How to Apply Design Concepts

Published January 25, 2016 by estherknit

Using a computer


You can apply design concepts to the styling and making of hand knitted or crochet garments.

What is Design?

 Design is the designer’s creative expression of  contrast and harmony, rhythm and balance.  The designer must develop full awareness of the power of visual contrast and apply it to his (or her) work.  Design initially depends on looking, training the eye to see and to absorb appearances, and to be alert and sensitive in recognizing the elements of design.  Art on the other hand is about values; and knitting, like any other creative activity, provides a medium for training the senses  to recognize them.  It develops a textile sense; a feeling for fibres, yarns and fabrics.  The design process is the process of designing to meet particular needs – to satisfy a brief.

The Design Brief

The design brief is the task that is given to the designer to interpret and realize.  The first task in the realization is to analyze the brief and produce a specification which will define the limits within which the design must work.

Consider the following

  • who will use it?
  • why would they use it?
  • where would it be used, situated or stored?
  • when would it be used?
  • how would it be used?

The next step in the design process is to find the most suitable materials to fit your specifications. This can be done through investigational work which should include reading, research and experiments. Fabric and yarn qualities and amounts, aesthetic appeal, and cost and availability should all be considered.

Keeping Records

Keep a record of all experimental work including the following information:

  • aim: what needs to be found out from the experiment.
  • method: what equipment and techniques were used.
  • results: what was found out.
  • conclusion: what can be gathered from the result

By conducting experiments and investigations, it is possible to narrow down the choice of materials to those that fit the design specification.  A design solution is now in sight.  There may be several possible solutions and each one may be equally as good.  The analysis of the brief and the solution is a personal one.

The Design Solution

The solution is a personal one.  There may be several possible solutions and each one may be equally as good.  However, it is essential that the solution meets the needs of the specification.  Once the design solution has been reached a plan of construction can begin.  Consider:

  • the time available for completion
  • the technical ability required
  • the chosen materials

A good design realisation fits the specification, is aesthetically pleasing and is completed in the required time and cost.

Plan of Action

The next step is to formulate a plan of action.  This should consist of a list of processes put in order of construction and a list of the necessary equipment.  When thinking about processes check back continually to the specification.  When the plan has been completed you can go ahead and make the item.  In knitting, the plan of action might be the pattern.

Boat Picture


The last stage in the design process is the evaluation.   Does the item realise the brief?  If you were making it again would you make any changes?  What have you learnt?  Compare this project with others.

The Elements of design

Every design is made up of certain elements.  These elements will differ depending upon what is being designed.   For example ‘sharpness’ might be an element in the design of a sword, and ‘fuel consumption’ might be an element in the design of a car engine.   However, when designing knitwear these are the elements which should be considered:

  • line and rhythm
  • form and shape
  • volume and mass
  • proportion and balance
  • texture and pattern
  • colour and tone
  • composition and style

Line and Rhythm

The line related to fashion design is used in various ways to achieve the desired effect.  A design is a combination of lines and shapes.  When working on an idea the line is used to develop:

  • the silhouette
  • the style lines within the silhouette
  • the details
  • to create illusions

Lines convey movement – precise geometrical movement of pilant natural movement.  Rhythmical forces in nature can be expressed in lines – flowing water, waves or fire.  They can also be used to convey abstract emotion – tranquillity energy or joy.  Line is a powerful instrument.

Form and Shape

A designer recognises shape.  She (or he) may become fascinated by the shape itself, quite apart from what is originally represented.  She can change it by exaggerating some aspect or she can distort it.   She can make several version of the shape until finally she is satisfied with a new shape which she has abstracted from the first version. Shapes can be used together, in pairs or larger groupings, and can be used to create harmonious relationships or effect sudden contrasts.

Where there are lines, there must be spaces between them.  Where lines join up, space is enclosed and shapes are formed.  Squares and circles are regular shapes.  These are called geometric shapes.  When their proportions are changed, squares and circles become oblongs and ovals.  If lines radiate from the centre of the circle it appears to be like a wheel.   These and all other basic geometric figures can be divided and subdivided both regularly and irregularly to create an endless supply of varied shapes which serve as units of design.  There are natural shapes such as shells and there are repeating shapes.

The silhouette is the shape or outline or any garment that is created by the designer.   This is achieved through the skill in cutting or making the pattern and through the weight and texture of the fabric or yarn.   The colour pattern and contrast or tonal effect will five different visual impressions of the silhouette.  The silhouette can be changed with the aid of padding, linings, pleats, gathers, frills, raising or lowering the hemline, shapes of sleeves, and so on.

Volume and Mass

Clothes are made for people to wear and people are three dimensional objects.  Knitwear is usually knitted in two dimensions, but through shaping we can create three dimensional shapes with volume and mass.  Consider how the garment will look when it is worn.

Proportion and Balance

Proportion is the name given to the relationship of sizes to each other and implies the practice of using measurements and quantities in comparison with one another.   Where there are two dimensions, height is compared with width, and in solid objects – which have height, width and depth – all three measurements are considered together.

Proportion is a fundamental element in design.  Everything has size.  Everything is made up of quantities which can be measured and which determine shape.  On their interrelationship depends to a great extent whether an item is distinguished or commonplace in its appearance.  The designer is trained to detect differences between one size and another, to assess the effect of one quantity against another, together with an ability to realise that these relationships are controlling factors in the visual language of design.  Equal stripes of black and white are found to have a tantalising feeling, each fight for supremacy and the smaller the stripes the more dazzling the effect.   If the black is increased even slightly there is a sense of relief – something is resolved.   Black has become the background – variety has taken the place of monotony.

