Wardrobe 101

Prints and Patterns

Style Glossary

Happy day, reader dear!

Language nerd that I am, I’ve decided it’s time for a new series I’m calling the Style Glossary.

Lots of us use vocabulary incorrectly. Even yours truly; that’s why I said us. For example, the word biweekly… (That one makes me crazy.) People in the business of style and fashion use vocabulary incorrectly, too. I’m sure autocorrect “helps” them, like in the case of surplice and surplus. Oops! I don’t want a surplus (extra or remaindered from military use) top, but I would certainly be interested in a surplice (a wrap-style crossed effect) top. If you are a fashion or design student (You’re not likely to be reading this blog!) or learned to sew clothing, chances are you don’t make the kind of errors I see regularly in blog, Instagram, and FaceBook posts by people whose business is style or fashion. Note: If English isn’t the writer’s first language, I take no issue. It’s hard to post in a language not your own! Especially English, which is a dreadfully illogical language.

This post isn’t about pattern (or print) mixing. If that’s what you are looking for, check out this post (and video). Or about choosing patterns that flatter. This post, here. In it I cover some basics to make pattern mixing easier. Fabrics with designs can be printed or patterned. What’s the Difference? Well…


Prints are just that! Designs printed onto the fabric. Floral and animal designs on most fabrics are prints. You can tell a printed fabric because the back looks very different from the front. The ink or dye doesn’t permeate the fabric completely, so the print on the back may not show at all, or if it does will look like a shadow of the front. Printing a fabric is far less expensive than creating the same design in a pattern, so it is the most common way to add design to fabrics. Here are some examples of prints:


A pattern is woven into the cloth rather than printed onto it. Think plaids, houndstooth, stripes, and pinstripes. You see the pattern on both sides, although the reverse may look like a reverse image of the front. Your classic striped tee, although knitted, is generally patterned rather than printed! This animal print dress is patterned, not printed. (Yes, that is unusual.) Patterned fabrics are more expensive to produce, so will cost more than printed fabrics of the same design.

Here’s what I mean about the front and back being different:

To confuse matters: We often talk about the pattern of a print, when what we really mean is the theme or design of the print! In addition, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other widely used methods for creating designs on (and in) clothing:


Many women here in the South think monograms the moment you say embroidery, and monograms are one form of embroidery. Embroidery is the art or process of forming decorative designs with needlework. (www.merriam-webster.com) There are many others, though! Smocking, usually found on children’s clothing, is a form of embroidery. at one time all embroidery was done by hand, and meant that embroidered clothing was a luxury for the wealthy. Machine embroidery has democratized the look, and we see it everywhere. It is very popular in one cross of Feminine and Relaxed style, Boho.


To throw just a little more confusion into the mix, color designs knitted or woven into a garment (Like a sweater.) are called Jacquard. (Yes, I’ve chosen a capital J. There was a Mr. Jacquard, or Monsieur, as the case may be.) We don’t call striped patterns Jacquards, though… Why not will require a LOT more research!

Thanks to the fabulous Kristine of Declarative Knits for the Jacquard knit images. You rock! Please visit her and check out her gorgeous work.

So how about you? Prints and patterns are personality driven. Do you wear prints and patterns? Or do you prefer solid garments? To what prints or patterns do you find yourself drawn? Or send you running in the opposite direction? What other style or fashion terms have you wondering? Do tell! I’d love to know… There’s plenty of room in the comments below!

Stylishly yours,


  • Leslie Susan Clingan

    About 18 months ago, I had a job describing clothes for sale on eBay onto the seller’s storefront database. I was paid minimum wage and there was no heat or AC. The bathroom often overflowed so that sewage seeped across the floor. Despite all of those perks, I enjoyed the work. And I learned some things about fashion and fabric and style and design. This article is very interesting and helpful in assisting us to use the right terminology. Especially print and pattern which I until now have used interchangeably.

    • Liz K

      Oh, Leslie! That sounds grueling! Your “despite all those perks” had me laughing out loud… I don’t think I’d have made it more than a day.

    • Liz K

      For both prints and patterns, it’s all about the quality of the fabics, dye, and process! Thank you for visiting. Lise!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.