Must Have Books If You're Into Retro Patterns

Must Have Books If You're Into Retro Patterns

We all probably already own all the same books, but I reckon there has to be some gems out there a lot of people don't know about. This is the reason why I've been compiling a long list of the pattern books I use - and have finally managed to cut it down to top pick list.

My best advice to any designer in general is to amass as many books as possible - whilst this might sound a tinge financially reckless, I guarantee you it is the best investment you will make. These resources will be the ones you will always go back to, especially now in the world of all things fake and AI.

So without further ado:

Textiles, The Art of Mankind (Hardcover)
By Mary Schoeser

This is an incredible (super heavy) book with tons of historical references. It's always been my go to book for not just pattern inspiration, but surface in general; it includes a multitude of embroidery, screen printed, hand woven textures, etc. If you can, get it second hand as it does tend to be a bit pricey!

The Book of Flowers
By Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Well, I can't really call this pattern inspo, but my God, does this book deliver when you desperately need some floral references. With super detailed, colourful and botanically correct drawings, this book by far out ranks any other botanical references (and trust me, I have them all - yes, even the garden books).

Liberty: The History
By Marie-Therese Rieber

If you're like me and you love anything post 1930s, this will be your favourite book. Liberty in itself is an institution, but the textiles they developed hold a history of their own as well. From classy to funky, they've done it all - I mostly use these references for colour palettes as they are super refreshing and fun.

Grammar of Ornament
By Owen Jones

You know when you're supposed to draw a super detailed, geometric print - or something with a tinge of retro and your mind is just blank? This is where Grammar of Ornament comes in handy. A sort of dictionary on historic tiles, ornaments and patterns, it is a wealth of information that will be your companion for years to come.

Patterns: Inside The Design Library
By Peter Koepke

The Design Library, which has 2 spaces, one in New York and one here, in London, UK has published a wonderful book, chock full of vintage textiles. This is an absolute treasure trove of inspiration as a lot of these are quirky, never seen before prints. If you're local, you can also go visit them!

The Pattern Sourcebook: A Century Of Surface Design
By Drusilla Cole

This is more or less constantly on my desk - whenever I need a quick reference or a new idea for a pattern set, this is where I usually start. It's got 342 illustrations with detailed descriptions, so I usually find a reference in here and then Google my way onwards.

The Aloha Shirt: Spirit Of The Islands
By Dale Hope

This is sort of my secret weapon. An incredible and breath-taking book by Patagonia (printed on recycled paper, ofc), this is a complete guide to the intricate world of Hawaiian shirts. From bark cloth to American tourists, this lovely book is an amazing reference for conversational prints.


One of the best ways to find cool reference books is by going through second hand shops - you'll find amazing resources in unexpected places, such as magazines or even garden tending books. So don't just stick to Amazon; trawl through treasures on eBay or go and have a look in a second hand book shop yourself - you might end up finding exactly what you didn't know you needed!