Design Elements Applicable to Diapers
The essence of a pattern is repetition. Archibald Christie defines pattern as “a design composed of one or more devices multiplied and arranged in orderly sequence. A single device, however complicated or complete in itself it may be, is not a pattern, but a unit with which the designer may compose a pattern.” The construction of a pattern has infinite possibilities. The imagination can do wondrous things. The formal grid or network in which motifs are arranged to create patterns can be concealed or visible. This repeat structure is an important part of designing pattern and is used in many areas of ornamental design. These structures allow a design to increase in any direction to form an uninterrupted pattern. According to Peter Phillips and Gilliam Bunce in their book, Repeat Patterns, “Pattern is potentially infinite and a well-designed pattern always gains by repetition. It must possess three essential qualities: beauty, imagination, and order. Without the order that derives from successful repeating structures, neither beauty nor imagination can begin to be expressed.” Designers know the importance or balance, harmony, geometrical precision, and symmetry.
William Justema, in his book The Pleasures of Pattern, remarks, “Patterns exist for appearances yet they are not always what they seem. In fact, the best patterns practice strict economy in the means they use. (The minimum means for maximum effect.) Furthermore, good patterns gain, rather than lose, by being repeated.”
Strong contrasting values/colors are needed to form an effective diaper. If the same stitches were used in the same or similar colors and/or values, they would not read as diapers. The diagonal network (grid) would be hard to see and the pattern would fade into the background. (This background is also called grounding.) Another consideration is that if your diaper pattern is a complex one, the interplay of colors can give you unwanted results. You may have to experiment with other color changes to get the effect you want. In most cases you will want to use at least two or more contrasting values and/or colors to create a good diaper. One color could be used if the values contrast strongly enough.
Texture is another element to consider as an integral part in the creation of pattern. It refers to the surface characteristics of a shape. Every shape has a surface, whether it is smooth or rough, dull or shiny. The textural aspects of materials can be classified as visual and/or tactile. The right texture adds to the design concept and can create movement and pattern, such as the play of light against the shiny or smooth part of a design. When used with unit forms and repeat systems, it can sometimes help to define or to soften shapes. It can also highlight or shadow an area and create a three-dimensional quality.
Symmetrical balance is achieved by using identical units placed in mirror-like repetition (Figure 10). It is very easy to see how many of the above-mentioned design elements can by symmetrically balanced. Study Figure 10, below.
Asymmetrical balance is when each unit is not in mirror-like repetition when rotated but can still maintain a feeling of balance. These patterns can maintain a good visual diagonal. (See Figure 10 and 11A and 11B). Care must be given when planning a design to keep the visual diagonal of the pattern you want to use.
The scale (size) of a pattern is also of great importance in creating diapers. The relationship between the size of the pattern and the area in which it is used must be compatible. A rug or chair seat could use a much larger pattern than a needle or eyeglass case. Large patterns that would be good for wallpaper would not be good for a small cushion. A small pattern could be lost on a rug. The important thing is to make sure that there are at least three or four repeats of the pattern in order to see the pattern. It is also easier to use a diamond-shaped stitch for a diamond-shaped area and a box stitch for a like-shaped area. You can adapt size and scale of the diaper to the area to be covered.
The block construction is the most fundamental of the repeat structures. (Figure 12). The block can be mirrored or rotated which helps to give movement.
The half-drop repeat, made by dropping each unit halfway down the next unit, is another repeat structure. Quarter drops and other fractional drops can create other gradual or steeply stepped effects. Drops can be used to create strong one-way diagonals, diapers, or a random appearance. Notice that mirror images of such repeats can produce zigzag or wavy effects.
Counterchange (negative-positive) is a very old technique that has been applied to all forms of designs (Figure 13). The shape and/or color change positions to create the pattern. This is an effective method of extending the repeat size, changing the importance of the motif. The forms retain the same proportion. Optical illusions can also be created through this technique.
Powdering is yet another repeat structure (Figure 14). It is an old term for the uniform, overall spotting of a surface. Polka dots are a form of powdering; but other motifs, such as flowers, crosses, and stars, can be scattered on a surface. Care must be taken to keep the repeat uniform. Much of the area around powdered patterns is unembellished. They could form a diaper if the produced visual diagonals in both directions.
