In our latest article on emerging trends and technologies, we’re focusing on textile design. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of textiles, a textile designer concentrates typically on two-dimensional, often repeating, designs.
Textiles themselves are usually created by interlacing threads of natural fibers like silk and cotton or synthetic fibers like nylon and rayon. These are then commonly used in the production of knit, weave and printed fabrics or other textile products.
People have been using fabrics in various ways for over 3,000 years, for example, cloth samples were found in the Israeli desert — the earliest evidence of plant-based textile dyeing known. Similarly, Asia has a long-standing tradition of decorating fabrics by print methods dating back to 327 B.C. when Alexander the Great invaded India. He discovered colorful, printed textiles — these were typically printed using a carved structure, such as a wood block: also known as block printing.
Most textile designers will operate in both industrial and non-industrial environments, but generally speaking, you can split textile design into two distinct categories.
1. Interior design
For example, upholstery, furnishings, and carpets. The interior design relates to the way in which we experience the space around us. On a daily basis you’ll witness interior design — at work and wherever you go, be it comfortable homes, functional workplaces, or public areas and parks.
The Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) appropriately consider it as “designs that are created in response to and coordinated with the building shell and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project.”
2. Clothing and fabrics
For example, everyday fashion wear or specialist clothing such as fireproof or tearproof. Clothing, or fashion design, is the use of fabrics or materials to create items of clothing or other lifestyle accessories.
Unsurprisingly, like interior design, you’re exposed to this type of design every single day - unless you choose not to wear clothes for whatever reason!
The significance of textile design in society
You might take textile design for granted, but the craft and industry as a whole have played a pivotal role in society for thousands of years.
Textiles not only serve the needs of people on an everyday basis, but they also have been used, and still are to an extent, to distinguish individuals and groups regarding social class, gender, occupation, and status with the group. Everything from the designs you use in your living room furniture to the things you wear on a daily basis can shed light on your background, tastes, motivations, and wealth.
Thinking about textile design from a practical standpoint, it provides us humans with both warmth and shelter. Clothes to keep us warm, and shelter and comfort in the buildings that we call ‘home.’
What skills do you need to work in textile design?
Textile design requires a combination of standard design skills and more textile-specific knowledge. For example, while a textile designer will use computer-aided design (CAD) software, such as Pro-Weave, 3D Mapping, or Photoshop, they also have to understand the various textile properties, including:
- Weight: Heavy textiles will be better suited to particular designs than lighter textiles, and vice versa - understanding what works in specific scenarios and what won’t work is crucial.
- Material: The texture and performance of textiles will differ significantly. For example, there are some materials which will be ideal for light, comfortable clothing, but you’re not going to use the same material for cushions.
- Flammability: Health and safety come into textile design just as much as any other industry, if not more so. Understanding which materials are highly flammable and only using them in particular cases is an example of knowledge that you’ll require to develop over time.
- Durability: You wouldn’t want your hiking boots to be made from the same material as your summer sandals, would you? Understanding which materials perform best when they need to is another crucial element to textile design.
It’s clear that although there aren’t any specific academic requirements to be a textile designer, it’s important that before entering the world of textile design, designers are aware of the fundamentals. A keen eye for how to use fabrics and materials in a certain way, e.g., through printing, dying, manipulation or embellishment techniques is another critical aspect of textile design that is often overlooked.
What are the day-to-day responsibilities of someone working in textile design?
As with every design-based role, there will be recurring tasks and challenges that you might face in textile design. That said, there are certainly some specific day-to-day responsibilities that textile designers need to carry out. A few of these include, but are not limited to:
- Producing sketches, designs, and samples for clients and presentations
- Compiling sets of sample designs
- Carrying out experiments with colors, fabrics, and textures
- Keeping up-to-date with new design and production techniques within the textile industry
- Sourcing fabrics and materials at trade fairs, markets, and stores
- Attending trade shows to keep track of competitors or to promote the company/personal brand on a display or stand.
- Spotting trends in fashion or interior design, or analyzing which textiles are becoming increasingly popular
What to expect when working in textile design
We’ll start by stressing that every role is different — what a cop out! However, it’s true, and it’s important to be aware of that as although you can get a feel for a what a role might be like by reading general industry comments, you’ll never honestly know until you experience it for yourself.
The environment that you operate in as a textile designer will differ significantly and might include factories, back rooms or smart design studios. If you’re working in a freelance capacity, then workshops or your own apartment might be your new office.
