Elements and Principles of Design

Most sweaters have a front, back and two sleeves. The Elements and Principles of Design are the unique differences in styling (sleeve and body lengths/widths, colors and stitch patterns, etc.) that keep these four hand knitted parts from looking the same on every sweater.

The Elements and Principles of design are the building blocks of garment design. Creating beautiful projects is about more than inspiration or a great idea, it’s about understanding the fundamentals.

Elements and Principles aren't strict rules that limit and restrict your creativity. They are general and fundamental truths that are used to guide your design choices. Let's take a look at them.

What are Elements

Elements are the visual components that make up your design. How well these visual components work together depend on how you incorporate them with the Principles of design.

Elements include:

  • Line: The Curved, Straight, Horizontal, Vertical or Diagonal lines of color work or stitch patterns
  • Shape: The outline of the garment and any geometric, abstract or natural shapes within it
  • Color: The Hue, Value, Intensity or Purity of the yarn color you select for your projects
  • Value: The Lightness or Darkness of your yarn colors
  • Space/Size: The Proportion or Scale of the garment

What are Principles

Principles are the components of a garment that are harder to detect because you can't really point them out, but they make all the difference when it comes to the cohesiveness in your design. Principles are the guidelines used to organize your Elements and the thoughtful use of these principles determine the success of your project.

My favorite Crochet and Hand Knit Pattern Design Critic is Orange Swan from The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done. She tells it how it is. Designers can learn a lot from her pattern critiques. 

Principles include:

  • Proportion: The relative size and scale of various elements in a design
  • Balance: The equal distribution of elements across the design
  • Unity: Gives a sense of oneness where all the elements work together
  • Rhythm: The repetition of a color, a shape, a pattern, or any other element, alone or in groups
  • Emphasis: Used to attract attention to an element in the design

Signature Looks

The consistent use of certain elements and principles by a designer is what creates a designer’s signature look. Just look at the work of Kaffe Fassett, his work is instantly recognizable because he consistently uses geometric shapes and a similar color palette in his designs.

Kieran Foley is another hand knit designer who's work is instantly recognizable. He uses brightly colored yarns in his beautiful lace shawls. He's a niche designer (lace shawls) who uses the element of Color to create his signature look. 

It only takes the consistent use of two or more elements and/or principles to create a signature design style.

The more you practice the theory behind the elements and principles of design, the more it’ll become second nature to apply the proper techniques to your work and the more appealing your designs will be to crafters. Your knowledge of how to edit and critique your own projects using the elements and principles of design will enhance the way you create.

Sticks & String