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About>Articles>Design for Dummies

How to develop cool designs for embellishment even if one can't draw -

The embellishment of period clothing is often overlooked and under utilized in the SCA and other recreationist groups. This happens, in my opinion, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it can be very tedious, often taking as long to embellish a piece of clothing as it does to construct it. I don't know about you all, but the minute I finish a piece of clothing, I want to WEAR it... it's hard to take that extra time to embellish. Another reason that embellishment is left off is that it's often difficult to find or produce the same things that were used to embellish in period. Lastly, embellishment requires some design work. Most folks are as afraid of design work as they are of documentation. I'll help with documentation phobia later... today, I shall introduce you to the wonderful world of design... now, don't be scared. I'll be here with you the entire time!

In this demo, I'll talk about the prinicples of design, translating those principles for use on garments, designing your 'design', and inspirational techniques.

Five main principles of design -

Balance: This is the concept of visual equilibrium. It is a reconciliation of opposing forces in a composition that results in visual stability. Most successful compositions achieve balance in one of two ways: symmetrically or asymmetrically. Symmetrical balance can be described as having equal "weight" on equal sides of a centrally placed fulcrum. Asymmetrical balance, also called informal balance, is more complex and difficult to envisage. It involves placement of objects in a way that will allow objects of varying visual weight to balance one another around a fulcrum point.

Proportion: This refers to the relative size and scale of the various elements in a design. The issue is the relationship between objects, or parts, of a whole. This means that it is necessary to discuss proportion in terms of the context or standard used to determine proportions. Our most universal standard of measurement is the human body. Use of appropriate scale in surface design is important. For example, an overly large textile design can overwhelm the form of a garment.

Rhythm: This can be described as timed movement through space; an easy, connected path along which the eye follows a regular arrangement of motifs. The presence of rhythm creates predictability and order in a composition. Rhythm depends largely upon the elements of pattern and movement to achieve its effects. Rhythm can be created in a number of ways. Linear rhythm refers to the characteristic flow of the individual line. Linear rhythm is not as dependent on pattern, but is more dependent on timed movement of the viewer's eye. Repetition involves the use of patterning to achieve timed movement and a visual "beat". This repetition may be a clear repetition of elements in a composition, or it may be a more subtle kind of repetition that can be observed in the underlying structure of the image. Alternation is a specific instance of patterning in which a sequence of repeating motifs are presented in turn; (short/long; fat/thin; round/square; dark/light).

Emphasis: This is also referred to as point of focus, or interruption. It marks the locations in a composition which most strongly draw the viewers attention. Usually there is a primary, or main, point of emphasis, with perhaps secondary emphases in other parts of the composition. The emphasis is usually an interruption in the fundamental pattern or movement of the viewers eye through the composition, or a break in the rhythm. The artist or designer uses emphasis to call attention to something, or to vary the composition in order to hold the viewers interest by providing visual "surprises." Emphasis can be achieved in a number of ways. Repetition creates emphasis by calling attention to the repeated element through sheer force of numbers. Contrast achieves emphasis by setting the point of emphasis apart from the rest of its background. Contrast of color, texture, or shape will call attention to a specific point. Contrast of size or scale will as well. Placement in a strategic position will call attention to a particular element of a design. Prolonged visual involvement through intricacy (contrast of detail) is a more unusual form of emphasis, not as commonly used in Euro-American design, though it is common in many other cultures.

Unity: This is the underlying principle that summarizes all of the principles and elements of design. It refers to the coherence of the whole, the sense that all of the parts are working together to achieve a common result; a harmony of all the parts. Unity can be achieved through the effective and consistent use of any of the elements, but pattern-- that is, underlying structure-- is the most fundamental element for a strong sense of unity. Consistency of form and color are also powerful tools that can pull a composition together. However, unity also exists in variety. It is not necessary for all of the elements to be identical in form providing they have a common quality of meaning or style.

Are you really scared yet? What does all of this mean?

Translating the basic principles for use -

Think of it all this way:

Achieving balance and proportion in embellishment means taking a look at the entire garment and picking out embellishment items that do not overpower the garment or one another. For instance, if you are going to embroider and appliqué a piece of clothing, balancing the size of the appliqué with the size of the garment is paramount. Choosing to use a heavier or lighter embroidery yarn is dependent on the size of the appliqué. Choosing a contrasting or complementary color is dependent on any emphasis you want to add, etc.

