Products books and links Articles and How-To guides Home

Using the Elements and Principles of Design: The Elements of Design


Line is the most influential element of design in the presentation of the figure and in the fitting process. It measures the distance between two points, encloses and divides space, and defines shape. Line indicates direction and leads the eye throughout the design. Line may be seen in both the fabric and in the design of a garment.

Structural line in fabric is created by the position of the yarns as they cross each other at the right angles or as they loop vertically or horizontally. The directional lines thus formed may be observed and are commonly referred to as grain. The lengthwise fabric grain lies parallel to the selvage and perpendicular to the floor. The crosswise fabric grain lies between or at the right angles to the selvages and parallel to the floor. When the fabric grains lie at right angles to each other, the garment will hang evenly on both sides of the body. When the fabric grain is out of line, the garment will hang crooked, especially after it's washed. Always check the grain of the fabric prior to pattern layout. All natural fabrics without coated or heat-set finishes can be straightened very simply by pulling the weave into alignment. This is accomplished by cutting each end along one yarn, then pulling the fabric on the true bias in the direction of the shortest corners. Most synthetic fabrics can be straightened by pressing with a steam iron while the fabric is pinned to a porous or cork-top cutting table in a grain-perfect position.

The crosswise-grain tends to stretch more than the lengthwise grain; the lengthwise grain is more stable and durable. These are significant factors in garment design and fit because lengthwise areas of the garment placed on the crosswise grain may stretch or sag. During fitting and construction, check the grain for such distortions as bending, twisting, pulling, sagging, and wrinkling. If the grain is distorted due to poor garment construction, the garment will twist on the figure, causing poor fit. Grain distortions caused by figure variations can be corrected by alterations on the fitting garment and on the paper pattern (see Part Three).

Decorative lines in fabric can occur as stripes, plaids, and repeating motifs. The lines are created during fabric construction or added during printing and finishing processes. They should be considered in the layout of pattern pieces on the fabric and in relation to the body areas on which they will be seen.

Outline in garment design is established by the garment edges. Outside lines that enclose space and define the body or the garment shape are known as the silhouette. The garment silhouette should achieve vertical and horizontal balance and pleasing proportional relationships, and it should avoid emphasizing a figure variation considered undesirable. The garment silhouette may or may not define the body silhouette. Either the body or the garment silhouette will be dominant, depending on the closeness or looseness of fit. The closeness of fit may be categorized as very fitted, slightly fitted, slightly loose, or very loose.

A very fitted garment repeats body contours exactly (see Figure 1-1). It allows little ease for body movement. It is suitable only for photographic and stage purposes, and some evening wear. The body silhouette is dominant.

Figure 1-1 Very fitted garment

Figure 1-2 Slightly fitted garment

A slightly fitted garment repeats body contours but provides standard wearing ease; it should fit the body without constraint. The body silhouette is still dominant (see Figure 1-2).

A slightly loose garment only suggests body contours and stands slightly away from the body or flows loosely over it (see Figure 1-3). There is considerable added ease. The garment silhouette tends to become dominant.

Figure 1-3 Slightly loose garment

Figure 1-4 Very loose garment

A very loosely fit garment doesn't define body contour at all (see Figure 1-4). Fullness may begin at the shoulders. Fabric may stand away from the body or fall loosely around the body in folds. The garment silhouette is dominant.

A combination of these styles may be termed partially fitted. A partially fitted garment is fitted in specific areas, such as over the upper bodice, the midriff, or the upper hip area (see Figure 1-5). A looser degree of fit is incorporated into the styling of other areas. Either the body or the garment may become dominant in various areas, depending on the degree of fit. Such designs provide the greatest potential for creating effective illusion to minimize a figure variation.

Figure 1-5 Partially fitted garment

Looseness in fit can be created by such construction techniques as re leased tucks, unpressed pleats, gathers, shirring, flare, or flared insets. No one need feel limited to tent-like styles to conceal the body silhouette but rather one may make use of controlled fullness in the areas of concern. For example, a fitted yoke in the shoulder area can be used to control gathered fullness in the bodice below. Varying degrees of close or loose fit can be used alone or in combination to meet an infinite variety of figure needs.

