Friday January 18th 2019

Principles of Design

The principles of design are:


These principles are often used unconsciously, but they exist nevertheless.  By knowing and consciously using these principles, the designer may make more objective design decisions and focus and hone the effect of their design. The use of these principles can be key to why a design does or doesn’t work.

Deliberately breaking or deviating from these principles in order to get the desired response is sometimes also very effective.


Balance is the arrangement of visual weight throughout your design.

The balance of a garment or decoration on a garment may be symmetrical (formal balance) or asymmetrical (informal balance) or even radial. The balance is distributed (or not distributed) around a central point (in the case of radial) or around a horizontal and/or vertical axis.

© 2008 Sarah Sumner-Eisenbraun

© 2008 Kate Gilbert

© Garn Studio

In the ‘Mangyle’ pattern above by Sarah Sumner-Eisenbraun, the asymmetric balance of the argyle “stripe” on the right is balanced by the wide field of stockinette to the left. Asymmetric designs may need a detail or visual weight to balance the main bulk of the design.

The Kate Gilbert ‘Anouk’ child’s pinafore is actually an ‘approximate vertical symmetric’ design; the horizontal axis is symmetric, but the vertical axis is not completely symmetric — the weight of the stripe at the bottom is balanced by a longer field of stockinette at the top in combination with the tabs, giving an effect of a symmetrically weighted design. (Changing color for the collar in the same green as the bottom stripe would have given a more symmetric design, but changed the visual weight of the top.)

The Garn Studio DROPs design is a radial design, with the back of the garment radiating from a central point. Other radial features may be pleats or drapes that are arranged around a central point.

The balance of a garment may also have to do with the contrast of one area of the garment against another. Contrasts in fabric texture (seed stitch panels under a smooth stockinette belt, for instance), color, or focal points will affect both the balance and proportions of the design.

Largely because most bodies are symmetrical, we naturally tend to look for symmetry and balance.  Balance speaks of order and principle to our eyes; therefore flouting this principle can say interesting things about a lack of respect for order.


Rhythm is the repetition or alternation of elements or details within your design. Rhythm might create movement, and/or provide pattern and texture. There are different kinds of rhythm:

© 2007 brooklyntweed
Regular: A regular rhythm occurs when intervals between elements are similar in size and/or length. The elements themselves are usually similar in size and/or length.
© 2009 Kristeen Griffin-Grimes
Flowing: A flowing rhythm gives a sense of movement, and is often more organic in nature. It may or may not be regular.
(Haven’t found a good knitted pic for this yet. In the meantime:)
Progressive: A progressive rhythm shows a sequence of forms through a progression of steps. A kind of progressive rhythm is graduation. A graduated rhythm shows a sequence of forms through a progression of increasing or decreasing steps in size or number.

Features or details may be repeated regularly or irregularly. They may be part of the structure of the garment (pleats, gathers, drape, button spacing) or of the fabric (regular or irregular texture or pattern motifs).

The use or absence of repetition affects the rhythm of the garment.  As in music, the rhythm of the garment affects its overall feel: is it calming, soothing, regular, or is it lively, enthusiastic, irregular?


© 2008 Teva Durham
Dominance may best be explained with a question: when you are looking at a design, where does your eye go first? In the Teva Durham design at left, what do you feel are the important parts of the design? Are they proportionately the biggest part of the design or are they the most important part of the design? What parts of the design are the next important, and which are the least?

Each element will have its place in the hierarchy of dominance within the design.

The dominant element is the element that is of primary emphasis within the design. It usually, although not always, has the greatest visual weight.

The sub-dominant element or elements is/are of secondary importance within the design.

The subordinate element is of least visual importance, receding to the background of the piece. As mentioned above, this does not mean that it is not of importance within the design, as it takes exactly the right element to set off the dominant elements well.


© 2008 Leigh Manson-Brown

Related closely to unity, dominance, balance, contrast, and symmetry, proportion is the relationship of scale between elements of the design, whether those elements are decorative elements or parts of the garment (sleeves to body, collar to cuffs, the garment to the body, etc.)

Proportion may also refer to the distribution of forms throughout the design. (Do not forget that sometimes a plain field of stockinette or purl stitch may be the knitting equivalent of white space in a graphic, and this proportion must also be taken into account!)

Ideal proportion is often dependent upon the eye of the individual. In this picture of Leigh Manson-Brown’s ‘Irish Rose Scarf, where would you have placed the roses and leaves on the scarf and would you have changed the size of any element? (Remember that a scarf is made to be worn; will how the scarf be worn change the placement and proportions of the elements?) Is the proportion of the piece pleasing to your eye? Where would you have placed the elements of the design, if you’d have placed them differently? Would you have made a thicker fringe? Would you have used any fringe at all, and if not, how would that affect the proportion of the piece?

Proportion can create illusions of body shape: changing the proportions of the design, moving seams and details around, etc.


Unity is what ties all the disparate elements of a design together; it is what makes a cohesive design look like all the parts belong together — if you take one thing away, the design no longer “works” as well. It is the sense of wholeness that is the hallmark of a good design. This is an extremely complicated concept, involving how the human brain sees an object as both itself as a whole thing, and as a conglomeration of many elements. A good practical exercise in unity is to try adding or taking away elements in a design and deciding whether you feel if the design is impacted negatively or positively by these additions or subtractions.


As mentioned above, this is only a sliver of each principle — do explore further! In the meantime, let’s now briefly go over some of the elements of design that bring the principles above to life.

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