The Principles of Design


Balance refers to the equal distribution of actual or visual weight about a central point. When there is balance there is a pleasing relationship of all the parts from side to side and from top to bottom. A sense of stability results.

Horizontal balance is achieved when the visual weight of one side of the body is equal to the other side. The standard horizontal balance is termed symmetrical. There is an even distribution of weight and contour over the body frame, and both sides of the body appear identical.

When the body is asymmetrical or the two sides are unequal, it generally is considered desirable to bring the body closer to visual symmetry by manipulating the elements of design. Line, shape, color, and texture can be effectively used in clothing to create the illusion of increased or decreased height, width, or weight, and the dominance or sub-ordinance of a particular area.

Every garment design has a real or imaginary center line from side to side. The eye mentally assigns a visual weight to each area of the design. Symmetrical horizontal balance is created when actual or imagined center front or center back lines divide the area into visually equal or nearly equal parts; both sides of the garment appear identical. Horizontal garment balance can also be asymmetrical. Asymmetrical styles don't compare body sides for identical size and shape, but they remain visually balanced. The elements of design can be manipulated to increase the visual weight and size of the smaller side, and garments can be selected that seem to contract or expand a particular area to achieve balance.

Vertical balance, sometimes referred to as perpendicular balance, is achieved when the upper part of the figure is balanced by the lower part. Generally, the heavier, solid torso or upper body should appear balanced by the longer hip and leg area or the lower body. This creates a sense of stability in the total figure.

Vertical or perpendicular balance is one of the goals in good garment design. Proper selection of clothing contributes to the achievement of perpendicular balance. For example, an individual with broad shoulders can balance the figure with width or fabric weight in the design of the skirt.

Once again, interrelationships must be carefully evaluated. Dark colors in low, dark values have a greater visual weight than lighter hues and values. A small area of dark color can balance a large area of light color. Large shapes and bulky textures also influence the balance of a garment by causing the figure areas where they are used to appear heavier.


Proportion is the size relationship of the areas of the body or garment design to e another and to the whole. The relationship between the areas can be defined in terms of numerical ratios. Generally, uneven ratios of 1:3, 2:3, and 35 are considered most interesting in clothing designs. They most nearly repeat the natural body proportions, and the divisions are interesting because they are not equal or readily discernible. For example, when the space division occurs at the waist, the average body ratio is two parts above the waist and three parts below. The sizes of the various garment areas are in proportion when they relate harmoniously to one another, to the whole garment, and to the figure of the wearer. Attractive garment proportions don't call attention to the variation in body proportions caused by bone structure or the uneven distribution of weight on the body frame (see Section 3).

Comparative proportional areas are described in terms of scale: small, medium, or large. Bone structure can account for variation in the scale of different figures. When sizes are similar or related, they are said to be in scale: for example, small prints, pockets, and collars worn on a small frame.

The parts of the body may not be proportional to or in scale with other parts of the body or the whole. Each area may look normal when seen as an isolated unit, but out of proportion when viewed next to an adjoining area or as a whole. Structural or decorative lines create and shape the divisions in garment design. Body proportions can be visually altered by placing division lines at the shoulder for a yokeline, above the waist for a midriff line, and below the waist for a hip yokeline. All the various effects of design elements previously discussed can be used to bring body areas into better proportion. Shapes, colors, and textures in the design or in accessories can also visually increase or decrease the comparative height, weight, or dominance of a particular area.

The size of body areas can be emphasized by either repetition or extreme contrast in the scale of the garment details; therefore, shift no further than from small to medium or from medium to large within one design and in comparison to the figure. A shift into the medium range provides an illusory transition, reducing the comparative effect of exact repetition or extreme contrast.

Not all fashion trends are pleasingly proportional for all figures. Fashion illustrations show an unrealistic, elongated figure with increased length in the lower part of the body. This partially accounts for frequent disappointing differences between fashion drawings and the constructed garment on an actual figure.


Rhythm is a sense of orderly movement. It is achieved in garment design when the design elements are arranged to lead the observer’s eye directionally throughout the garment and to a point of emphasis. Rhythmic movement serves to unify the design, provide a transition between areas of the garment, avoid conflicting areas of interest, and identify the center of emphasis in a design. Rhythm may be either obvious or subtle.

Arrangement of the elements of design to produce rhythm can include repetition of lines, shapes, colors, or textures; alternation of lines, shapes, colors, or textures; gradation of lines, shapes, sizes, color values and intensities, and textures; continuous line of shapes, colors, or textural trims; or radiation of lines, shapes, colors, or textural folds (see Figures 1-6 through 1-10).

Figure 1-6 Repetition of lines, shapes, colors or textures

Figure 1-7 Alternation of lines, shapes, colors or textures

Figure 1-8 Progression of lines, shapes, sizes, colors or textures

Figure 1-9 Continuous line of shapes, colors or textural trims.

Figure 1-10 Radiation of lines, shapes, colors or textural folds

In each of these illustrations, the viewer visually follows a particular path throughout the design and feels satisfaction as the pathway continues to a pleasing and dominant point of emphasis. The elements of design can be deliberately arranged to camouflage the figure, create an illusion, or divert the a from an undesired figure variation and toward an area considered suitable to emphasize.