Wise selection of clothing silhouettes can reduce or even eliminate the effects a figure variation has on a garment and the resulting need for alteration. Slightly loose and partially fitted designs are generally advised for the fuller figure or for camouflaging a figure variation. Rather than revealing the body contours beneath, they allow the fabric to flow smoothly over the body or the area of concern; the garment silhouette is dominant. A dress that doesn't have a fitted waist isn't likely to require alteration for the waist circumference; a flared skirt is less likely to need adjustment in the hip area.

Garment silhouettes are subject to shifts in fashion and can mirror social values and change. Regardless of fashion trends, however, when an artistically attractive appearance is desired we are well advised to select only those silhouettes that present the figure harmoniously.

During the fitting process, there is often an unintentional tendency for the beginner to overfit a garment—to increase the closeness of fit. This results in a loss of ease. Ease is the difference between actual body measurements and the measurements of the garment or pattern intended by the designer. The amount of ease may vary from style to style. Unless intentionally departing from the original design, maintain the degree of fit intended by the designer.

Improper amounts of ease affect the garment silhouette. Insufficient ease results in lengthwise, crosswise, or diagonal wrinkles in strained areas and reveals the body contours beneath. The garment will bind and pull in fitted areas, and normal body movement will be uncomfortable.

When a garment is too tight in any body area, fabric shifts to a smaller area and crosswise wrinkles are produced. Diagonal wrinkles occur where there is insufficient ease over a body bulge. The fabric will return to its proper position when sufficient ease has been introduced. On the other hand, too much ease will generally cause fabric to sag, puff, or form vertical folds. Excess ease must be removed to restore the fabric to its proper position. Fabric pulls or bows upward in the direction of a body contour that's too large and sags downward over an area where the body contour is small or shallow. (See Section 7 and Part Three for further discussion of wrinkle correction.)

Interior design lines lie within the garment itself and can be either structural or decorative. They can divert attention away from the silhouette; they can be used to create vertical, horizontal, or diagonal eye movement; they can divide the total area into pleasing proportional areas in scale with one another and with the wearer.

Structural interior lines are created by stitched darts and seams. Seamlines should intersect accurately in an appropriate position for the wearer. Dartlines should be directed toward the crown of the body bulge they are designed to fit. On a fashion garment, structural lines also may be created by gathers, pleats, or tucks.

Decorative interior lines can be created by the placement of buttons, pockets, and appropriate trim. Interior design lines that are well planned lead the eye throughout the garment with a smooth, rhythmic movement. They don't compete with one another for attention. Effective interior lines don't emphasize an undesired figure variation but rather divert attention to another area considered more acceptable and attractive.

Lines can be straight or curved. Straight lines oppose the curved lines of the body to varying degrees. Curved lines conform more harmoniously to the curves of the body. Lines that are only slightly rounded are referred to as restrained curves, while more circular lines are referred to as full-rounded curves.

Straight lines can indicate exact vertical, horizontal, or diagonal directions. Curved lines reflect the character of the direction they most closely resemble. Line direction can be created through the placement of grainline and fabric design lines, the silhouette, and interior design lines.

Vertical lines can be observed in a tubular silhouette. Interior design lines that may produce a vertical direction include finished edges, seamlines, neck lines, pleats, panels, tucks, folds, slash pockets, center front and back plackets, button and zipper openings, a row of buttons, a soft or straight hanging tie, and so forth.

Horizontal lines can be seen in a bouffant silhouette. They occur in the interior of a garment as finished edges and seamlines such as yokeline, waistline, hipline, and hemline. They may be observed in necklines, patch or slash pockets, pocket flaps, cuffs, bow ties, belts, double-breasted closures, and so forth.

Diagonal lines can be observed in an A-line silhouette. They may occur on the interior of the garment as lapels, panels, inserts, seamlines and finished edges, or garment openings such as surplice.

