Pattern Through The Ages

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – European History ( Renaissance, Women’s Education, Communication), Colonial Crafts ( Samplers)

Mathematics: Pattern, Symmetry (Line Of Symmetry And Rotational)

Fine Motor Skills (Stitching)

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, Pattern Books

Principles of Art – Pattern, Balance (Symmetrical/ Linear and Radial), Printmaking, Portraits, Crafts (Fiber Art – Stitchery/Samplers)

I often see and experience things and so much want to share them with you. Then I think, “How does this correlate with classroom curriculum?” Case in point, last weekend I went to New York City to visit my daughter. We had what turned out to be a glorious Renaissance weekend. On Friday night, we went to see “Something Rotten, The Musical”. It is a fictional story set in the time of the Renaissance, chronicles events and people of the time, and highlights almost every musical ever made.  If you love musicals, this show is a must see. They received close to a standing ovation at the conclusion of every song. I’ve NEVER seen such audience enthusiasm and appreciation in a show. How this show did not win the Best Musical Tony Award last year, I will never know. Alas, I digress. On Saturday, we went to the Met to see the “Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and The Print Revolution” exhibit. What do you know, this show was also set in the time of the Renaissance. Thus my coining the weekend, the Renaissance weekend. The more I thought about it, the more classroom correlations I found. Let me share a couple with you.

First, let me share a short history. To set the mood for this lesson and learn a little about what was happening in this time period, you or your students could watch ” Welcome to the Renaissance” from “Something Rotten, the Musical” here:

Middle School students would benefit from this site:

Next, we will talk about Leonardo da Vinci once more. I have already talked about him here:

and here:

Now I’ve known that da Vinci was a painter, mathematician, inventor, engineer, scientist, anatomist, botanist and architect. What I didn’t know was that he influenced the evolution of pattern and graphics for clothing, home goods and architecture. It all started when another of my all time favorite artists, Albrecht Durer, interpreted six of da Vinci’s sketches into a series of wood engraved prints.


Albrecht Durer’s “The First Knot”. Interlaced Roundel with an Oblong Panel in its Center

Above is the first print. With each consecutive print, the pattern becomes more varied and intricate. Durer’s contemporaries saw this series of prints and were inspired to create intricate print series of their own. You can view the rest of Durer’s interpretations here:

Now, in the 1400’s the printing press had been invented by Johannes Gutenberg. Find out more about the history of printmaking and Gutenburg in these places:

During the Renaissance, people were looking for different genres of books to produce. In 1532, Johann Schonsperger the Younger printed the first pattern book in Augsburg, Germany. These pattern books provided a variety of designs to be used as reference for people from all social economic levels, who wished to embellish clothing and home items. The pattern book genre soon was adopted in other countries across Europe. In true Renaissance style, many varieties of pattern and pattern books were devised and shared. See an example of  two pages of a pattern book below:


Find out more about the exhibit and see a slideshow here:

Met Exhibit Highlights Renaissance Textile Design

and still more information here:

Can you see the influence of the pattern books in the clothing worn by the sitters in the following two portraits? How many different patterns can you find and identify?

62.55 028

62.55 028

Robert Peake the Elder’s “Princess Elizabeth”


Bernhard Strigel’s “Portrait of a Woman” 


Okay, let’s say you would like to correlate with a geometry lesson. Students can identify the different kinds of patterns and symmetry found in da Vinci/Durer’s roundels and pattern book designs.

Some of our modern day pattern books are adult coloring books and zentangle books.  Zentangle is kind of like yoga for the mind.  Copying the zentangle designs is supposed to help you focus and relax. The following post is a creative zentangle. Students can use it to create their own patterns and symmetrical designs similar to those of the Renaissance. Upon completion students can identify the geometry skills they used or trade papers and have fellow students identify them.

Students could transfer their designs onto a styrofoam tray and block print them into a rotational/radial composition, just like Durer’s prints.

An easy inexpensive way to print a styrofoam tray is to color it with a water based marker and print onto water moistened paper.

Social Studies

Until public education came along, young girls were taught skills that would help them run a household. One of these skills was embroidery in the way of samplers. Read a short sampler history entitled, “Girlhood Embroidery”, here:

As you can glean from the above post, samplers continued into Colonial times. So, this post could also be used in a Colonial craft unit. Another Colonial craft that I’ve covered recently can be found here:

If you are brave enough to stitch in the classroom, the following post may be helpful.

Affording 25 to 30 wooden hoops for a classroom is not practical. A more affordable option is to staple bogus paper to the back of burlap. Bogus paper is an inexpensive gray drawing paper which prevents bunching as you sew. When the stitchery is complete, the paper easily tears away.

For younger students. try sewing nonslip drawer liners from the dollar store.

So, whether studying math or social studies, this post may be for you.

Any suggestions? How would you teach this?

Come by again real soon!


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