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Suffering from design paralysis? Here's a handy checklist.

Designing a woven textile from scratch can be intimidating. With so many decisions affecting the final result, where do you start? It is incredibly frustrating to invest time and yarn into designing and weaving a project, and then be unhappy with it. What’s worse is to let the fear of that less-than-optimal result prevent you from even starting!


Sometimes, you just need some practical guidelines to help you tick off the decision boxes one at a time. The most straight-forward and concise advice I have ever found comes from The Weaver’s Book, Fundamentals of Handweaving by Harriet Tidball, first published in 1961.


Harriet Tidball purchased the Shuttle Craft Guild from Mary Meigs Atwater in 1946, so IMHO, she learned from the master. Atwater spent years studying art and design before reviving American handweaving in the first half of the 20th Century.

But wait, you protest, design has changed many times and even repeated itself once or twice since 1961. Yes, design trends have changed, but fundamentals leading to successfully designed handwoven textiles still apply. And, frankly, sometimes you just need a handy checklist.

You’ll find the complete list in the Designing chapter, starting on page 22. The book is currently out of stock at Amazon, but you may find a copy in your guild library, on a used books site, or by posting to one of the weaving lists.

Cover of Harriet Tidball book: The Weaver's Book
Still a great resource.

10 Guidelines for Designing Handwovens from Harriet Tidball

(excerpted from The Weaver’s Book, Fundamentals of Handweaving by Karen Donde)

  1. Simplicity is rule 1. Pick one point for emphasis, and focus all design decisions on that point.

  2. Preserve unity. Unless you’re weaving a sampler, keep your displays of versatility in check and avoid over-ornamentation.

  3. A rhythmic repeat or alternation of two different design elements always works.

  4. Symmetry lends formality, while asymmetry is more restless and vivid and harder to execute successfully.

  5. Random, casual arrangements of design elements are the most difficult for achieving balanced designs.

  6. Odd numbers of elements combine better than even numbers.

  7. Avoid placing distinct pattern breaks in the middle of a textile: two-to-three is a safer proportion and the Fibonacci series is a reliable proportion tool.

  8. Finishing elements like hems or fringes should harmonize with the overall design.

  9. “The more complex the starting point, the less the possibility for variation, interpretation innovation.” (Direct quote here, because she said it best.)

  10. Form Follows Function! All design decisions must be guided by the purpose for the cloth and how it will be cared for/cleaned.

Thanks, Harriet!


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