Alone or in combination, straight lines generally have a slimming effect due to the flatness of the line. Curved lines can add visual weight because the line is rounded. How straight or how curved the garment lines should be will vary according to the desire to outline or camouflage the body silhouette or to create illusion in a particular area. The visual impact created by restrained curved lines is generally more subtle than that created by rigid straight lines.

Single vertical lines generally create the illusion of increased height and slimness in the area where they are used. This is because the eye is drawn inward toward the line then follows it upward and downward, mentally continuing the length of the line unless stopped by a horizontal intersection.

However, when several vertical lines are repeated at close intervals, they carry the eye across the body, thus creating the illusion of increased width and decreased height. Width is also created by the use of wide lines, widely spaced lines, and panel lines spaced far apart. The eye focuses on the one line, then moves across the body to the next line, thus measuring the width between.

When correctly fitted, a tubular silhouette with obviously greater height than width can create the effect of a vertical line and elongate the figure. Vertical wrinkles caused by poor fit produce the illusion of increased height and narrowness, emphasizing the too-big appearance of the garment. Asymmetrical vertical lines can visually alter the proportional areas of the body from side to side.

Single horizontal lines generally create the illusion of decreased height and increased width in the area where they are used. This is because the eye is drawn to the line and follows its path from side to side, until stopped by a vertical intersection. The total of the divided areas of the body appears shorter than the total height.

The greater the number of widely spaced horizontal divisions, the shorter the individual may appear. Depending on the placement of the horizontal line, proportional body lengths can be visually increased or decreased. For example, the dropped waistline at hip level visually lengthens the upper part of the body and shortens the lower part of the body. Such divisions are important considerations in the achievement of balance, proportion, and emphasis.

When several short, thin horizontal lines are repeated at close intervals, the illusion of increased height can be created as the eye is led up and down, from line to line. This is particularly true if a vertical line is also present in the center front, as with a center front opening. The narrower the vertical silhouette, the greater the effect. Fullness in the design creates a wide silhouette and the effects of a horizontal line occur at the area of greatest fullness. Horizontal wrinkles caused by poor fit produce the illusion of increased body width, emphasizing the too-little appearance of the garment.

Diagonal lines tend to increase length or width at their end points. This is because the end points are visually compared with the opposite edge point of the silhouette. The thickness, length, and degree of slant of the diagonal influence apparent height and width. A short diagonal line appears to increase width. A long diagonal line appears to increase height. A sharply angled diagonal, lying nearly horizontal, takes on the characteristics of a horizontal line and appears to increase width. A subtle diagonal, only slightly angled and lying nearly vertical, takes on the characteristics of a vertical line and tends to increase height and slimness. The combination of length and slant of the diagonal line must be considered to determine the final effect of the line. A diagonal line increases emphasis in the area where it's placed. -

The actual length of a line can be measured; however, the impact or visual strength of a line is determined by the length of time the eye dwells on it. The longer the eye follows a line, the more effective the line becomes in creating an illusion. Lines can be exaggerated or reinforced by construction and decorative techniques, such as piping, ribbing, bands, panels, welt seams, lapped seams, top stitching, and other trims, particularly when they are set into a contrasting background. The ability of a line or lines in combination to create an illusion becomes a matter of length and strength factors, of long or short lines, of many or few lines, of raised or flat lines, and of the background on which they are placed.

Generally, the greatest amount of emphasis occurs when a line directly repeats a line on the figure. However, lines in direct and extreme contrast to a line on the figure also emphasize, due to the amount of difference between them. Transitional lines move smoothly from one direction to another without abrupt change in direction. They may be used to lead the eye to another part of the body.

When vertical and horizontal lines are used in combination, as in a plaid, the effect of increased body size is dependent on the spacing of the lines and contrast with the background. Generally, the wider the spacing of the lines and the greater the color contrast, the larger the apparent size. Conversely, decreased space between the lines and a similar-colored background minimize the effect of increased size. A greater sense of harmony is also achieved when the scale of the plaid is in proportion to the person wearing it—for example, when a petite figure wears a small- to medium-scale plaid. Always evaluate the interrelationship of all elements of design as they affect the appearance of the figure.


