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How to Create a Traditional Romanian Folk Inspired Pattern in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Today’s tutorial is a little bit special, as I am going to show you how to build something based on a traditional hand-sewed Romanian decorative pattern.

The tutorial itself will rely on using the Rectangle Tool in collaboration with the Pixel Preview Mode in order to create a personalized bookmark, that you later print and use.

On History and Culture

Before we begin, I want to tell you a little about the history of the artwork that we are going to reproduce. 

As a person of Romanian nationality, the early years of my life have always been somehow drawn into what is considered traditional handmade art. 

My mother, who is a women’s clothing designer, has always been keen on using elements inspired from different regions of the country. 

My father, who was born in a small village, had always wanted me to see how life twists and flows differently in the countryside compared to the big cities, so in his quest he showed me things that belonged to his part of the family: clothes, carpets and sandals that were handmade and completely different from what you would wear today. 

Even though I wouldn’t have imagined myself wearing such items, I was always intrigued by the intricate patterns that the older women would hand-sew into the fabrics that were worn by entire family members, patterns that later became symbols for the different Romanian administrative regions.

From a historical point of view, archaeologists have found pieces of such decorative art dating from over 6,000 years ago, casting light on what is now considered an important part of the life, mentality, and beliefs of the people that lived during that period. 

Through these lines, Romanians have crafted an art that has been transformed today into an important touristic element, with thousands of people from all over the world passing through the hallways of Dimitrie Gusti’s National Village Museum in order to have a glimpse of its beauty.

Romanian traditional pattern painted eggs

The pattern that I have selected to recreate comes from the county of Muscel, located in the Muntenia Region, and was mostly used in the 19th century. The style that was used in that region was based heavily on straight lines that form geometric motifs, and darker, cooler colors (black, red, and later on purple and green). 

It is worth mentioning that depending on the age of the person that was intended to wear the cloth, the patterns and colors were adapted so that this social indicator could be reflected through them. Younger people would have brighter colors, and less sophisticated patterns, while the elder would wear darker, more complicated ones.

The segment I took was slightly adapted by my own hand in order to give it a finishing touch, as I felt that the pattern needed delimiting sections for both its top and bottom sections.

Now I'll give a step by step process of recreating this pattern by using some basic tools and functions in Adobe Illustrator.

1. Setting Up the Document

Assuming you’ve already powered up Illustrator, create a New Document (File > New) with the following settings:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 120 px (1.67 in)
  • Height: 600 px (8.33 in)
  • Units: Pixels

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: CMYK
  • Raster Effects: High (300 ppi)
  • Align New Objects to Pixel Grid: checked
setting up a new document

Wow, wait a second. Did I just create a document intended to be printed and set the Units to pixels? Yup, I did just that. Why, you may wonder? Well, because the pattern we are going to build is based on square shapes, which are easier to position once we take advantage of the Pixel Preview mode. Also, I’ve already converted my Artboard’s dimensions from inches to px, so don’t worry about sizing problems once printed.

2. Setting Up Our Layers

Go to the Layers panel and create two layers, naming them as follows:

  1. name
  2. pattern
layering our document

3. Creating the Pattern

Once we’ve set up our document and layered it, we can start building the actual pattern.

Step 1

Position yourself on the pattern layer, making sure to lock the other one, and create a 4 x 4 square which we will color red (#E94849). Using the Transform panel, select and then place the object we’ve just created using these coordinates:

  • X: 60 px
  • Y: 524 px
positioning our patterns base element

Step 2

Enter Pixel Preview mode, by going to View > Pixel Preview (Alt-Control-Y), and then zoom in on our little square. 

Now comes the tricky part. Because the pattern itself is composed of a fairly large number of individual squares, we will have to create a base row of these objects, which we will copy and paste, positioning each duplicate row closer to the top. As we make our way up, I will tell you exactly which squares you need to remove in order to get the pattern right.

