This section is from the book "Clothing For Women: Selection, Design, Construction", by Laura I. Baldt. Also available from Amazon: Clothing For Women: Selection, Design, Construction.
The human form is, from the artist's point of view, the most beautiful form. An artistic conception of an ideal womanly form is a figure seven and one-half or eight heads high (the head from just below the crown to the chin being the unit of measurement), with long neck, shoulders that slope slightly, a high chest and straight back, an easy carriage and grace of movement. The contour of such a form is made up of gently rounding, reversed curves, which melt into each other, forming beautiful lines. The slight inward curve at the waist, called the Greek curve and found in examples of Greek sculpture, is considered the most beautiful line of the body. There are no straight lines to be found in the contour.
It is not sufficient for the purpose of design, that form be studied in contour alone. Just as the builder understands the foundation of the building in relation to its superstructure, so must the designer understand the structure of the form in order to drape it in accord with the principles of design. The artist recognizes a structural division of the form into two great masses, the torso or trunk, and limbs. The structural parts of the body, the points of support and articulation, must be kept in mind: the points of support are the shoulders and hips; the points of articulation are the neck, elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles.
No lines in contradiction to, or at variance with, the contour of the form, should appear in well-ordered clothing design. All divisions of the garment, whether by seam or decoration, should be made in relation to structural parts and areas. Parts of garments should be supported at structural points. Decoration should be placed at points of support or articulation.
The use of a line is to direct the attention to some point of interest. In all good designs are found two kinds of line, straight and curved. The interchange of these, or predominance of one over the other, depends upon the feeling of the designer. Straight lines are severe; they lend dignity and strength; curved lines express life and joy, and give variety in design; the finest curves, however, approach straight lines. Unity is expressed in the flow of lines growing out of each other; in lines of radiation, in an arrangement of parallel lines which emphasize each other; and by repetition of the lines of contour in other parts of the design. The use of horizontal and vertical lines in combination rivets the attention and changes the appeal to the artistic sense. The whole problem of design, then, is to make a harmonious arrangement of lines and shapes (or masses) in accordance with the principles of rhythmic unity, variety, and balance.
Texture affects design. Treatment of line that would render one fabric charming, would utterly fail with another. Soft, pliable stuffs are a joy to the designer because they lend themselves to such varied treatment, while stiff, harsh fabrics necessitate severity of line. Dull or lustrous surfaces affect design inasmuch as they absorb or reflect light. Weave in fabric, whether fine or coarse, plain or twilled; and pattern in weave, or pattern produced by color, greatly affect design. Plain weaves place almost no limitations, but a design planned for plain material and used for twilled material, may produce a displeasing effect by bringing the lines of the twill entirely at variance. Pattern in weave affects the division of areas, and limits decoration. Pattern produced by the use of color in printing, or the interlacing of vari-colored threads (as in figures, stripes, and plaids), affects design by reason of the size, the position, the up and down, or the right and left placing of figure or line, and requires careful manipulation in order to avoid pitfalls of error (Figs. 6, 7 and 8).
Occasion influences design. Garments should reflect the spirit of the occasion and the wearer. Free use of broken lines and curves, repetition of pattern in design, and oft-repeated decoration bespeak festive occasions and joyous emotions; severity of lines, restraint of curves and absence of decoration may suggest formal occasion and serious emotions.
Feeling for texture and line is developed through the study of textiles, the free and untrammelled use of fabrics and experimentation with them in draping, and through the study of the best forms in sculpture and painting. Comparative study of historic costume opens up a world of inspiration and suggestion for the creation of individual modes. One may not have immediate access to museum or library, but there are always to be had excellent prints of both ancient and modern sculpture, painting, and historic costume.