Repeatless: transforming surface pattern with generative design
Much of the initial use of digital technology within the printed textile industry has focused on the particular advantages that it has over previous fabric printing methods. Examples include simplifying workflow, producing relatively cheap short runs, or allowing designers to work with photographic imagery and unlimited colour palettes. This paper firstly identifies that digital fabric printing has a fundamentally different possibility in relation to its forerunners. Formerly, printing was essentially the ability to reproduce the same image (or text) over and over again. Digital printing, however, does not have to work from static information; it can print a design that changes as it is being printed.
Secondly, the research demonstrates that digital technology can provide the content with which to do this, creating a design that not only changes as it is being printed, but that never repeats. This is achieved by a generative software application. The resulting code is based on cellular automata, a method of mathematical modelling that allows the elements within a system to evolve in relation to each other. In this case, the elements are the individual motifs or other visual components and the system is the overall design. The rules that govern how the motifs arrange themselves are based on methods used by printed textile designers to ensure the eye can roam freely over a design, balancing the arrangement and scale of the motifs, for example, or the negative space between them.
The degree of complexity possible with cellular automata allows the qualitative design process to be modelled with a richness that maps the skills of creating pattern into code. The output is a non-repeating design of infinite length that can be saved section by section to be streamed to a digital printer, exploiting the technology in an entirely novel fashion. Seen individually, digital design and digital printing technology present a large number of new possibilities for the printed textile industry. This paper shows a way that interdisciplinary, practice-led research can integrate them and offer a method to shift the paradigms of what pattern is and the way in which it can be reproduced.