© 2015 The Authors. How tissues acquire their characteristic shape is a fundamental unresolved question in biology. While genes have been characterized that control local mechanical forces to elongate epithelial tissues, genes controlling global forces in epithelia have yet to be identified. Here, we describe a genetic pathway that shapes appendages in Drosophila by defining the pattern of global tensile forces in the tissue. In the appendages, shape arises from tension generated by cell constriction and localized anchorage of the epithelium to the cuticle via the apical extracellular-matrix protein Dumpy (Dp). Altering Dp expression in the developing wing results in predictable changes in wing shape that can be simulated by a computational model that incorporates only tissue contraction and localized anchorage. Three other wing shape genes, narrow, tapered, and lanceolate, encode components of a pathway that modulates Dp distribution in the wing to refine the global force pattern and thus wing shape.