Texture and Pattern

Pattern decorates and plans.  These are the functions of pattern.  Knitting patterns grow stitch by stitch, geometric shapes form naturally and build gradually into units of design.   These can be repeated regularly, alternatively, by counter-change in symmetrical and other arrangements to form borders and areas of rich pattern.  An example of pattern for decoration is Fair Isle.  Pattern also plans, for example, in a yoked sweater.  Pattern can be used as a large repeating design to break up and area and to plan space.   Nature is full of pattern.  Man learns from nature and takes its formations and adapts them to his use e.g. investing the wheel.   Nature is full of organic pattern, with each species producing a different kind of growth formation or natural pattern.   The designer can see and express these structures in line and shape.

Boat Chart 1

Colour and Tone

Knitting is fortunate to work in prepared colour, creating its effects from the multitude of yarns available, ranging from pale through brilliant to very dark tones, all with their different textural characteristics which accentuate tonal variety.

Colour should be taught by contagion in an atmosphere of enthusiasm.  It is very important to enjoy colour – at first any shades which the student happens to like, then gradually extending the palette by perception finding colour in the whole of life.  Everything has colour – not necessarily strong, easily distinguishable colour by often strange muted fascinating mixtures which almost defy description.

Theories about colour can be highly scientific and academic, but all that is necessary, initially at least, is to study the colour wheel.   Imagine the colours of the spectrum arranged in a fairly large ring of pure colours each in turn merging into the next.  Firstly you have a strong, pure red, vermillion, then orange, losing its warmth it becomes yellow,  This is a pure yellow which acquires a greenish tinge, turning to lime, then strong green, exactly opposite to red.   Moving then to the left, the green takes on a bluish tinge, becomes turquoise and through magenta back to red at the top.


Designing is a conscious action which can be described as choosing and arranging.  Very simply it can consist of selecting lines and shapes and arranging them according to a plan and for a special purpose.  Choice is an act of discrimination of taking some things in preference to others because of their appearance and usefulness.  It implies personal taste.  Composition is a matter of choice.  It is synthesis, bringing together in practice the various processes of knitting and aspects of design which have been considered separately.  It is a matter of harmony and contrast.

Source of Design

Where does the knitwear designer get inspiration?  Inspiration can come from anywhere.  However, there are sources of design inspiration which will provide endless ideas for the knitter.  These are

  • living forms
  • landscapes
  • sea and sky
  • geological formations
  • historical and religious influences
  • folk cultures
  • industrial and commercial influences
  • art and architecture
  • social and economic influences
  • the media

The above list could be divided into natural and man made influences.  However, the knitwear designer could be inspired just by the yarn itself – the colour, the texture, the feel!

Factors to be considered

 There are various factors to be considered when designing knitwear.

  • properties and availability of materials
  • availability of tools and equipment
  • time and space requirements
  • costs
  • consumer protection legislation

What are clothes?

 Clothing is a form of communication.  The clothing a person wears tells other about:

  • the culture he or she is part of
  • the sub-group he or she belongs to; age, occupation, wealth, morality

The following affect a person’s clothing:

  • climate
  • occupation
  • tradition
  • religion
  • personal taste
  • economic status

Clothing is generally made of woven or knitted material.   Weaving is the interlacing of two sets of yarn at right angels.   They are called the warp and the weft.   Knitted fabrics stretch more easily than woven ones.   They readily return to their original shape after stretching.  Non-wovens are fabrics made directly from fibres.  They have fibres which are held together by gluing, welding or by the friction of one fibre against another.

Properties of fabrics

Fabrics have a large range of properties.  Fibre content affects the properties of the fabric. These properties can be divided into four groups:

  • durability
  • aesthetic value
  • comfort
  • ease of care properties


Yarns can be woven or knitted into cloth or fabric.  Yarns can be either staple yarns or filament yarns.   In a staple yarn the fibres are first drafted to the necessary thickness and then twisted into a yarn.   In a filament yarn the fibres are parallel to one another and are often bulked for better texture.   Ply yarns are twisted from a number of singles.  Fibres can be natural or man-made.

The Golden Ratio

This golden ratio is a pattern that is often seen in nature. Flowers, shells, hurricanes, and human faces are just some examples of the Golden Ratio in nature. So what exactly is the Golden Ratio? It’s when you divide a line by approximately 1.62 its length. This creates a ratio so that (a+b)/a = a/b = the Golden Ratio.  This is a design concept.  This ratio is considered to be aesthetically pleasing.   Many designers and artists use this ratio in their work.  The rule of thirds is a variation of the Golden Ratio.   You divide your work into thirds, both vertically and horizontally.   These divisions then act as guides for composition.

When you design your knitwear you follow a set of rules of alignment, pattern and symmetry.  However, in order to make designs interesting and unique you may break a rule from time to time.   It is important, though, to make sure that the difference is noticeable enough so that it seems deliberate and not a mistake.   Use these design concepts and ideas in your next project.   Every concept has its purpose and they may not all apply to every project.  How you use them it a personal choice.  Design and have fun!

Boat Hat



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