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Evaluating Your Embroidery - Color & Design

The following article was written by Cathy Studer in 2004 for the newsletter of the Needle Arts Guild of Toledo.

No part of this article may be published, reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever (including electronic, mechanical, photocopy) other than for personal or chapter/region use without written permission from the copyright holder.

"The most important element in successful work is the choice of design". -- May Morris, 1893

The first step in any embroidered project is choosing a design. A basic understanding of the elements and principles of design can help in the process of choosing a design that is pleasing to the eye. What are the elements and principles of design? Elements are the tools used to create a design. Principles are guidelines for deciding how these tools will be used to create the design.

Elements of Design include:

  1. Color:
    1. hue, the name given to a color (red, blue, etc.)
    2. value, the lightness or darkness of a color.
    3. intensity, (also know as saturation or chroma) the brightness or dullness of a color.
  2. Line: A mark used to denote directions or contours.
  3. Shape/Form:
    1. shape, a two dimensional object or area having height and width.
    2. form, a three dimensional object having height, width and depth.
  4. Space: A surface area that has height, width and the illusion of depth.
  5. Texture: The look or feel of the surface quality (rough, smooth, raised, open etc.).

Principles of Design include:

  1. Balance: The arrangement of elements to create stability.
  2. Dominance: The area of focus within the design.
  3. Harmony: A balance of elements, similar or repeated that create unity within the design.
  4. Contrast: Strong differences within the elements used.
  5. Gradation: Step-by-step changes of an element.
  6. Variety: The use of changing elements to add interest.
  7. Rhythm/Movement: The use of elements to create the feeling of movement.
  8. Scale/Proportion:
    1. scale, the size of an element or object.
    2. proportion, the relationship of the size of the elements or objects to each other and the design as a whole.

With these elements and principles in mind let us look at the design we have chosen to embroider and ask ourselves a few questions. What is it that I feel when I first look at the design? What kind of impact does it have on me? Am I excited? Calmed? Disturbed? What element or principle of the design excites me, or calms me or disturbs me? What is it that I see when I first look at the design? Am I drawn to a particular area? What draws me there? Which elements and principles were used to draw my focus? Is there more than one area of interest? If so, is there a pleasing relationship between the areas or does it create confusion? Is the design overworked or has it been kept simple? Are the colors nicely balanced? Do the colors enhance the design or detract from it? Are attached objects a meaningful part of the design? Is there something I can incorporate to make the design an expression of my individuality?

It is a good idea when choosing any design to ask these questions. It is also very helpful to look for the different elements and principles in any chosen design. Even if you do not design your own embroideries a study of these two subjects greatly enhances your ability to chose designs that are pleasing and worth spending your valuable time stitching. There are many good books on design and color for embroidery. Mary Shipp has written two wonderful books, one on Design for Embroidery and one on Color for Embroidery. Color and Design for Embroidery written by Richard Box is another one of my favorites.

This page was last updated on October 30, 2008.