The motifs employed for patterns are of two kinds: (1) abstract or geometric forms which are simply harmonious shapes so repeated as to make a pleasing pattern; for example, the Greek key pattern; (2) concrete or nature forms "conventionalized," or adapted to their use as pattern; for example, the French fleur-de-lis.

The distinction of a design depends not on the origin of the motif, but on its decorative treatment and color. The effectiveness of a pattern as an element in house furnishing depends on its adaptability in color and design to the service it is to render in the room for which it is selected. A fabric with less intrinsic merit than another in pattern and color may be the better choice in some instances, by reason of its happier relation to the other furnishings in the room. By far the greater number of motifs are taken from nature. Any nature motif must be conventionalized, or adapted to its use as pattern, by changing its form, size, or color, and arranging it in an orderly way, keeping in mind not its origin from nature, but its purpose as decoration. Any pretense at naturalistic modeling or shading should be very formal in character. That it is pattern and not picture should never be lost sight of in judging a design for a flat surface. Medallions, scrolls without beginning or end, baskets of flowers or fruits, fluttering ribbons and bowknots, are all absurd substitutes for real design.

The figures in a design are parts of one whole and should be connected or related in some way. Widely separated motifs tempt the eye to jump from one spot to another and provoke one to count rows, and mentally rearrange the pattern. All effect of restfulness is thereby lost. Patterns that cover the ground well are in general better for furnishings than scattered spots. Some patterns that would be objectionable on a flat wall, however, may be used acceptably in drapery, since the fullness of the folds rearranges the design.

One of the characteristics of a good design is its appropriateness to the material in which it is developed. Patterns may be woven, embroidered, or printed - stenciled, stamped, or stained - on a fabric. The pattern may appropriately declare the material in which it is developed. Woven patterns should preferably suggest warp and woof. The design in a rag carpet, for example, naturally appears in stripes made by the woof, which is much more prominent than the finer threads of the warp. There is a great variety of patterns appropriate to printed wall papers that may be selected in preference to those that imitate leather or burlap or silk or oilcloth.

A pattern may be expressed in lines alone on a background of another color, or it may be in masses or spots that are lighter or darker or different in color from the background. In such patterns the shapes rather than the details are important. Sometimes the pattern is of masses that are broken up by a variety of detail and color.