Online Patternmaking Classes
by Don McCunn
Intro to Design Home Page   ►  Week Three

Design Variations

  1. Research
  2. A Design Overview
  3. Color
  4. Line
  5. Texture
  6. Embellishments

Bottles showing one apron for design and one for utility

This week is for exploring design variations. Keep in mind that design can be about both creating a look and adding practicality to a garment. The image above shows one apron that is just about exploring a pure design idea. The second bottle shows how you can create an apron to hold things. I created this particular skirt (two aprons sewn together) to hold the various tools I use on my pattern drafting/cutting table. I have found it to be an extremely useful addition to my sewing room.

If this class is your first venture into patternmaking, I would recommend you stay with exploring design ideas using the sloper for the apron for a bottle. For those of you who have created fitted slopers of one sort or another, I hope you will also be thinking about applying these techniques to other garments as well.

The topic of design can be extremely broad in scope. My own experience in designing more than one garment at a time comes from my work in costuming for the theatre. I trust you may find the basics I work with helpful in creating your own original work.

When I approach designing either a garment or a show I like to start with researching ideas and details. As the concept for a design emerges, I keep in mind the effect of color, line, and texture. Another factor to keep in mind is fabric embellishments. Sometimes a plain garment design can become quite stunning by the addition of an embellishment. The following is an overview of each of these aspects.

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When it comes to fashion there really is little that is completely new and original. I think the best anyone can achieve is a combination of elements in a fresh and new way. So when I am starting on a garment I like to start first with seeing what others have done for a given style and even similar styles.

With access to the internet the process of research takes on a whole new depth of resources. I did a Google search for "apron patterns." The very first resource to appear was 52 Free Apron Patterns You Can Make. Here is a description from that website:

"This is a large list of patterns I've collected from around the net, all kinds of styles and types included. If you love aprons, you're gonna love this list!"

The other Google listings were full of more resources than one could hope to use in 10 lifetimes. To be honest it can get really overwhelming. One way I use to make the information more accessible is to use the Google Image Search. By focusing on just the images I find it a lot easier to zero in on designs that are closer to what I am looking for.

Some other resources I use are:

  • Books (You should see my library for design ideas)
  • Magazines (I find these mostly disappointing but every once in awhile something pops out.)
  • Clippings (It is not uncommon for designers to talk about keeping a scrap book of design ideas. I wish the design ideas I have "held onto" over the years were better organized.)
  • Commercial Patterns (I personally have a very small collection of commercial patterns. But even a limited selection can sometimes help you discover a design or detail that might be useful.)

Pattern Company Web Pages

One resource not to be overlooked are the websites for pattern companies. When you are creating garments, many of the pattern descriptions that are accessible over the web will give you all the details you need to create your own patterns. These descriptions frequently include line drawings that show the position of seam lines, darts, and the outline of garments. They can include specific measurements on hems and lengths. All the information you would normally find on the back of a pattern envelope.

Here are links to some of the major pattern companies that I think are worth book marking (created 3/19/2009). And don't overlook the search capabilities of these websites. They can help you focus in one the specific style of garment you are looking for.

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A Design Overview

For garment design I have found the three basic elements to work with are color, line, and texture. When you are thinking about using a combination of any one of these elements I find it helpful to think in terms of unity and variation.

For example, if you are creating a garment that is a combination of a purple jacket over an orange shirt with a green pants, it will probably look pretty garish. It would be hard on the eye because there is more variation than unity in the choice of colors.

However, if the jacket and pants were purple and the shirt was pink, then the design would look more unified with a touch of variety: the change in the color of the shirt.

I like to think of it as unity creating a balance while variety provides the interest.

Of course you can also create a balance using one element such as color with the variety being texture. An example of this would be an all black wool outfit with a satin tie, scarf, or collar.

I personally don't like to create "rules of design" because in my experience in costuming sometimes you want to create a garish look. So it is not a matter of you should do this, or you should do that. It is a matter of being aware of what you are doing and keeping your eyes open. And it also doesn't hurt to look at designs of others and analyze why a certain look works or doesn't work thinking about the way unity and variety are used.

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Color is identified by three elements: hue, value, and saturation.

Hue is the name of the color with the primary colors being yellow, red, and blue. The secondary colors can be created by combining the primary pigments with yellow and red producing orange, red and blue producing purple, and blue and yellow producing green.

Value is where a color appears on a white to black scale with yellow being the lightest color and purple being the darkest color.

Saturation is the purity of the color.

Hue Value Saturation
Color Wheel Gray Scale Color Saturation

For further information about color there is a brilliant website by by Janet Lynn Ford that describes it in detail at Worqx. I am not going to attempt to recreate all the detail she goes into about this most fascinating topic. I would strongly recommend you visit her Pallette Picker where you can experiment by combining different colors in boxes that rely on the concepts of unity and variety which Janet refers to as "dominant colors and accents."

The Psychology of Color

Another important aspect of color are the psychological aspects. Keep in mind that there are cultural differences about the psychology of color. For example in Western cultures black can be a symbol of morning and red represents rage. In Chinese culture white is used for mourning and red is considered a lucky color.

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The nature of the lines of seams, darts, and the outline of a garment can also suggest a meaning. Here are some of the basics that I go by. Please keep in mind that my references to gender come from my experience of conveying the perceived qualities of character in a theatrical production which may or may not be considered "politically correct" even though I have found them to be effective for design.

  • Straight Lines - strong, direct (generally masculine)
  • Curved Lines - soft, flowing (generally feminine)
  • Vertical Lines - strength, stamina, static
  • Diagonal Lines - active
  • Horizontal Lines - at rest, static
  • Broken Lines - week, fragmented

I did attempt to do some web search for websites that talked about the psychology of line but was unable to find any. So if you find any, please let me know so I can add the information here.

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One of the lovely aspects of garment design is working with the textures of fabric. When I was studying costuming and we were talking about fabric my professor talked about the importance of developing a "hand" for fabric so you would know how to use it effectively. This definitely applies to things like the amount of fullness you can add to a garment. But I also feel it can be used to refer to how the fabric will appeal to the eye.

The only thing I can think of to suggest about designing with the texture of fabric is to develop swatch files of different fabrics. This can come in handy when ordering fabric online. But I also think it is a great way to become familiar with different textures that you may not think of if you didn't have one you could pick up and touch.

The one factor of texture I would like to throw out a little caveat for is mixing textures. Sometimes mixing fabrics with different textures in a given garment can be an effective design element. But be sure that you are working with fabrics that are going to work well together. I was working with a young designer who was working with a quilted type garment and she told me how she made an effort to combine fabrics with as much textural variety as she could. She found that combining velvet, denim, and chiffon in the same garment ended up causing her extreme headaches.

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Embellishments are a great way to add a special touch to a garment. If you notice my example of an apron at the top of this page, I had great fun adding fringe and some rhinestones on a chain to add a little pizazz. Here are some ideas for possible embellishments.

  • Buttons
  • Buckles
  • Beads
  • Grommets or Eyelets
  • Visible Zippers
  • Brads
  • Fringe
  • Cording
  • Appliqué
  • Lace
  • Rick Rack
  • Embroidery

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