Shape is the element of design created by the enclosure of space and is usually restricted to a two-dimensional area having length and width. It can be seen as the silhouette of a garment or as the enclosed spaces that constitute the garment design. These interior shapes can be created by structural seamlines or may lie on the surface of the garment, as with pockets and collars. These shapes appear as the foreground, with background area or space between them. Printed or woven motifs create the shapes that constitute the fabric design.

Closely related to shape is form. Form generally refers to a three- dimensional object, such as the body. The shape of the garment encloses the form of the body. As is true of line, either body form or garment shape will dominate. If the form of the body and shape of the garment repeat each other, the body form will be accentuated. Fashion shapes don't always present the individual figure well. If harmony is desired between garment and figure, the body form must be respected. The closeness of fit appropriate for the body or its parts that was discussed under line applies here also. Body form can be camouflaged by a slightly loose fit in the garment shape.

Shapes within the garment design can repeat and reinforce the basic silhouette. The choice to repeat or contrast the shape of the silhouette will depend upon attitude toward the figure. Interior shapes can create illusions of increased or decreased height, width, and weight, depending on placement, size, and line direction. Angular shapes tend to emphasize the angularity of a figure by repetition. Curved shapes tend to soften angularity in the figure and repeat body curves. Because shapes are composed of straight and curved lines, the discussion under line applies.

Many shapes, or divided areas within a garment, tend to decrease height and increase width, depending on the manner of division and line direction. Foreground shapes tend to add visual weight in the area where they are placed; the size and form of the surface shapes should be in harmony with the area. The number and size of shapes are most pleasing when relative to the amount of background space determined by the garment shape and structural seamlines. Avoid the placement of too many shapes in a small place. The result is crowded and confusing, with conflicting points of interest. Match stripes, plaids, and motifs wherever possible to achieve a more harmonious appearance.

To keep all elements congruent, keep the size of interior shapes created in the garment in scale with the size of the wearer. Small shapes and motifs on a small person are congruent. To create illusions of increased or decreased height, width, and visual weight, use a gradual transition in the size of shapes—small with medium to increase, large with medium to decrease. Generally the jump from small to large or large to small is too extreme to be harmonious.

Interior shapes can serve several functions. They can add interest to a plain garment design, create a point of emphasis by attracting attention to a specific body area, or divert attention away from an undesired figure variation. If attention isn't desired in a specific area, such as the bust or buttocks, the area is best left as background.

The illusory effects of shape can be modified by the interrelated elements of design: line, color, and texture. However, an evaluation of the effects of each element on the total composition is necessary. For example, the texture of the fabric affects the line and shape of the silhouette. A firm fabric holds a specific garment shape and causes the garment to become dominant, but a soft fabric falls closely about the figure, causing the body to become dominant. Because of these differences in texture, the same design lines can appear quite different made up in dissimilar fabrics.


Color is the most complex and stimulating of the art elements. It refers to the components into which white light, or the full spectrum, may be separated. An object, such as fabric, absorbs or reflects light. When all light is absorbed, the eye perceives black. When all light is reflected, the eye perceives white.

The varying degrees to which light rays are absorbed or reflected accounts for the chromatic color perceived by the eye. Specific fabric dyes absorb specific light rays; the light rays that are reflected account for the color perceived. For example, when the dye absorbs all colored light rays except red, the fabric a red.

There are three separate yet interrelated dimensions of color: hue, value, and intensity. Each has the ability to create illusions about visual size and weight. Hue is the name given to a particular color family. Warm hues—such as red, orange, and yellow—are mentally associated with fire. Because of longer wavelengths they appear to advance, thus causing shapes to appear closer, somewhat larger, and more important. Such cool colors as green, blue, and violet are mentally associated with the sky and water. Because of shorter wavelengths they appear to recede, thus causing shapes to appear farther away, somewhat smaller, and less important. Colors “with hue” are called chromatic colors.

