get your patterns printed at Unique Skins and Spoonflower
a free tool for rapidly prototyping patterns
a few years ago i started investigating patterns. i couldn't find any tools that would let me design them in the way that i wanted, so i started trying to make illustrator do it.
i found that the templates made it incredibly easy to quickly learn about and generate really cool patterns. once you've made some cool patterns, upload the tiles you create to the flickr group and they'll appear in the gallery for all to see.