So select our original square, and create seven copies to the left and another seven to the right, by dragging to the left or right while holding down Alt. Once you have all 15 objects, select them, and then copy them to the Clipboard (Control-C).

creating the base row of elements for the pattern

Step 3

Before we create our second row, we need to get rid of the third square from the left, and the third from the right, and the seventh one from both sides. Simply select them and hit Delete.

adjusting the first row of the pattern

Step 4

Create the second row by simply pasting (Control-V) and moving it on top of the first one.

creating the patterns second row of elements

Step 5

Adjust the copy by removing the second and fourth squares from each side, and the three in the middle.

adjusting the second row of the pattern

Step 6

Create the third duplicate row by using the same process of pasting from the Clipboard (Control-V), and then remove the third and fifth squares off each side.

adjusting the third row of the pattern

Step 7

On row four, delete the fourth and six squares.

adjusting the fourth row of the pattern

Step 8

For row five, we need to get rid of squares five and seven.

adjusting the fifth row of the pattern

Step 9

On row six, we need to delete square number two, three and six from each side and the one in the middle.

adjusting the sixth row of the pattern

Step 10

Once you have created the seventh row, delete the third and seventh squares off both the left and right side.

adjusting the seventh row of the pattern

Step 11

As you can see, our pattern is slowly but surely taking shape, creating repeatable jumps in the positioning of our little squares. Because at this point we have a larger section that we can use to simplify our process, we will simply copy (Control-C) everything that we have created until this point, paste it in place (Control-F), and then flip the objects horizontally (right click > Transform > Reflect > Horizontal), making sure to move them on top of row number seven (the last one we created).

duplicating the bottom start section of our pattern

Step 12

Once our first large section of the pattern is created, we can group it (Control-G) and then duplicate it by dragging while holding down Alt, positioning the copy with just one row down (4 px) towards the original, so that the original’s top row goes under the duplicate’s bottom row (I’ve marked the overlay using a red semi-transparent rectangle).

We do this because the pattern’s middle decoration are squares, which forces us to overlay the copies to get them right.

duplicating the base section of the pattern

Step 13

Having created our bottom section of the pattern, select and group its elements (Control-G) and then make a copy (Control-C > Control-F) and position it towards the top of our Artboard using these coordinates:

positioning the top section of our pattern

Your illustration should look something like this.

basic pattern look

Step 14

Because the top part of our pattern is longer than the one at the bottom, we need to repeat the same trick of duplicating while holding down Alt, and then press Control-D (repeat) once to create two more copies (I've colored the copies in slightly darker shades so you can see them better).

creating the taller top section pattern

You should now have something like this.

pattern almost finished

Step 15

Once we’ve created the pattern, we need to add some finishing touches so that it will look more attractive. The first thing we need to do is take care of the side stripe patterns.

Using the Rectangle Tool (M) create a smaller 2 x 2 px square, color it using the same red tint (#E94849) and then position it to the bottom-left side of our lower pattern section, at a distance of 4 px.

creating the base element for the side pattern

Step 16

Create another 2 x 2 px square, and position it towards the top-right side of our previously created shape.

creating the second element for the side pattern

Step 17

Create a slightly larger 4 x 2 px rectangle, aligning it to the bottom-left side of the bottom smaller square using the Align panel.

positioning the third element of the side pattern

Step 18

Adjust the previously created shape by double clicking on it to enter Isolation Mode (right click > Isolate Selected Path), and using the Direct Selection Tool (A) select its right side anchor points, moving them upwards by 2 px.

If you turn off Pixel Preview you should have something like this.

basic preview of the side pattern element

Quick tip: try to get used to going in and out (Alt-Control-Y) of Pixel Preview mode as it helps you design with higher accuracy, as you can see exactly what space your shapes occupy.

Step 19

Group the previously created three objects, and then create a copy and position it towards the top section of the center larger pattern.

positioning the two elements for the side pattern blend

Step 20

Select both the top and bottom elements, and then create a blend between them to fill in the blank space by going to Object > Blend > Blend Options. Here you will see a pop-up asking you what type of Blend you want to make. We need to set it to Specified Steps and enter 23 in the value input box.

setting up the blend for the side pattern

Quick tip: If you’ve never worked with blends, you should now that once you’ve set up the Blend Options you need to go to the Object > Blend menu one more time and select Make in order for the blend to take shape.

side pattern finished using blend tool

Step 21

Since the blend is actually a line, we need to expand it by selecting and then going to Object > Expand and checking both Object and Fill in the pop-up box.

