I spy hospital patterns

As a keen lover of patterns I’m always on the look out for interesting examples to add to my consciousness. I do like a good geometric as well as micro (small scale) repeating patterns so despite being immensely annoyed to find myself back in hospital on a ward for a week I did spot the odd pattern of interest…

I’m interested in small details that make patterns work, and I spend time in my teaching analysing successes and failures of patterns in relation to motifs, pattern structures and repeats to teach the students how to improve their own designs. These NHS designs, printed on fabric for hospital nighties (left), pyjamas (middle) and the surgical gown (right) do demonstrate merit.

Small details on the pyjamas / nighties, such as the spot actually being a hexagon, the less obvious choice, and the squares making up the bigger square block including smaller squares in the darker colour, means they contrast with the larger mid green colour bring visual interest. If the darker squares were the same size they may well appear too dominant. Interestingly, the pyjamas had the green colourway as vertical stripes, and yet the same design in red was placed as horizonal stripes on the nightie. I wonder why this was. Let’s not talk of the fit of these garments! The surgical gown is more simple, but I appreciate the fact that the cross is made up of broken lines, with a small dot in the middle – so much more interesting that if it had been two lines crossing.

These are tiny details that most people will overlook, I know I was probably not the most typical of inpatients, but if you spend any length of time on a ward, nil by mouth for several days your mind wonders. I found there to be a significant challenge in retaining something of myself as a person beyond the sick patient, with all the focus and attention on your health, or lack of. The pattern spotting was a way of still being me.

As I said at the top, I like micro patterns and have shared my collection of envelope insides on the blog before. I like the smaller scale patterns that provide visual rhythms and noise, that get on with doing their job, in a simple utilitarian manner. These patterns on hospital garments also got me thinking about moquette, the hard-wearing fabrics on transport upholstery, and how those patterns signs are there to conceal dirt and wear, whereas these hospital ones with the white background were doing the opposite.

I hope you don’t find yourselves in hospital to have the chance to analyse patterns on your gown, but if you do, I hope you like the ones you’ve got!

on the mend: thoughts of healthcare settings

I’ve had an interruption to normal services as a result of some general surgery, added complications and time to heal. I’m not one to sit idle so it’s been a challenge to be patient, giving myself time to recover and gain strength. The time in hospital – a week – was an ordeal despite wonderful ward staff, and it gave me time to think about how important our surrounding environments can be, for our wellbeing and sanity.

I got to know the walls and particularly the ceiling of the room very well. In my hazy mind I toyed with the grid of ceiling panels being a response to the Dutch De Stijl design by Theo van Doesburg, or a drawing by Agnes Martin. The four holes in the ceiling were also a stark reminder of the surgeon’s cuts. The prints on the curtains were so poor I refused to capture them, but they were insipid, uninspiring, and frankly poor design – I remember analysing their weakness with one of the staff late one night – I think she said I was crazy!

I vividly remember the power of the textiles surrounding me – I had a scarf which was a huge comfort to me – a familiar texture and smell of home. The fresh sheet and hospital blanket were also providing a strange comfort in the utilitarian room.

Twenty years ago I attended Arts in Health lectures including discussions on the subject of hospital environments aiding recovery and wellbeing, and I remember seeing incredibly exciting and positive schemes across the world where designers were embracing colour, nature, pattern and material to drive rehabilitation. I had hoped things had moved on from the institutional walls of hospitals. We now have the interior design buzz word biophilia, using nature for our wellbeing as an integral component in the design solutions, linking humans to other life forms, but it has yet to arrive here. The space in which I coped was bland, institutional and bleak. Such a missed opportunity – and particularly when the hospital ‘art’ is so often shoved out front in the public foyer, and not where the patients spend hours on end, day after day – don’t get me started on public art commissions at hospitals!

The relief to be home, surrounded by colour and pattern – and my family – was intense. Those first breaths of fresh air, the sight of a bright autumn day was incredibly uplifting. I still hold a heightened sense of this awareness of nature, even now a week on, as I recover and appreciate my health returning to business as usual.