The repeat is the minimum amount of linear(top to bottom) yardage needed to see the full design. In small designs repeats are not that important. In the larger designs, they are as one yard of fabric (36")may not give you the full design.
Look at this photo of the Unikko pattern. This photograph shows almost 3 yards(108") of fabric. Unikko's repeat is 37". That is the distance from the top of a light blue flower to the top of the next light blue flower. So this photo shows a little more than 2 repeats. Repeats are important when you are making drapes, shower curtains or duvet covers and you want the fabric to match at the seams.
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