Ariadne Textile Design Glossary

design terms and definitions used in textile design studios.  


Abstract: used of forms/patterns which have been formalised so as to be no longer representational or naturalisitic.

Adaptation: a design which is based on another design but incorporates changes and modifications which allow it to be considered a new and separate design.

Alleyways: these are spaces which are caused unintentionally which form lines in a design.

Allover : a layout which involves the whole space being animated by the use of multiple forms and motifs which are distributed in a balanced way. It can be floral and naturalistic or abstract and formalised.


Balanced design: one which has no obvious spaces, gaps, lines formed by gaps in distribution of motifs or by one motif asserting itself over the others.

Balanced stripes have a range of stripes arranged evenly around a centre stripe.

Block printing : the design is carved onto a large number of blocks which together represent the whole pattern. Different blocks are needed for different colours. It is the earliest form of textile printing and only exists today at a very few specialised printers(one in the UK). Each block is placed on the cloth and registered in its precise position by hand and then the dye is knocked into the cloth with a blow from a hammer. The craftsmanship involved is considerable and requires a training of several years so this form of printing is highly prized. There are often slight variations due to changes of pressure on the blocks or misregistrations which are valued as proofs of the handcraft involved.

Block repeat : the design repeats in blocks side by side with itself.

Blotch : the name given to the ground colour. It can be applied in screen printing by using a separate screen, or a light colour can be applied by putting the cloth through a tint bath( as in ‘tea-stained fabrics which are treated this way to give an antique look). The other colours are all affected by the tint and this has to be planned for when they are being mixed.

Borders: a border can sometimes be incorporated into a pattern on one or both sides of the cloth width. This is an unusual layout.
Border design: a border is integral to the pattern and runs lengthwise on either side.

Botanical: patterns using a style used in botanical illustrations ie highly observed and realisticly representational natural forms( flowers, grasses, shells etc).

Bridge to the ground : a colour or tone which acts as a link to the ground so that motifs are not too starkly registered against the ground.

Brocatelle: a damask which has a plain or satin weave ground in which a design is woven in a satin or twill , the different weave makes a subtle contrasting effect.

Brocade: woven fabric which is substantial in weight and has a damask design.


Calico: originally coarse white or unbleached plain cotton cloth, it became associated with the simple small scale brightly coloured floral cloths produced in India and later used in American country style.

Cartouche: decorative motif derived from carved ornamental panel outlined by scroll formations. Often used to contain areas of pattern, for example figurative or landscape scenes and allow them to be more easily repeated.

Celtic knot: allows interlacing ribbons to run seamlessly into one another.

Checks : pattern formed by squares.

Chevron: a zig-zag formation in a stripe. Also called herringbone.

Chintz: a patterned cotton which has been glazed. The glaze gives added substance and durability and a crispness to the handle of the cloth. The sheen which it gives to the surface wears off over time. It was very popular in the UK in the 1940’s and has come to be associated with a rather down home floral look which at the time was considered to be very smart..

Chips : the name given to squares of colour added to a design to indicate the colour of each screen. Acts as part of the instruction to printers.

Contemporary: modern or suited to the current market, generally using highly stylised and motifs which are much simplified and make only fleeting reference to previous periods in design.

Contract: for the non- domestic market: hotels, offices, institutions.

Coverage: opposite to negative space ie the area covered by motifs.

Croquis: a sketch or representation of an idea for a design which has not been fully realised or put into repeat. Usually done in watercolour on detail paper.(Lightweight paper).

Curvilinear: a pattern of wavy lines.


Damask:a cloth of silk or wool woven by jacquard(QV) where a pattern of ornamental stylised motifs is woven in one colour ,but where the weave gives a tone on tone (qv)effect.

Decorative design : ie one produced for use in interiors.

Diamond : patterns based on diagonal lines.

Diaper :a small scale geometric pattern often forming diamonds, squares, octagons, stars etc.; a cloth printed with this kind of pattern.

Directional: a pattern which only works from one direction.

Distressed: a pattern which is disrupted by irregular sprays of random small marks to imitate the effects of ageing.

Dog’s Tooth or hound’s tooth: a pattern of checks formed by 4 pointed stars.


Ethnic: design characteristic of a particular nationality.


Fall-on: where one screen is printed on top of another to produce a new colour. This saves on screen expenses but makes difficulties for the designer in forming alternative colourways( as different colours falling on will have a different effect) and for the printer in making the fall-on give an accurate colour match.

Field : in border designs the area of the design excluding any border.

Figurative : using the human figure.

Fleur-de-lys : stylised lily with 3 or 4 petals. Originally used in Medieval heraldic decoration as a symbol of purity, and later popular in Napoleonic decoration.