A hue can be made to appear relatively warmer or cooler. Green pigment appears warmer when mixed with yellow and cooler when mixed with blue.

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a hue that results when either white or black is added to the basic hue. Black, white and gray are “without hue” and are called achromatic colors. With the addition of a small amount of yellow or blue even achromatic colors can appear warmer or cooler. When white is added, the hue lightens to a higher value and is referred to as a tint. Very light, high-value tints reflect the light and appear to advance, causing shapes to appear closer, slightly larger, and less compact.

When black is added to a hue, the hue darkens to a lower value and is referred to as a shade. Very dark, low-value shades absorb light and appear to recede, causing shapes to appear smaller, farther away, and more compact. They tend to outline the silhouette in contrast to the background against which it's seen.

When a combination of black and white (gray) is added to a hue, it may remain the same in value or become lighter or darker, depending on the value of the original hue and the particular gray. The resulting color is also dulled and may be referred to as a tone. Generally the middle values and grayed tones are less obvious in their effects; although they tend to maintain apparent size and weight, they lean more toward reduction than magnification. The degree to which color creates an illusory effect depends on the background against which the value is observed. The greater the contrast, the greater the effect.

Intensity is often referred to as chroma. It is the degree of brightness or dullness of a hue and is determined by the strength, saturation, or purity of the basic hue. Bright, pure, strong, saturated hues are said to be of high intensity or full chroma. They appear to advance, causing shapes to appear nearer, slightly larger, and more emphatic. Dulled, weak, grayed hues are created by the addition of the complement of the basic hue or gray and are said to be of low intensity. Dulled hues are called tones. They appear to recede, causing shapes to appear farther away, smaller, less emphatic, or of less importance.

Perception of hue, value, and intensity varies among individuals. Color perception is dependent on the shape of the lens in the eye, the color of the lens and the iris, the ability of the retina to perceive color, the ability of the brain to interpret color, and on cultural and educational background as it influences color awareness, interpretation, and appreciation. While many people may agree that a particular hue is red, they may not agree on subtle differences between warm orange-red, red, and cool blue-red, light red and dark red, or bright red and dull red due to differences in perception. It is essential to increase color awareness and maintain objectivity in color evaluation and interpretation.

Colors are seldom seen in isolation; they are perceived in combination with other colors in the clothing, the body, and the background against which they are placed. Colors have an altering effect on one another. The apparent hue, value, and intensity of a color may be manipulated according to the combination of colors with which it's used or against which it's seen. A red- violet appears more violet next to a true red, more red next to a true violet. A medium-value orange appears lighter next to brown (dark orange) and darker next to beige (light orange). A medium intensity blue appears brighter when placed next to a dull blue and duller when placed next to a bright blue. The closer together the colors lie in the spectrum (color wheel), the more apparent their basic differences become.

A knowledge of the effects of color allows us to use a specific color in a specific area to create a specific illusion. The combined use of warm, light, bright hues causes the figure or body area to appear nearer, somewhat larger, and heavier The combined use of cool, dark (but not to the point of black), dull hues causes the figure or body area to appear farther away, somewhat smaller and less weighty. These effects are summarized in the following chart:


Warm Hues

Light Values

High Intensities






Cool Hues

Dark Values

Low Intensities





By controlling the hue, value, and intensity of the specific color, we control the effects of the color. For example, a warm red appears farther away, smaller, quieter, and less noticeable in a dark value of low; dull intensity. A cool blue appears closer, slightly larger, heavier, and more emphatic in a light value of a high, bright intensity.

The use of one solid hue in an outfit, or combinations of close values and intensities of the same hue, appears to decrease width and weight and increase height. The figure isn't divided and the eye can travel freely up and down the entire length.

