


To begin a discussion of how specific business practices should be handled is, indeed, to open Pandora's box. Although many common practices are unfair, it is difficult for any designer to stand up for principles and simultaneously main­tain and develop cooperative relationships with the manage­ment of textile companies. As a designer becomes more experienced, healthy work relationships-and not rebellious, non-trusting behavior on the part of a designer-are what promote ethical standards in the industry. While the designer constantly considers his professional reputation, he must also help to establish industry-wide professional standards. The issues differ for free-lance and staff artists; but because staff artists often hire or buy from free-lancers (who are actually self-employed), the ethical questions confronted in this pro­fession need to be understood by everyone.


The most important concern of an artist is his right to control the use of his work. As soon as a designer creates an original textile design, he has federal copyright, which lasts for the artist's life plus fifty years. Copyright is a bundle of rights, allowing artists to control separately and with specific limitations the usage of the artwork. For the artist's protec tion, copyright notice should be placed on all work. This notice must include copyright, copr., or ©; the artist's name or an abbreviation by which the artist is known; and the year of first publication. Furthermore, for the artist's protection, all artwork should be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Because unpublished work can be registered in groups, the $10 registration fee can cover, for example, all designs created by one artist during one year. All copyright registra­tion forms and a Copyright Information Kit can be obtained at no charge from the Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559.


If artwork is created in the course of a designer's full-time employment, the employer has copyright of the work unless a statement has been signed to the contrary. When, however, a textile work created by a free-lance artist is printed or manu­factured, the law presumes that the right to use the design for only that one designated purpose has been transferred. The copyright, which is all other rights, belongs to the creator of the work. Permission to use a design for any specific purpose should be a written and signed authorization. Written autho­rization is necessary to transfer the copyright (all rights to use the design).

When a client pays a fee for the rights to reproduce a textile design, he is in no way purchasing the artwork itself; nor does the purchase of the artwork (for an additional fee, for exam­ple) constitute a transfer of copyright.



Dealings between textile designers and their agents or cli­ents have long been handled verbally and without specific stipulations. However, for the protection of all artists, every designer should maintain written records. These include agreements with agents, permission for artwork to be held by a potential buyer for a specified time, and confirmation and invoice (billing) of every design project. When a design project is accepted, all items requested by the client should be written out, and this agreement should be signed by both the artist and the client. The transfer of any right to reproduce a design should be made in writing, and a written invoice (bill) should be sent to the client. These are simple procedures that all business people need in order to avoid misunderstandings, and to maintain permanent records.


Design fees depend on many factors, including the type and complexity of the work, the artist's reputation, and the value of the intended use of the artwork. If a buyer intends to use the work for more than one purpose, especially for more than one area of the market, he should pay more for the additional rights because the artist might otherwise have sold the design to a buyer for a different market. An artist may, for example, sell the rights to a design to one manufacturer for wallpaper and to another for sheets and pillowcases. If one buyer wants to use the work for both of these purposes, he should com­pensate the artist accordingly.


All of these principles are more easily stated than accom­plished. Most textile design buyers are accustomed to buying artwork for a flat fee, then either using the work as they please or keeping it on file, perhaps not using it at all and never returning it to the artist. This problem is compounded by studios, both European and American, that sell artwork and all rights to buyers for relatively low prices. Additionally, a buyer often purchases a croquis or design simply to use the motifs in another design, use the technique with other motifs, or otherwise change the design so completely that it would be unrecognizable as a version of the specific artwork. In this manner, buyers are accustomed to purchasing groups of croquis as studies-that is, springboards to work from-and consider any name recognition of the creator of the work to be blowing a small issue out of proportion. There are, however, laws in some states protecting an artist from having his work changed so that it is presented to the public in a distorted way.


Many buyers do not even bother purchasing designs; they simply buy a yard of fabric to adapt the pattern in one way or another. Unfortunately, the business of fabric design is often viewed, not as creation of original work, but as redoing pat­terns already on the market, varying the pattern only slightly to avoid copyright infringement. Designers are often asked to do knock-offs; to oblige, the artist may become liable. The converter requesting the knock-off should sign a statement accepting responsibility.


Many buyers of artwork want exclusive rights to a particu­lar work and also want the artist to hold and not sell similar designs to any other buyers in the same market. All of these issues must be dealt with individually, depending on the artist's relationship with the client and the price involved. Artists today, however, successfully request and obtain equi­table treatment from most clients.

Royalties and artist's credit (with the designer's name on the fabric's selvedge) are particularly difficult to obtain in the textile industry; but, as designers' reputations are established, these compensations are becoming more frequent.


Although simultaneous work by an artist for different, non­competitive companies is reasonable, it is frowned upon by many companies. When beginning a new project, artists are probably best off discussing openly with those involved the areas that are potentially sensitive. When everyone has been informed, uncertainties that arise later can be dealt with more smoothly.


If the artist is expected to relinquish certain income­producing projects, he should, of course, be paid accordingly by the employer making the demands. Because textile designers are often required to travel to mills and to work there long hours consecutively during strike­offs, these demands on the designer may became abusive. When it is requested, most designers receive compensatory time, and in some cases overtime, for mill work. Although these hours at the mill may be long, most of the time is spent waiting for fabric to be ready; and designers are usually com­fortably accommodated during their wait. It should also be noted that mill work is rarely done by rank beginners; and the more experienced designer may also be required to travel not only to mills, but also to trade shows, and numerous other events. Although at times the job requirements disrupt the designer's personal life, they are no more unreasonable than travel requirements of most other professions.


Textile designers may be salaried employees of a firm, or they may be free-lance designers. Free-lance designers may be paid on an hourly basis (usually for technical work, such as handweaving or fabric analysis), on a project basis, or at a per diem rate. Rate estimates for projects are usually based on both the artist's expected per diem rate and the time the project will require. Even experienced designers find it diffi­cult to predict the time and work requirements of a project. Estimates are made with every aspect being carefully consid­ered; however, allowances must be agreed upon by both par­ties so that the designer will be compensated for changes that are required during the course of a project.


Per diem rates, rather than a salary, are sometimes paid to artists who work full-time for a company. Benefits (health insurance, vacation time) are included or financial compen­sation is made in order that advantage not be taken of the artist.

Unless the buyer agrees to pay for the time required for the work whether or not the work is accepted, the artist is impru­dent to work on speculation.  All questions regarding pricing and ethical standards that arise during a designer's career are best evaluated in the context of the professional experience of several designers. Open communication among designers has been greatly increased through the efforts of the Graphic Artists' Guild's Textile Designers' Guild division. Although better researched for some categories of the discipline than for others, their Pricing and Ethical Guidelines serves as an excellent basis for any question on professional standards. The Graphic Artists' Guild maintains offices in most major cities and can be con­sulted for further information.