Digital Textiles: How The Patternbase makes the tactile clickable

Article by Kayla Goggin

Even the most tactile art can be made digital.

That’s what The Patternbase, a website founded in May of 2011, is out to prove. Originally started by painter/graphic designer Kristi O’Meara as an archive of her favorite patterns, the Patternbase is now a growing creative community with a huge gallery of featured artists and a near-encyclopedic textile archive. Their goal is to build an online space that gives artists and designers access and resources they never had when textile design was strictly analog.

Maze Silk Scarf on Etsy

Maze Silk Scarf on Etsy

It wasn’t just that the materials for textile design could be expensive - the community used to be roadblocked to amateurs. “The textile design industry had a reputation of being hard to break into for artists. If you didn’t live on either coast, it would be harder,” Audrey Victoria Keiffer, a Patternbase co-founder, explains. Now that everyone has a computer and a pirated copy of Photoshop or Illustrator, the field of textile design has been opened up, or “democratized”, as Keiffer says.

Physical location means less than ever now and tactility is not a requirement to experience impactful pattern design. The only thing most designers can’t create for themselves is the platform by which to get their work noticed. The Patternbase’s pattern archive solves that problem by creating a Tumblr network of designs from around the world that reaches over 80,000 followers.

The archive is equal parts research tool and trend forecaster. It’s a nonstop eclectic stream of glitch motifs, colorblocks, and abstract patterns traditionally and digitally created. The variety of the archive’s curation is a measure of how much the textile design community has grown and changed in the last decade.

Aquarius Neoprene Block Top on Etsy

Aquarius Neoprene Block Top on Etsy

”New technologies have allowed for more precise manipulation and larger variation of materials and patterns, and textile designers have found new ways to create ambitiously, experiment, and be inspired," Keiffer says. The aesthetic is changing, she points out, to reflect the internet's influence - digital culture now affects not only color palettes, but also shapes and angles, increasingly drawn from digital glitches, text, and spacey GIFs.

Those glitch motifs have become mainstream now, trickling through the internet’s design community right into the hands of fashion designers and major retailers. T-shirts with digitally-made patterns of databent analog static sell. Digital textile design unquestionably dominates what was once a completely tactile industry.

If anything, the creative communities that helped build that dominance, like the Patternbase, have made textiles even more interactive: we might not be able to touch them, but they’re infinitely more shareable.

Let’s be honest - the top features on the Patternbase blog won’t ever be loom patterns. But with more designers than ever able to communicate, collaborate, and produce work through digital platforms, are analog processes even competition any more?