The use of contrasting hues, values, and intensities in large areas in an outfit causes the figure to appear larger and heavier. It also appears shorter. The figure is divided into shapes where the contrasting colors come into contact with each other. The body height is broken into comparative parts, thus creating proportional divisions. Body proportions can be altered at the line where a color change occurs. For example, a torso considered too long can be visually shortened by a belt matched to the color of the skirt or slacks. An upper torso considered too short can be visually lengthened by a belt matched to the color of the bodice. Vertical balance can be improved for the person with more weight in the lower portion of the figure by using light colors in the bodice and darker colors in the skirt or slacks. A combination of contrasting colors in the bodice area also increases the visual weight in the upper portion of the figure.

The appropriate use of color combinations in prints and patterns to create a desired illusion requires an evaluation of lines, shapes, and colors. To increase apparent height and slimness, for example, select small-scale patterns in cool hues with close values and intensities, in clothing styles that have vertical movement. To increase apparent width and weight, select large-scale patterns in bright, warm hues with strong value and intensity contrasts, in clothing styles that have horizontal eye movement.

Use a contrasting hue, value, or intensity to call attention to a desired point of emphasis, thus diverting the eye from an undesired figure variation. When two or more colors are used in unequal amounts, one color should dominate; otherwise confusion and conflict result.

Always evaluate the use of a specific hue, value, and intensity in relation to your purpose and to the other elements of design. For example, someone desiring not to emphasize a large figure might decide against wearing warm, bright colors (which emphasize the figure and its contours) in the daylight. However, the same colors often appear duller under artificial lighting. Made into a flattering style in a soft, matte-textured fabric, such colors could present a large figure very attractively.

Seldom does an individual correspond to a particular color type. Individuals possess an infinite variety of personal coloring patterns and combinations of apparently warm- and cool-based hues. In addition, personal coloring may change with age and exposure to the environment.

Colors in combination can be used to reinforce or counter undesirable effects on personal coloring. If a selected color is perceived to present skin, hair, or eye color poorly, wear it with another color near your face that will flatter and alter negative effects. For example, if navy blue is so dark that it absorbs a great deal of light and seems to drain color from your face, wear it in combination with a lighter color such as white, yellow, peach or sky blue to reflect more light and provide needed dark/light contrast.

If a selected color is so dull that you also appear dull and uninteresting, wear it in combination with a brighter color to enliven your looks. A color scheme in tan and taupe comes alive with the addition of red, rose, or teal blue. If a color has no relationship to your personal coloring, wear it in combination with one that does. You can quickly become an integral part of the color scheme you create with your clothes. For example, ivory and rose in combination with black may repeat hair and cheek color. Rust and teal in combination with gray may repeat hair highlights and eye color. The appropriate use of makeup, such as mascara and cheek blush, can introduce desirable color repetition or contrast and expand the variety of colors that can be worn beautifully.


Texture is the element of design that describes the surface characteristics of fabric. These characteristics are perceived by the senses of sight, touch, and sound. The texture of a fabric is determined by the fiber, yarn, method of fabrication, and applied finishes.

Fibers can be natural (such as cotton, silk, linen, and wool) or they can be synthetic (such as nylon, polyester, and acetate). Short, rough fibers usually produce yarns and fabrics that absorb the light and appear dull. Long, smooth fibers usually produce yarns and fabrics that reflect the light and are shiny. Fibers may be stiff or pliable, which also affects the final fabric characteristics.

Yarns are created by twisting fibers together. Loosely twisted yarns have fewer twists per inch, therefore exposing longer segments of fiber surface to light. They reflect more light and appear shiny. This effect may be changed if loosely twisted yarns are brushed to create a fuzzy nap. Fiber slippage is greater in loosely twisted yarns, and bagginess may result. This affects fit adversely.

Tightly twisted or crepe yarns have a greater number of twists per inch, therefore exposing only short segments of fiber surface to the light. The yarn twists cast shadows and the yarns appear duller. Fiber slippage is reduced in tightly twisted yarns, resulting in a more stable yarn. The fit remains constant.

Fabrics are created by weaving, knitting, crocheting, felting, or braiding; still other fabrics are extruded in sheets. The final textural effect in a fabric is so dependent on the type of fiber and yarn used that an infinite variety is possible. For example, a silk crepe of tightly twisted yarns can be very fluid and drapable—also dull in appearance. Cotton fabric can be as delicate as dotted Swiss or as sturdy as tent canvas. Wool fabric can be as lightweight as challis or as heavy as a blanket.