This step isn’t mandatory but more like a personal preference, as I always prefer having all the elements set up as objects.

expanding the side pattern blend

Step 22

Copy the left side pattern to the right of our center larger one and position it at the same distance of 2 px.

positioning the right side pattern

Step 23

Finish off the bottom section of our pattern by adding two 4 x 100 px lines on each side of the zigzag patterns, positioning them 2 px from them.

bottom pattern section finished

Step 24

Copy the bottom element of the side zigzag pattern and create two copies, which we will then align to the bottom and top sides of the longer decoration.

positioning the blend elements for the top section side pattern

Step 25

Select both the top and bottom objects and then create another Blend, but this time use 71 for the Specified Steps. Make the blend, expand it and then create a duplicate and position it on the right side of the center pattern.

top pattern section wide side patterns

Step 26

Add two 4 x 292 px lines on each side so that our design keeps a sense of continuity.

patterns finished

Step 27

Seeing as our pattern is complete, we need to add the top, mid and bottom sections to it. Enter Pixel Preview mode, and using the Rectangle Tool (M) create a 92 x 4 px object and position it towards the top of our pattern, at a distance of 4 px using the Align panel.

positioning the first element of the top section delimiter

Step 28

Add a slightly smaller 84 x 2 px object, and position it 2 px from the previous one.

positioning the second element of the top section delimiter

Step 29

Create a diamond pattern by drawing eight smaller 4 x 4 px squares, which we will rotate at a 45° angle (select > right click > Transform > Rotate > 45), and then group into a left and right section, positioning the inner elements at a distance of 2 px from one another. Add one larger 8 x 8 px square, rotate it the same way we did with the smaller ones, and then center it both horizontally and vertically with the two groups. Select all nine diamond shaped objects, and make sure to distance them at 2 px from the nearest line underneath them.

positioning the diamond shaped objects

Quick tip: you might have noticed that once you enter Pixel Preview mode, the rotated objects seem all fuzzy. That’s because their anchor points aren’t snapping to the pixel grid any more due to the rotation process. To fix this, simply isolate them, and using the Direct Selection Tool select and move each anchor to its nearest grid intersection.

adjusting the diamond shaped objects

Step 30

Select the two bottom lines underneath the diamond pattern, and copy them (Control-C) and then paste them in place (Control-F). Make sure to move the duplicate towards the top of the diamond shapes, reflecting them horizontally (right click > Reflect > Horizontal). Once you’ve done this, select both the top and bottom lines and the inner diamond pattern and group them all together (Control-G).

top section delimiter finished

Step 31

Create a copy of the previously grouped objects (Control-C > Control-F) and position it just under the bottom section pattern at a distance of 4 px.

positioning the bottom section delimiter

Step 32

Move towards the middle section that stays between the two sections of our decorative pattern, and create two 92 x 2 px rectangles, positioning them 4 px from the top and bottom pattern sections.

positioning the smaller name delimiters

Step 33

Add another two 92 x 4 px rectangles, and position each one 2 px from the previously created ones.

positioning the taller name delimiters

Step 34

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select and copy (Control-C) one of the larger diamond-shaped objects, aligning one copy to the left and another to the right of the line segments we just created, making sure to center them both horizontally and vertically.

positioning the diamond shaped objects onto the name zone

At this point our illustration is almost done. All we need to do is add the name (your own name) using our specially picked font, and we’re good to go.

illustration without name applied

4. Adding a Custom Touch to Our Traditional Bookmark

As the project revolves around creating something personal that each of you can use as a practical instrument, the last step of our process involves putting your name onto the face of the bookmark. I’ve carefully picked a custom font which you will need to download and install in order to finish this small project.

The name of the font is ArhaicRegular and it can be downloaded from dafont.com.

Assuming you’ve managed to load the font onto your machine, unlock the name layer, and using the Type Tool (T) click anywhere to start writing. Type in your own name, and then change the font to ArhaicRegular, setting the Font Size to 14 pt. Select the text and then align it to the center using the Paragraph top panel options, changing the color to #6B6B6B.

Lastly, position the text between the two line groups (the ones with the diamond-shaped objects on each side).

type settings


That’s it! If you’ve followed the tutorial step by step, you should now have a unique bookmark piece ready for printing. You've also learned something about the origins of this traditional Romanian decorative art, and the process involved in recreating it using Adobe Illustrator.

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