Floral: a design using flowers as main motifs.

Foliage : leaves

Foulard : a soft light fabric of plain or twill weave in silk or rayon. Often with designs similar to diapers. The name came to be used of the cloths themselves.


Geometric :abstract shapes and motifs: lines, triangles, squares etc

Gingham: cotton cloth printed with small checks formed by stripes of the same colour.

Graphic :a clearly stated/bold quality of design; a design based primarily on drawing.

Greek key pattern : used for borders, an interlocking design of lines and right angles.

Ground : the surface area of a design or cloth.

Governing lines : lines along which a pattern is designed.

Guilloche : repeat of interlacing bands of design sometimes forming circles.


Half drop repeat: The design works by being dropped half way down the first area of pattern. It should work so as the repeat mechanism is not obvious, and makes it possible to create an interesting pattern with fewer motifs. It also disrupts the effect of the same motif being repeated at the same level and so appearing on each curtain pleat in a way which distracts the eye. The most commonly used repeat for these reasons.

Hand : the individual style or touch of an artist.

Herringbone - see chevron

see dog’s tooth.

I /J


Key pattern see Greek key pattern


Lattice - trellis design


Madras: originally fine cottons from India used for dress or shirting and featuring usually stripes, checks or plaids.

Marl stick : a wooden stick about a metre long with cloth bound over at one end and tied with string, used to lean on and balance the brush when working at an easel.

Millefleurs : literally 1000 flowers(French).. Most often used to describe medieval tapestries where the backgrounds are studded with flowers. The Chinese use the a similar term to describe pictures using a multiplicity of flowers.

Mongrel: plaid design

Mosaic : where lots of small pieces make up motifs or even completely irregular patterns.

Motif : identifiable element of a design can be naturalistic or absract.


Naturalistic : where the representation of organic forms is close to reality.

Negative space : a term used in layout and referring to the space between motifs.


Ogee: 2 mirrored curves forming an onion shape.

Ombree : an effect like a shadow swelling from light to dark and back often by having stripes which pass from open to closed and reverse.

Optical art: abstract devises which give the appearance of movement or create a vibration as in a moiré, or a sense of depth.

Ornament : pattern or decoration , an additional device which decorates a motif.


Packed- where the elements are very close together.

Paisley: a highly formalised leaf pattern with characteristic internal decorative motifs of flowers and abstract forms. Printed or woven and originating in India Paisley shawls became very popular in Victorian times and the idea has become part of the classic design repertoire.

Patchwork : a number of disparate patterned pieces put together in one design.
Pics: the number of threads used in weaving. A measure of the strength and density of a woven cloth: the more pics the stronger and better quality of cloth.

Plaid : traditionally another name for tartan where a check pattern is formed with multiple stripes horizontal and vertical. Wonderful colour effects can be devised at the crossover points.

Powdered ornament
: where small motifs such as stars or sprigs are scattered evenly over a design.



Rendering : interpretation, the way something is represented in a design.

Repeat: The method of constructing a design which makes it fit time and again into a specified format so that it can be printed. The repeat size is the distance between identical motifs A design can be a half drop repeat, quarter or third drop.

Roman stripes : bright wide stripes.


Scale: 1.part of a design repeated many times to forma fishscale pattern.
2.size of a motif or layout. A small layout or motif can be scaled up(increased) or down(decreased).

Scroll: a spiral shaped ornament often in ribbon format and used above an heraldic shield or crest.

: the different gradations of colours.

Side repeat : the way a design repeats horizontally.

Sketch: idea for a design not fully realised or worked out.

Sku: stock keeping unit, used by distributors to refer to a product line, particularly one which is held in stock.

Square repeat : the layout repeats side by side in line with itself. Also called block repeat.

Stipple: very small regular dots printed /painted close together to create a tonal effect without using a separate screen .

Striae: striped design where a directional effect is created by subtle variations in colour or texture.

Stylised: the design is formalised to make it less naturalistic.


Tapestry: heavy woven cloth often with large scale pictorial decoration. Beauvais and Gobelin and Aubusson were the most prestigious tapestry producers in France in C16th-C18th.

Tartan: or plaid, originally derived from the Scottish woven kilts for various clans where the woven checks produce interesting and subtle effects and the colours cross. Now used of any such check design.

Theme: or story, an idea for a collections which links the patterns through style of association of ideas.

Turnover: pattern in which the design is flipped over horizontally or vertically, often seen in ogee or damask patterns.


Unit of Design: self contained section of design which is repeatable.



Working drawing : a sketch in progress for a design, a stage further on from the initial sketch it acts as a collection of specific instructions.