Want to create work with that ‘wow’ factor that most people just love to see?

Then simply focus on these two effortless things – contrast and variety.

These straightforward elements are around us everywhere, in the buildings we live in, the furniture we buy, as well as the fabrics and textiles in our homes.

Look at your clothes, your shoes, magazines, and gardens, and while repetition and rhythm can be soothing and reassuring, it’s contrast and variety that adds a spark that grabs our attention.

We seem to latch onto divergence and disparity as our eyes travel over and around our world – and it’s no different with our work.

And it’s the simple things that always appear to work the best – especially when it comes to design.

So, what to look for to add contrast and variety to your work?

It’s so easy – look to include these contrasts of line, shape, colour, value, size, texture, and number:

  • thick/thin
  • small/large
  • few/many
  • tall/short
  • straight/curved
  • sinuous/jagged
  • rough/smooth
  • shiny/matt
  • light, lights/dark, darks
  • vibrant/dull
  • brights/pastels

And these don’t just apply to your design work, but also to the materials you’ll be working with, so think about the appropriateness of using:

  • metallic/fuzzy threads
  • shiny/matt threads
  • flecked/variegated threads
  • patterned/textured fabrics
  • open weaves/tight weaves
  • beadwork/sequins
  • found objects/unique embellishments

Also think outside the square a little to include dimension by using:

  • bead towers/long bugle beads
  • trapunto/padding
  • Raised Embroidery and Stumpwork

But wait, it doesn’t stop there, what about:

  • making and mixing stitch patterns
  • overlapping stitches using different threads and textures
  • including beads and sequins with your stitches
  • using innovative embroidery to attach unusual objects

Plus, one of my favourite compositional formats would have to be a simple circle sitting perfectly centred within a square – a design device that’s been used for centuries – oh-so effective and elegant, so think about hanging and display options too.

Take your time when you design and when you go to choose the materials you’ll be using in your work, because it’s a symbiotic relationship in that it’s mutually beneficial, to achieve your desired outcome.

Just remember though, to make contrast and variety work to their fullest, ensure the work is unified – and to achieve that, simply repeat similar elements and colours throughout the work – it’s a game changer, otherwise, the results could look too disparate and uncontrolled.

So, contrast and variety, incorporating unity, can really spice up your work.

It’s so simple and it works!


All views and opinions expressed are my own, except where acknowledged information is included from other sources.