Applied finishes (such as flocked voile) can alter the physical properties of fabric, and ultimately the texture. If not permanent, some finishes relax or wear off, thus leaving a new set of textural characteristics.

Textural characteristics are expressed in terms of opposites. For example: shiny/dull, rough/smooth, crisp/limp, stiff/pliable, stable/stretchy, compact/ porous, opaque/transparent, thick/thin, bristly/downy, heavy/light.

Such descriptive words help communicate the specific combination of characteristics belonging to a fabric. The effect of each characteristic is relative to its position on a continuum between extreme opposites. In other words, there are many degrees of softness, stiffness, sheerness, heaviness, and so forth. No characteristic should be considered intrinsically good or bad, but rather should be used as a clue to match fabric to function within the garment design and on the figure. To ignore these fabric characteristics is to invite fitting problems and a lack of harmony between fabric garment design, and figure.

The word hand refers to the tactile aspects of fabric; it describes the way fabric feels. Drape refers to the way the fabric hangs or falls into soft or crisp folds. Scroop refers to the audible characteristics of fabrics. For example, taffeta has a characteristic rustle when brushed against itself. Corduroy emits a swishing sound when rubbed against itself.

Textural characteristics determine the suitability of a fabric for a garment style or purpose. For example, a slippery, lightweight fabric may be very suitable as a lining but totally inappropriate as a dress. A tailored tubular design requires a firm fabric to hold the shape. A draped design requires soft, pliable fabric to fall into soft folds. Conversely, to stand away from the body, a bouffant design requires stiff crisp fabric or under-stiffening.

Fabrics also influence the closeness of fit. For example, coat designs allow a greater amount of ease to accommodate the heavier, bulky fabrics needed for warmth. If such a coat is made of a lightweight fabric, it will be too large. On the other hand, designs intended for lightweight fabrics will be too tight if made from thick, heavy fabrics. Designs intended only for stretch fabrics have eliminated some of the usual ease; the same garment constructed in a woven fabric will be too tight and likely will not withstand the strain in bust, bicep, and hip areas. Recommended fabric names and weights for a particular design generally are listed on the pattern envelope (see Section 4).

Bulky or loosely woven fabrics require simple designs with few seams; flat, smooth, tightly woven fabrics may accommodate several seams and design details. The presence of each seam introduces the added bulk of seam allowances and the possibility of fraying and sagging. These factors influence the achievement of a well-fitted garment.

Often medium- and lightweight fabrics with opposing characteristics can be used interchangeably in the same design. However the resulting silhouette and drape will be considerably different—as for example with crisp fabrics versus soft fabrics. The garment style must be appropriate to the fabric used so it doesn't appear too heavy or limp and without body. Quantity of fabric and placement of grain also may need adjustment to achieve the desired effect.

Textural characteristics influence the selection of appropriate fabric for a specific figure. The size, weight, bulk, firmness, light absorption or reflection, and degree of opaqueness of a fabric can reveal or camouflage the body through optical illusions. Soft, stretchy, clingy fabrics that are limp and drapable hug the body and reveal body contours. The effect is unattractive when they are over-fitted or allowed to rest or hang on a body area such as the bust, prominent abdomen, buttocks, or thighs. Medium-weight, smooth, firm fabrics that hold their shape can conceal the figure without adding size and weight. Bulky, rough-textured fabrics conceal body silhouette and contours but increase size and weight. Transparent fabrics reveal the body shape and , if crisp, add visual bulk to the figure. The effect may be poor on a figure that's considered too thin or heavy.

The degree of luster in the fabric—shiny or dull—must also be evaluated. Shiny fabrics appear lighter and brighter. In illusion they tend to advance, thus increasing figure size and weight and attracting attention. The same hue in a dull-surfaced fabric will appear darker. Such fabrics tend to recede in illusion, thus decreasing figure size and weight and minimizing attention drawn to the figure. For example, compare the shiny face of a crepe-back satin with the dull back, or compare the apparent color differences in corduroy or velveteen that result from the direction of the pile.

