The problems of design and color in textile fabrics are somewhat complicated. No general rules for selection may be given, for there are many factors influencing the choice; among these are the use to which the material is to be put, the texture and cost of the material, and the individual taste. It is not the purpose of this chapter to go deeply into the theories of design and color, but only to give a few suggestions which may lead to further study or which may in themselves prove helpful in choosing artistic fabrics. A few foundation principles will be given, then a more general discussion of decorative art as applied to clothing and house furnishing materials.


The terms and principles of pure design have been reduced by theorists1 to simple denominations. Tone, measure, and shape are terms which define the units of a composition. The principles by which these units are combined to produce order and beauty are termed rhythm, balance, and harmony:

"Tone means the value (as dark, light) or the color (as red, green, blue).

"Measure means the size (as long, short, large, small).

1 Notably Dr. Denman W. Ross, of Harvard University.

"Shape means the contour or bounding line (as straight, curved, square, round).

"Rhythm means joint action or movement, a consistent relation and connection of parts that enable the eye to find a way through all the details of a design.

"Balance means repose, that results from the opposition of attractions.

"Harmony means 'the consistency of likeness, having something in common.' 'A unity, all the terms of which are in interior accord.'"1

Rhythm is gained either through a gradation of tone from light to dark or from one color to another, through a shape which by its repetition or by its outline carries the eye along, or through measures which increase from small to large.

Harmony is obtained by a similarity of tone, or tones, having some common element, by a likeness of shapes, by measures either like or in some definite proportion.

Balance is obtained by the arrangement of tones, shapes, and measures in such a manner that there is symmetry between the parts.

With these terms and principles we have a number of possible combinations which may produce order. We may have one or all of the following present in a good design: tone rhythm, tone balance, tone harmony; shape rhythm, shape balance, shape harmony, or measure rhythm, measure balance, measure harmony.

Analysis of one or two designs may aid in illustration. In the photograph of a piece of Japanese silk the figure of the dragon illustrates measure rhythm from the small scales at the end of the tail to the larger scales in the body. The scroll shape on the body is rhythmic in its gradually tapering points. There is rhythm of tone from the lighter tones to the dark ones throughout the figure. While there is no balance produced by opposition of like figures on two sides of a line, there is tone balance between the lights and darks, giving the effect of a medium tone to the whole. Tone harmony is illustrated by the repetition of the same tone in different parts of the design, shape harmony by the similarity of contour, and measure harmony by the similarity in size of some of the scales.

1Batchelder, Ernest A. The Principles of Design.

Japanese Silk.

Fig. 39. Japanese Silk.

The Persian brocade design illustrates the principle of balance more clearly. There is exact balance of shape, measure, and tone on the two sides of a vertical axis. Shape rhythm is also expressed in the leaves, buds, and vases, and tone rhythm is especially well shown in the birds near the vases. There is harmony in the shapes of buds, flowers, leaves, and scrolls, and harmony in tone in the different parts. The result is not only entirely orderly, but beautiful as well. Unless some of these principles are observed in a design, order will not result, and it is not possible to have beauty without order. On the other hand, beauty does not necessarily follow order. There must be some beauty in the shapes chosen for the parts of the design, some interest in the combinations of shapes, and excellence of execution.

Persian Brocade.

Fig. 40. Persian Brocade.