Achieving rhythm is fairly easy as well. In period, the repetition of a pattern or series of patterns was often used to create embellishment. More on this below...

Emphasis can be easily accomplished by contrasting color or texture. Nice, ribbed material used as 'guards' on a smooth fabric make for a nice contrast on their own. Make the ribbed material a contrasting color to the smooth fabric and there is even more interest.

Unity is a bit more difficult to achieve. I think of it as the assimilating of the cultural aesthetic that one is trying to emulate. This means understanding what the Elizabethans (or whatever culture) would do in various design circumstances. Would they go for contrasting colors or complementary colors? Would they go for texture? What form would the embellishment elements take? Would they be of bone or wood or metal? This last one means getting your hands on books with color photographs of portraits and taking the time to really look at the embellishment of the garments.

Additionally, there is a really easy and period way to get into this... do what all the old masters and their students did in period: COPY. Find a great embellishment technique or design and copy it onto your garment. Not only is this period but as you are translating that onto your garment, you are internalizing that aesthetic as well. Later, after much copying, you will start to see places where you can deviate and add your own touches. This leads to being able to design your own embellishments in that aesthetic... trust me! It does take a while but it's a tried and true method for learning.

Putting it together: Designing your design -

A design is typically made up of elements. Take a look at the embellishment design below:

This is a close-up look at the doublet of Henry VIII. I've always found this embellishment fascinating. The seemingly complicated scrolly-viney stuff looks fun and then there's that lovely wave pattern on the neck of the bases... I don't necessarily want to recreate these pieces of clothing but I would like to copy that embellishment pattern and use it on something of my own. There are two ways of doing this:

If you can draw (or know someone who can) -

Figure out how wide the area that you are planning to embellish will be. Copy the design into this area.

If you can't draw -

Find a xerox machine. Figure out how wide the area that you are planning to embellish will be. Xerox the image until it roughly matches the size you need.

Once you've got your drawing, you can then take a look at the design and find the repeating elements. One of the best things about most Renaissance embellishment is that it invariably repeats. Once you master the set of motifs, you can simply repeat them over and over and over. Fig. 1, above, shows the detail of the embellishment on Henry's doublet. Fig. 2 shows the repeating elements. Fig. 3 shows the repeating elements put together to reform the design. In reality, you only need to master two elements to do this design... Simple!

The Mechanics: Transferring the design to your garment -

So now you've got your master motifs. What now?

One basic thing to remember about design is that the eye is drawn to what looks out of place far more quickly than we'd like. Since we have the luxury of a repeating motif, we can then create a template and use that template over and over in order to make sure that all motifs are the same size, shape, and spacing.

These days, there are a number of things in the quilting area of most fabric stores that make this easy to do. Template plastic, which is somewhat see-through, can be used to make templates from the motifs we've already either drawn out or copied out. I also use cardstock to create templates. Either way, the template becomes a permanent thing which can be used over and over again.

To draw the motif on the fabric, you will need to consider a couple of things. If the garment will be washed, you can use water soluble pencils. If the fabric is not going to be washed, use tailor's chalk. My apprentice also uses the metallic gel pens. Since you'll be embroidering over these lines, the fact that they are permanent will not be an issue. In many extant garments of the period, you can still see the lines where the embroiderer drew in the motif in preparation.

Inspiration -

And now for the hard part... how to get inspired.

When I am blocked, I usually take a simple shape that appeals to me, make a template of it and then get a huge piece of paper and play with it. Click on the thumbnails below for some examples:

Simple Acanthus Leaf Motif
Universal Flower Motif
Renaissance Scroll or Vine
Central Asian Human Motif

As you can see, most of the above motifs are pretty simple. They can be either drawn by hand or ripped off from a variety of sources using a xerox. All of the examples use principles of balance and symmetry as well as making use of mirror imagery. The introduction of other simple motifs with the Central Asian Human figure is also a way of adding more interest to the design. Another way to come up with ideas is to play with the motifs and emphasize or copy the negative space created between them. Half the time, I'll make this into a template and run with it instead.

Happy Designing!!!

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