The principle of emphasis in design is the creation of a dominant point or center of interest. That point may be the facial area or another body area as defined by the garment design. There may or may not be subordinate points of emphasis; these points are smaller, less obvious, or less emphatic in their claim x attention. Nevertheless, to avoid a spotty appearance, one area should and Conflicting areas of emphasis become confusing to the observer’s eye.

Determine body areas you wish to emphasize through the figure evaluation process. This involves value judgments about what society deems attractive such preferences may or may not be suited to the particular individual. Generally such elemental details as line, shape, color, and texture are used to camouflage or divert attention away from a figure variation; however, some- limes we see an unexpected figure characteristic emphasized to make a statement of individuality—for example a longer neck or broad shoulders.

Emphasis occurs at the point of the greatest visual interest or contrast.

These points may be created in the following ways.

• A change or contrast in shape, color, or texture or in line direction or type of decorative detail

• Repetition or concentration of lines, shapes, or colors.

• The reinforcement of a design detail by trim in that same area.

The more attention claimed—or the more emphasis created—by one element, the less the others should claim. In other words, the more dominant one element, the more subordinate the others should be.


To achieve harmony, all design elements must be selected and arranged to create a unified idea, concept, or theme. This is the ultimate goal in any creative effort. It requires combining lines, shapes, colors, and textures in a way that's appropriate to the purpose; all individual details must relate to form a congruent whole.

Generally in pattern, fabric, or garment selection, and in fitting and alteration, the purpose is to present the figure as attractive, well balanced, and well proportioned. A garment design should be sought that's harmoniously unified among its various parts as well as with the figure on which it's to be worn. The interrelated aspects of the elements and principles of design become apparent as we evaluate the harmony of the whole, not just the parts.

As you attempt to camouflage or emphasize a particular part of the figure, there is danger of ruining the harmonious presentation of the whole. There is also danger of emphasizing one figure variation while attempting to camouflage another. Therefore, the illusory effects of the entire garment design must be evaluated in relation to the figure and the defined purpose. For instance, a woman might have a proportionally large bust, small waist, and large hips. The small waist may be considered the most attractive area of the figure and such clothing details as a cinch belt may be selected to emphasize that area. However, attention at the small waist emphasizes the largeness of the bust and hips by extreme contrast.

For each of the illustrations in Figure 1-11, evaluate the use and interrelated effect of lines, shapes, colors, and textures in achieving balance, proportion, scale, rhythm, emphasis, and —ultimately—a harmonious appearance.

Figure 1-11 Use of line, shape, color and texture to achieve or disrupt harmony.

Once you have gained an understanding of the elements and principles of design as they relate to an attractive appearance, you need not be limited to traditional selections or arrangements. The design elements can be manipulated to create a desired effect. In the final analysis, the dominance of a particular element is the most important. For example, a large-scale plaid generally is assumed to add visual size and weight to a figure; however, a large plaid appears smaller when presented in soft, grayed tones. Color becomes the dominant element controlling the effect of the lines and shapes in the plaid. To give another example, a small-scale floral print traditionally is thought to be delicate and to help the larger figure appear smaller; however, this print takes on increased size and visual weight when presented in strong, intense colors. Again, the element of color becomes dominant and overpowers the ultimate effect of the shapes.

To give additional examples, the visual weight of a heavier, thick fabric can be modified by a simple style with few structural lines and an absence of decoration. In this case, the style and shape of the garment become dominant and control the effects of the texture. A clingy fabric can be caused to stand slightly away from the body in a softly gathered/draped style worn over an undergarment treated with an antistatic finish. In this case, the style and shape of the garment are combined with another treated texture to control the effects of the clingy fabric. We must always examine and determine the dominance of the various elements of design in terms of the intended purpose.

As you finalize the selection and arrangement of the design elements most appropriate for the figure, you may feel unsatisfied or emotionally uncomfortable with the choices. Although correct in themselves, they may conflict with personal preferences based on values, attitudes and interests, geographic location, personality, mood, economic ability, or availability. In other words, you must also identify and evaluate the social and psychological interrelationships in terms of the individual and the individual’s purpose.

Frequently you must adapt what is available to personal needs, adapt personal needs to preferences, or satisfy two conflicting needs at the same time. F example, if you value being in fashion but the current style doesn't present the figure well, you must determine how to modify the style lines or select from other fashion details, such as color or accessories. By carefully e effects and the alternatives, you can usually arrive at an acceptable solution to personal needs in both home-sewn and ready-to-wear clothing.

• If a current fashion stresses square shoulders, which may accentuate shoulders that are already square, the shoulder pad can be eliminated. To give the firmness and smooth appearance desired in the area, use a layer of drapery heading or two layers of a crisp fabric.

• If puffed or extended sleeves are currently in vogue but will emphasize already broad shoulders, consider omitting the usual alteration for broad shoulders and allowing the shoulder to occupy some of the space created by the puff or extension.

• If necklines on currently popular patterns lie lower on the chest than you desire, raise the neckline by altering the pattern prior to cutting.

• If a ready-to-wear skirt has horizontal wrinkles at the back caused by a swayed back, alter the skirt and reset the waistband.

You can find solutions to fitting problems once the problem is recognized, the cause understood, and the alternatives carefully weighed. Many fitting problems can be solved by selecting appropriately styled clothing.

When a correct fit can't be achieved by appropriate style selection alone, the ability to correctly fit and alter clothing and patterns is essential in presenting an attractive and harmonious appearance.

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