Friday January 18th 2019

Elements of Design

If the principles of design tell us what we’re looking to achieve in a good design, the elements of design are the blocks with which we build that design. Many of the elements are highly subjective and a lengthy study can be made of each, in which there are no right or wrong answers.  There are many different lists of the essential elements, but for now we’ll go with:



A line is characterized by length, width, and direction. (Points are an element that has a position within space, but has no extension into space. A line is a collection of points that the brain has linked together as a line.) A line may create direction, create continuance (the idea that an element directs the eye in one direction and the eye continues in that direction until another element catches the eye’s attention), and/or create contours within a form. Groups of lines may create perspective, texture, values, or density.

Lines may maintain constant width, or vary in width. A varying width line often is associated with organic forms and feel. A wider line has a heavier weight value than a thinner line, but often needs the contrast of a different weight value line to set these values off.

Lines create different emotional and psychological reactions.  Lines may be hard or soft, emphasize or disguise features or details, lead the eye to one place or another. They may imply direction, slim or widen, or draw attention to parts of the silhouette by their addition or their lack.  Curved lines may imply softness, straight hard lines might create a strong look.  Straight lines

In fashion, the most common use of line is of seams and fastenings. In knitted and crocheted garments, seams are sometimes artificial or implied.


Though “form” and “shape” are often used interchangeably, technically a shape is an object that is defined by its perimeter. A form is made up of point, line, and shape.  The form is closely related to the silhouette, which we will cover on our next page.  Also allied closely to form and silhouette is volume, which creates a visual feeling of weight or lightness.

The simplest shapes are squares/rectangles, triangles, and circles, which are dimensional shapes. More complicated shapes are called contour shapes.


Closely related to texture, pattern is largely visual and two-dimensional. Formal patterns contain regular elements in consistent, usually symmetrical arrangement. Informal or free patterns contain regular elements in less symmetrical, more spontaneous arrangement. Random pattern contains less regular break-up of surface and relies less, if at all, on repeats. (Many variegated yarns feature random pattern of color blocks.) Spontaneous pattern might be defined as a constantly changing pattern as movement re-arranges the elements.


The dividing line between texture and pattern is a somewhat confused one but, for our purposes, texture is generally a three-dimensional, tactile, and visual phenomenon. It may be regular or irregular. The nature of knit and crochet wear means that our smoothest fields of stockinette stitch and single crochet are still by their nature textured both to the eye and to the touch. Cables, bobbles, lace, etc. may all be interpreted to the eye and touch as texture.

Texture is both visual and tactile.  Designers may design to a texture (a stitch pattern that they love, for instance), or find a texture that fits their design.

Texture may also affect the design choices of fabric; a heavily textured stitch pattern such as ribbing usually will require more yarn which in turn affects the drape of the fabric.  A chunky yarn creates a different texture from a cobweb yarn, even using the same stitch.


The fashion industry often uses color as a marketing tool — the color palettes that inform each season are more about obsolescence of trend and sale of new clothing. But you may use color theory (although there are many of them, so you’ll have to choose one) to make color decisions within your work.  I will cover only a brief overview of color theory here; there are many very good references for further study.

First, let’s talk some basics.

The typical human eye responds to different wavelengths of the visible spectrum (light), perceiving those wavelengths of light as color. Violet is at one end of the spectrum (400 nanometres) and red (700 nanometres) is at the other end. All other colors fall between the two.  We can distinguish some 350,000 different colors, most of which have no descriptive names.

There are many sociological reactions to color.  We respond emotionally and physically: blues and greens lower blood pressure, reds and oranges speed up the heart rate, white might signify purity or perhaps death, cool colors can feel chilly, black may denote sophistication or death, etc.  Pink may be deemed suitable for men or not, feminine or girly, a neutral color, or only for young children.  Urbanites may find grey sophisticated or depressing, while their rural counterparts have a different reaction.

In some places, green is a wholesome, natural color, and in other places, it is unlucky.  Pastels and white may say “summer” or “spring”, and jewel tones might say “autumn” or “winter.”

A designer of knit and crochet wear may simply choose colors as commercially available, or ask a dyer to custom-dye yarns, or even dye and spin their own yarns.  Whichever route the designer takes to designing with color, it is important to understand how color is a tool and what it means to their work.  Designers who design patterns for crafters will also understand that crafters will often choose other colors, but must still present their designs in the “ideal” colors to best present their design work.

The Color Wheel

Sir Isaac Newton is said to have developed the first circular color wheels in 1666. Color wheels attempt to present color in a logical, sequenced order.  The seven prismatic colors identified by Newton are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.  In his color wheel, he dropped orange, merged indigo and blue, and used six different primary colors.  In 1730, Jacques-Christophe Le Blon placed secondary colors between each primary color: red + yellow = orange, yellow + blue = green, blue + red = violet.  He also gave different ratios for intermediate hues. He also named tertiary colors, mixing all of the primary colors for shades of brown through gray to black.

(color wheel presentation)

We describe color through three characteristics.  The three main components of a color are:

  • Hue: Where the color is positioned on the color wheel. Terms such as red, blue-green, and mauve all define the hue of a given color.
  • Value: The general lightness or darkness of a color. In general, how close to black or white a given color is.  The lightest values (with more white in them) are called tints.  The darker values (with black) are called shades.
  • Saturation: The intensity, or level of chroma, of a color. The more gray a color has in it, the less chroma it has.  Tone refers to a color with gray added to it.

Reader Feedback

10 Responses to “Elements of Design”

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    Helpful summary, saved your blog for hopes to see more information!

  2. Neelia says:

    I am obsessed with suodiunrrng myself in neutral and nature inspired colors – it soothes me. So to help it from being too “boring,” I focus on texture to keep it fresh. By the way, I am in love with that plant in the first photo. It looks like it is possibly a succulent? Do you have any idea what it is called? :)I always find your blog inspirational!

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