The illusion of decreased height and increased size and weight can be created by using heavy, thick, stiff, napped, rough, nubby, or bonded fabrics; they add bulk to the body. Paradoxically, soft, flimsy, sheer, shiny, drapable fabrics can produce similar effects because they reveal body contours. Combining different textures can also have the effect of dividing the body into several shapes, each affected by the texture used in that area.

To create the illusion of increased height and decreased size and weight, use fabrics that are light to medium weight, flat to medium thick, opaque or dull, with firm, smooth, hard finishes. The use of one texture throughout the outfit also helps create the illusion of increased height.

All factors must be evaluated to determine the appropriateness of any fabric. For example the visual effect of size and weight produced by a dull or shiny fabric will be relative to its bulk, softness, and firmness. Whether to use a stiff, bulky fabric will depend on its relative thickness. Before purchasing a fabric, drape it over the body in approximately the same grain and style line and amount as will be required in the garment. Evaluate in a full-length mirror its potential affects on the garment design and on the figure.

Fabric textures—and therefore performance—can be altered by the use of interfacing, underlining, interlining, and lining. Interfacing provides body and increased stability to a fashion fabric. It is applied to areas of stress and wherever a firmer shape is desired. Underlining is cut from the same pattern as the garment pieces and is sewn as one with the fashion fabric during garment construction. It provides additional body to a fashion fabric and creates an opaque appearance. Interlining provides extra warmth in a garment. It is generally quite bulky and may interfere with the standard ease allowance. Often it's sewn as an underlining with the lining. Lining provides an interior finish to the garment. It is sewn as a separate unit, placed in the garment with wrong sides together, and attached at facings, neckline, waistline, and hemline. Lining fabrics are usually lightweight, soft, pliable, slippery, and opaque. They help absorb the stress of body movement and allow the garment to slide smoothly over the body or other fashion garments.

Each of these inner layers of fabric must be compatible with the fashion fabric. To determine appropriateness, layer the fabrics against each other prior to purchase. The innermost layer, such as lining, must fit the body with appropriate ease. Each successive outer layer must be made slightly larger than the last inner layer. This allows the layers to fit smoothly and comfortably over one another.

Fabric shrinkage also can alter correct fit. Natural fibers may require preshrinking according to the recommended method. If fabric isn't pre shrunk, it may shrink later due to laundering or steam pressing. Heat-sensitive fabrics also may shrink when overheated in a dryer.

All elements and principles must be considered in relation to one another and to the individual who will wear the clothing. For instance, skin and hair texture is fine, coarse, smooth, or rough. The selection of smooth, fine fabrics for someone with coarse, rough skin may be unflattering because of the extreme contrast.

Select fabric textures that are proportionally in scale to the wearer. Thick, heavy fabric on a large body will emphasize the largeness through repetition. On the other hand, thick, heavy fabric on a small body will overpower the wearer because of extreme contrast. Embossed patterns or the length of a nap also can influence the appropriateness of a fabric for a particular figure.

‘Textures can be used to divert attention away from an undesired figure variation and toward a flattering point of emphasis. For example a small amount of shiny fabric can be used as piping on a bodice yoke to draw attention away from large hips.

When combining textures for various effects, take care that textures combine harmoniously. For example, denim and chiffon in the same garment almost certainly conflict because of extreme differences in their characteristics, expected use, and care.

Fashion changes result in trends in textural preferences because the styles that are in fashion dictate the texture appropriate for use. However, the texture of a current fashion fabric may not be appropriate for a specific figure. For example, fake furs may be overpowering on a petite figure. Avoid fashionable textures that are inappropriate for a particular figure and focus attention on the use of fashionable colors, lines, and shapes instead.

Top of Page PREV: Using the Elements and Principles of Design NEXT: The Principles of Design Home

Friday, 2009-10-16 18:01