Inkscape comes with several patterns ready to be applied to either fill or stroke of an object. Most of them are vector based but there are also three bitmap patterns available.
It is often necessary to create your own pattern which can be quite easy with the Object to Pattern option.
This recipe will provide an overview of the basics of pattern editing in Inkscape.
Assigning patterns can only be done from the Fill and Stroke dialogue window (Shift + Ctrl + F) so it's useful to keep it open when dealing with patterns.
The following steps will outline how to create patterns: