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No matter what kind of needlework stitching project you want to do, there are 6 fundamental principals to think about when planning a design in your textile art.
These design principles are universal to all kinds of needlecraft and work for almost any kind of textile project – whether you are knitting, weaving, crocheting, sewing, etc. – you will come across these things over and over again.
While of course you can make wonderful things without thinking about any of these design principles we cover here (and a lot of times they come naturally or automatically to many of us!) – if you are newer to making things or want to start designing your own projects, these are good tips to follow!
1. The Item You Are Making and What It is Used For
In order to best determine what materials to use, how much you need and the practical matter of “what will I do with this when it’s done?” – you really need to think about the object you are making, why you are making it, and what it will be used for.
This is especially important in materials selection. If you’re making a wearable crazy quilt jacket for example, you aren’t going to want to use the fancy silks and velvets unless you really love supporting your local dry cleaner. You’d probably want to opt for something much more practical, like quilting cotton!
This also applies in the fiber arts world – our post on the many types of yarns and its uses explains why you might want to use cotton yarn for a washcloth instead of wool, since both fibers behave very differently when they get wet!
Knowing the intended use of the object is also very important – if you are planning for an object to be outdoors, such as a decoration you hang on your covered porch or even a doormat, you are definitely going to want to think about that in your selection of materials!
Of course, the use of the item will also influence other things to consider, such as the actual construction of the item itself or how much you would want to budget for supplies.
If you’re making a toaster cover for example, you are going to want to make sure that it at the very least covers your toaster! If you think your toaster cover pattern might be a good one to share or even sell with others, you will probably also want to think about different sizes + shapes of toasters to make it more universal for others to create.
Cost is also an influence here – maybe you want to design something that uses up a lot of mismatched scraps, is only utilitarian in nature, or maybe you want something that will be high-quality gift-worthy heirloom quality.
Lastly, you need to think about why you are making the item – is it because it’s something you desperately need (like knitting a hat for winter) – or is it something creative for fun, like a wall hanging? Maybe the only reason you want to make something is because it will be better quality + cheaper if you make it yourself instead of buying it.
Sometimes you’ll have all kinds of reasons, other times you might not even be sure of your why. You don’t have to have a reason for why you want to make anything – but knowing your reasons why will definitely also help in deciding on the direction the project is going to take.
2. Color Scheme
While color is always a matter of personal preference, it is definitely another thing to think about in the beginning of a project.
For example, if you are making a pillow or a table runner for a specific room in your house, you’ll probably want to use colors that coordinate with the decor you already have. (Although nothing wrong with an eclectic mix + match, maybe even mismatched, collection of stuff you just like!)
For example, a very dark quilt or very bright quilt in many colors may look strange in a room that is all white shabby chic style. Meanwhile, in that same room, a quilt of all pastel colors or even floral prints will definitely stand out!
Another thing to think about color choices is whether the colors are in harmony with each other or whether they contrast. As we’ve covered in our many methods of couching, sometimes you want stuff to be invisible, and other times you want it to pop and really catch your eye in the design.
Speaking of floral prints in decor, pattern is another very important consideration when making decisions for a project in your textile and fiber art.
If you are sewing, you will have to think about pattern not only in what kinds of patterns to use in your fabric, but also the kinds of patterns you will do with your stitching.
If you are crocheting or knitting or weaving, the pattern you choose is very important because it effects not only just the over all look and feel of the finished work, but also brings us back to the intended use of the work.
For example, if you want a washcloth for your dishes, you probably wouldn’t want to crochet that up in filet crochet, unless you want your hands to be wet and a lot of spots to not get dried.
Of course, this is where pattern also goes back to influencing us on what materials we are going to use – you actually could filet crochet yourself a washcloth if you used single crochet stitches instead of the usual treble crochet blocks and cotton crochet thread instead of a medium weight yarn.
4. The Construction
When you are constructing anything, you definitely will want to have an idea for how it will also come together.
You wouldn’t just build a house by showing up at a lot with some boards and a hammer – you would need to know blueprints, what parts get built first, etc. etc.
When I am designing different patterns, especially for things such as clothes, bags, and stuffed plush – I really have to think about the order of operations here – what comes first? What comes second? What techniques are going to be helpful or troublesome?
In embroidery and fancy work, you might want to think about things like whether or not something needs to be embroidered before its put together and whether the item you are making might need a lining so the stitches aren’t torn out from the back.
And of course, we also come back to the intent of why you are making something.
If you’re making something to sell – you are going to want something you that you can create in assembly line fashion or do at production speed to keep your costs low and profits higher.
If you’re making something that’s going to be used for kids or pets, you’re going to want to make sure your construction is not only durable but also safe, which means no buttons or loose parts!
You will also want to think about whether you are going to want to be able to duplicate this item again in the future. You may very well want to make a pattern or write down what you do step by step, along with pictures, so you can remember how you did it again later!
5. The Stitchery Techniques + Your Limitations
Almost every material and technique has limitations somewhere and again this is going to bring you back to design point #1, which is you really need to think about what you are making and why.
Some materials can also be very hard to work with for certain techniques. If you are using art yarn for a crochet or knitting project, you are really going to want to think about the different stitches + how easy or hard they can be to work with that kind of material.
For example, I love spinning crazy art yarns that are thick and thin and they are awesome for so many things – but if I’m doing a crochet bag with art yarn, I sometimes have to adjust for the bulkiness of the yarn in different areas (often as I go along!) – you might need a double crochet in one spot, and a single crochet in another for example to accommodate for the different yarn weights.
If you’re making a pattern for something like that, you definitely have to consider that in art yarn you are NEVER going to have two yarns that are identical and so even the same basic stitches are going to generally be different depending on the yarn used.
Another example would be if I want to crochet a wire basket. It’s totally doable and possible, but those stitches are never going to be tight, close together, or even reliably consistent because wire is a totally different medium than yarn!
It’s also important to be realistic about your own skill level. All of us are beginners at some point and practice definitely helps – but everyone also has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Maybe you struggle with things like dropped stitches in different patterns – having a plan B to cover up with lace or flowers might be a better option than frogging your whole work + starting over.
Maybe you know you are really bad at doing crazy quilt stitches neatly so you decide to draw lines on your fabric with a ruler first so you don’t have issues later.
Another good example is how you will bind and finish a quilt. Maybe you’re awesome at designing quilt tops but binding a quilt is just not your forte. (I can relate!)
In that case, planning in advance to send off your quilt top to a long arm quilter to do it professionally is going to not only save you a lot of tears and frustration but also really help make your awesome work shine even more!
You may also want to stick with tried-and-true techniques you have a lot of practice with if you are creating a project to sell or give as a gift. People may not appreciate wonky stitches or rows that aren’t straight!
Of course, if you are someone like me who knows that sewing in a straight line consistently is just not ever possible, you might just decide to repeat crazy wonky stitches on purpose in the whole piece so a little mistake in one spot isn’t going to stand out or call any attention. Wonky, messy + crazy has become part of my own unique style of art because of this!
These things will be different for everyone and every project, but it’s definitely an important fundamental principle to think about!
6. The Finishing Touches and Details
Lastly, a very important thing to consider when designing a textile needlework project are the little finishing touches and details.
Let’s say you want to design a granny square crochet blanket – do you really want to weave in all those yarn ends when it’s finally assembled? Thinking about something like this in advance can help you decide before you even start to deal with those yarn ends as you go square by square rather than waiting until the end to take care of them.
In quilting, there are also a lot of finishing details to think about, especially when you start thinking about the type of binding you want to use, whether there will be borders, the type of backing, and the overall quilting stitches. Even if you send to a long arm quilter you are going to have to think about what you want them to do!
In a textile collage piece, this could mean adding eyelashes to your portrait or going back with some stitches to create more detailed highlights and shadows or to help one part stand out more after its complete.
In other projects, this could mean adding buttons or a lace trim or even adding a fringe.
And of course, like we said in #5 about having a plan B for mistakes – sometimes extra little details can cover those up!
Designing your own needlework projects doesn’t have to be hard or scary – and my hope with this list is not to scare you away from creating your own projects but rather inspire you and give you the confidence that you totally can design your own things!
It might seem overwhelming, and there’s definitely a lot to think about and consider – but when you break it down into these 6 basic fundamentals and always go back to #1 of what you are making and why – you’ll find your projects come together nicely without too many problems!