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  • Sara Nordling

Principles of Design: Rhythm

Double weave with a repeated motif that is stagger.  Stagger also repeats.

All rhythm has movement but not all movement has rhythm. When it comes to rhythm, think of music. Does it have a beat? Is it fast or slow, smooth or choppy, regular or staccato? These same rhythms can be seen in design.

To create rhythm, think of movement and the way it is created and add some variation.

Rhythm creates a mood. When I created “Staccato” I saw the black bar as a background framework to which the irregular beat of the red pleats was added. Later I used the same hues with a different sort of warp gradient and darker overall value. There was still a beat but it was much slower and more regular, hence the name “Adagio” that, instead a lively irregular beat was more slow, sedate and regular. The two are related but each carries a very different rhythm.

Double weave pleats with warp gradient and red pleats placed intermittently


Double weave pleats, darker grays, gradients in base and pleat warps


Detail of above weaving

Detail of Adagio where you can see the warp gradients as well as the touch of red.

You do not have to think of music when you create rhythms. I find it helps. I don’t think of a particular piece of music, although that is possible. Instead, I try to hear the beat of the textile itself. Rhythms can be irregular or repeat at regular intervals.

Graphic of white rectangle with a zigzag line then two straight lines, repeated across rectangle

This graphic shows rhythm, the zigzag itself produces a rhythm and

when interspersed with the parallel lines creates even more rhythm.

How would you weave it?

Honeycomb alternating with plain weave striping.

Point twill alternating with a plain weave stripe of a value or hue change.

Graphic of squat rectangle with horizontal stripes varying in thickness.

This graphic shows either warp or weft stripes that repeat in a rhythm.

The stripes might be structure changes, or changes in color or value.

Rhythm, then, would not be a pattern of very regular shapes or stripes that don’t vary on the surface in size, value, texture or hue. An ordinary twill, while having an angular movement, would not have a rhythm because there is not variation. Rhythm needs some variation in the movement.

Graphic of yellow rectangle with evenly spaced green stripes

The lines in this graphic are too regular and even to be considered rhythm.

Challenge: Design a towel showing rhythm using value and line. You may use other principles and elements as well. The ones listed should be the most dominant.

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