Diaper Patterns in Canvaswork
It is not known exactly when diaper patterns were first used in canvaswork. Nancy Noland Kurten said, “Historically, these needlework patterns were executed in tent stitches. The patterns were created by their colors and were geometric in nature. Now textured stitches play a major part in creating diapers.” Stitches may be altered from their usual proportions to fit an area in your diaper, but there must be no compensation within the diaper. If we visualize a Scotch, Hungarian, or Smyrna stitch, you can see how easily they could be made into a simple diaper pattern. Older stitch books may show a diaper stitch or pattern with a diagonal in one direction only. Many ancient sources of ornament are also patterned this way. Victorian needlework charts were painted on graph paper with colored squares or symbols.
Diapers can be created simply with a single stitch, such as tent stitch. However, it is also a challenge to create them with a combination of stitches. Think of using a composite stitch, which is a combination of two or more stitches arranged to form another stitch or stitch pattern, like the Scotch stitch surrounded with Mosaic stitches.
Another possibility would be to use a complex stitch, which is a combination of two or more stitches that are tied down or connected by some other thread to form a pattern, such as Smyrna cross stitches alternating with Scotch and Hungarian stitches connected with tied-down straight stitches.
Diagonal and upright stitches combined with cross stitches offer more possibilities. All these stitch combinations have great potential for the creative designer. The important thing is to keep good proportion (scale) and value contrast in the pattern.
From the many examples discussed, you have learned that diaper patterns are universal. You will start to see them everywhere. Experiment and collect your own samples. I have had fun in composing a notebook that contains swatches of fabric, giftwrap, and wallpaper. Junk mail can be a wonderful resource for collecting patterns. Using graph paper and colored pencils, make some of your own designs that you can convert to tent stitch, or chart out decorative stitch patterns. It is important to remember that not every experiment will be a success. Keep trying until you can achieve the effect you want. If you keep your eyes open, inspiration can come from everywhere. Look around now and what do you think — perhaps a diaper pattern?
Bibliography of Diaper Pattern Books
Ambuter, Carolyn Carolyn Ambuter’s Book of Needlepoint, NY, Thomas Y Crowell Co, 1972
Audsley, W. and G. Designs and Patterns From Historic Ornament, Dover Publications, 1968
Blackburn, Jr, Rev Robert E. Father B’s Book of Stitches, Lansing, MI 1988
Christensen, Jo Ippolito The Needlepoint Book, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1979
Christie, Archibald H. Pattern Design: An Introduction to the Study of Formal Ornament, Dover Publications, New York, NY 1969
Clabburn, Pamela The Needleworker’s Dictionary, William Morrow & Co, New York, 1976
Day, Lewis F. Pattern Design, Taplinger Publishing Company, New York, 1979
Doffek, Peg, Cornelius, Rosemary, and Hardy, Sue An Embroidery Alphabet, NEEDLE POINTERS, Vol X #2, Summer, 1982. ANG, Inc.
English, Mindy The Canvas Embroidery Notebook, Atlanta, GA, Mary Morrison English, 1985
Justema, William The Pleasures of Pattern, Reinhold Book Corporation, New York, 1968
Kotten, Nancy Noland Diaper Patterns, St. Louis, MO Sign of the Bee, 1976
Lantz, Sherlee A Pageant of Pattern For Needlepoint Canvas, NY, Grosset and Dunlap, 1973
Phillips, Peter & Bruce, Gillian Repeat Patterns, NY, Thames & Hudson, 1993
Proctor, Richard M. The Principles of Pattern for Craftsmen and Designers, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, New York, 1969
Rhodes, Mary Dictionary of Canvas Work Stitches, NY, Charles Scribner, 1980
Strite-Kurz, Ann An Analysis of Diaper Patterns and Their Specific Uses in Canvas Embroidery, self published, 1982
Zimmerman, Jane D. The Canvas Work Encyclopedia, Richmond, CA, Jane Zimmerman, 1989
Special thanks to Nanette Costa for her computer graphics of the diagrams (for original magazine article).
Special thanks to Laura Zickus for her computer graphics of the diagrams (for the web archive).
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