Motifs – the adorning feature common to most apparel

by parineeti lal

You must have seen a single feature, small in size but replicated throughout the fabric, arranged in a certain way that provides the look. That is what a ‘Motif’ is. It could be printed (the easiest way), embroidered (takes effort) or even attached (e.g. applique that could be woven on a cloth then stitched on to the main garment).

Let us elaborate on that.

Motifs – the ‘unit’ of appeal

Motif is a unit of design that is repeated several times over to spread across the fabric to form a pattern.

Also called a block or square, the Motif is a smaller element in a much larger work area or work. Motifs may be varied or rotated for contrast and variety, or used to create new shapes.

Pattern is described therefore as an arrangement of regular and repeated motifs so as to create rhythm in lines, shapes and colors. The Pattern features in textile design, is seen on wallpapers, decorates wrappers, carpets, boarder designs etc.

Motifs could be any size, but within a given work area all motifs are usually the same size. The motifs within a work always have a unifying element such as texture, stitch pattern, or colour, to provide the finished product more aesthetic appeal.

Designing of Motifs 

In order to create appeal and effective fashion there are some parameters to be followed in Motif Design.

  • Directionality and Orientation of the design on fabric
  • Motif type (floral, geometric, novelty)
  • Repetition type (square, brick…)
  • Spacing and scale of motifs
  • Style

Directionality and Orientation

Directionality refers to the number of ways you can rotate fabric yet keeping the print looking the same.

Most directional prints are oriented with the lengthwise direction of the fabric and can be one-way or two-way.

Based upon the above, Motifs can be categorized as follows:

One-way prints

These are motifs that can be turned and arranged only in one direction otherwise they would look upside down or sideways.

When cutting layouts for lots of projects, they are designed in a way where pieces are oriented the same lengthwise and crosswise to minimize fabric leftovers. In the case of one way fabric all pieces must be oriented the same way and because of that projects require more yardage.

Two way prints look the same on the right and on the wrong side so they don’t limit fabric usage as much as one way fabrics. Stripes are considered a two-way print but they can be oriented in 4 or more directions and look good.

Non-directional prints – These are the easiest to work with because sewing pieces can be cut out in any direction which means less waste.

These prints can be divided into a) Tossed and b) 4-way prints.
they appear nice and relaxing.

Tossed prints look the same when you rotate them in any direction even on the bias (upto 450 against the run of the grain). Visually

4-way prints look the same when the orientation is at 0°, 90°, 180°or 270° from the reference. Tartan plaids are an example of this type of a print. .

Broad Categories of Motifs

In textile design there are only 3 big categories of motifs: geometric, floral and novelty.

Geometric motifs contain shapes like polka dots, stripes, plaids, checks and diamonds. They could be simple or complex, in arrays or randomly spread, straight, curvy  or somewhere in-between. Geometric prints are the most versatile and universal of prints.

Floral patterns and prints are a great part of every design tradition. They are feminine, beautiful and classic and they have a universal appeal.

\Novelty prints include everything else that doesn’t fall into these two categories. They are special visually such as an emblem of identity and important for the one that wears them. There are several classic themes e.g. kitchen, nautical, zoo and holiday motifs. Others come and go based on trending fashion.

3) Classification by size

Motifs can be miniature such as pin dots or gigantic as in super graphics.

Small scale motifs are considered to be ½ ″ square and under,

medium-scale motifs are from ½ ″ square to 4″square and,

large-scale motifs are greater than 4″ square.

Repetition of Motifs in the work

In classic pattern design, motifs can be arranged into repeating units to be printed continuously and seamlessly on a length of cloth.

Square repeat also known as block, side or straight repeat, is the simplest type. The motifs are built within or overlapping a foundational rectangle and that rectangle is repeated as a simple grid.

Half-drop repeat involves alternating columns of the square repeat grid and pushes them down a fraction of the block height (¼, ½, 1/3 ) and creating a drop. This design creates pleasant flow and balance when looking at it.

Brick repeathas the same concept as drops but affects pattern rows instead of columns.

Random and Set Layouts

Motifs can be laid out so they look randomly scattered on the fabric or so that they appear set in some kind of arranged pattern.

Random layouts on the other hand do not make the repeat appear obvious. But if one were to run the eye over the cloth, the viewer should be able to spot the repeat but with a little difficulty. Square and drop repeats are most commonly used.

If a repetition is flaunted as an important element of the design, then this design is said to be in a set layout.

Square, drop and brick repeats can form the underlying grid of a set layout. Geometric motifs are the ones most commonly used in set layouts.

Spacing and Scale

Motifs can be packed together or spaced with lot of background showing. Some designs are alternating packed and spaced areas and are called open-and-closed.

Packed Print

Spaced Out Print

Motifs according to Style

Railroaded prints have motifs that run parallel to the selvage and they are usually found in upholstery fabrics.

Border prints are usually designed with a specific end use in mind, such as tablecloths, skirts and aprons. But look very enticing on the Indian sarees

  • Craft panels include all the ready-to-sew pieces for a project, for example a stuffed toy, printed directly onto the fabric.

  • Placement prints are printed directly on a finished product such as a T-shirt.

  • Engineered prints are similar to craft panels but more used in fashion, where the pieces are printed directly on the fabric, with the print already filled in.

  • All-in-one prints include a mini-collection of different prints all on one length of fabric.

  • A cheater print is mock patchwork, usually simple squares or traditional quilt patterns and it makes quilting easier as there is no need for piecing before layering.

Now we come to the uses of motifs

Motifs are useful:

For making decorative borders,

for making greeting cards,

for designing patterns.

In the case of fabrics like the Indian saree, motifs enhance the appeal tremendously if the block printing were to be done neatly.

As an academic exercise we shall see how motifs are created or transferred onto a fabric like the Indian saree.

Block Printing on sarees and other fabrics is a process by which designs are made on the fabric by printing on them with the help of a block with handles or grips made for that purpose.

  • It has simplicity and ease of execution.
  • There is the sharpness, accuracy and fine detailing of prints made on the fabrics.
  • The huge possibilities of match and mix of different block designs in various colors on the same fabric. A large number of wooden blocks are always kept in readiness for use based on the intended patterns and designs.
  • Blocks are of good quality wood and so they have durability.
  • Intricate and sharp detailing for complicated designs can be etched out in the blocks. Accessories like hair brushes are used for filling in the blank areas between outlines of the design.
  • A point on the block serves as a guide for the repeat impression, so that the whole effect is continuous and not disjoint.
  • The extensive choice of colors, make the designs vibrant and fresh-feel.

Block prints and brush prints having been tried out successfully on fabrics like cotton, silk, sico and others.

Unnati Silks  with block printing as its USP has made use of the motif as a highly decorative, arty piece of enhancement for its sarees, salwar kameez and other feminine apparel. Do check out the website through the above link.