With that in mind, you should be conscious of the fact that working alone and on short deadlines are common in textile design. That can breed high-stress levels under the constant pressure to produce new ideas and deliver on your projects. You might feel that your creativity is hindered by this pressure initially - something that several designers fall victim too in their first role in a new industry or space.
How to improve your textile design skills
You’ll already have an abundance of skills as a textile designer, or any type of designer for that matter, but you might want to hone in on some skills or habits in particular. Preparing for your next big design gig can be both exciting and terrifying — so it's time to hone in on those skills and grow them. How do I improve on each of these points you might ask? Fear not — here are some ideas for each.
1. Refining your creative flair and artistic ability
Creativity does not necessarily have to be looked at as a gift that you either do or do not have. It is, in fact, a skill, that like all other skills can be harnessed and enhanced. In order to develop a higher level of creativity, there a few things you can do.
Firstly, learning to embrace new things and ideas with an open mind can be a great way to inspire creativity. Saying “no” to something purely because you haven’t done it in the past isn’t a beneficial approach to learning new skills or improving your creative mind.
Secondly, asking questions of all shapes and sizes can be a great way to train your mind to think outside of the box, and thus, potentially inspire new ideas or techniques for your textile designs. The next time you have a chance, ask yourself a series of questions to a problem that you’d normally accept or ignore and see what comes to mind.
It's also vital you ask questions and request feedback from superiors and mentors. This information can be invaluable and help shape your career as a designer.
Lastly, you can encourage your mind to think in a more creative way by explaining ideas or processes back to yourself. This might sound a little topsy-turvy to begin with, but taking a few extra minutes to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it can lead to even more developed ideas and creative textile designs.
2. Maximizing your ability to assess colors, fabrics and textures
It’s important to note that color is not a physical reality, and this explains why people perceive color differently. For example, when asked what color an object is, you’ll tend to reply with subjective comments, such as ‘light blue’, ‘rich dark green or ‘bright yellow’ all of which might well differ to the person standing next to you.
There are businesses which specialize in color specification and perception which suggests that there’s more to color assessment than meets the eye — excuse the pun!
The same applies to fabrics and textures. We mentioned earlier how it’s important to have an understanding of how materials have a range of properties, such as weight, texture, durability, flammability, and more.
Take into consideration the potential combinations of materials and the multitude of uses for each and you’ll begin to understand that developing an ability to assess textiles takes consistent effort over a long period of time.
3. Building up an excellent attention to detail
Similar to creativity, an attention to detail is often one of those traits that people rarely consider an actual skill. For employers in the textile design industry, the ability to achieve thoroughness and accuracy across several projects at once is a priceless skill.
So, how can you develop the skill of paying attention to the most minute of details? There are two simple tasks that you can perform, and over time you’ll become more accustomed to checking for tiny details in your designs that might be affecting the finished product.
One, get used to drafting and creating sample work. This is a surefire way to not only practice moe but it also helps you spot small details and improvements from one draft or sample piece to another. Two, set aside plenty of time to actually check your drafts and final work. This is an obvious one, but if you’re only spending 15 minutes to check your designs you’re cutting yourself short.
4. A genuine interest in, and awareness of, the fashion and textile industry trends
The harsh truth is that if you don’t genuinely have an interest in textile design then this industry may not be for you. If you do have an interest in the field, but maybe you’d like to build up your awareness of trends and movements within it, then there are a few things you can do:
a) Start following textile design brands and creators on your favorite social channels
This is a great way to get direct access to the sources that really determine what way an industry shifts. If there is a specific aspect of textile design that you’d like to focus on, e.g., fashion design, then you might want to follow some fashion designers who you find particularly inspiring.
b) Read textile design magazines and publications
It’s not surprising that reading more about an industry can help you catch-up on trends and concepts that you normally would miss. Sign-up to monthly magazines or weekly newsletters that might be of interest based on your specific interests.
What does the future hold for textile design?
Looking into the mystic ball is always a risky choice, but it can be fun at the same time. In a world that is now completely technology-orientated, it can be difficult to keep up with all the latest developments and changes, and the way we do things now may not be the same in 5 or 10 years time.
That said, the textile design industry is one that has been around for literally thousands of years, and while the roles that designers fulfill within the field might change, the overarching principles will largely remain.
Environmentally sustainable design
One particular aspect to keep an eye on will be the ever-increasing focus on sustainability, spurred on by increasing consumer awareness. Manufacturers and retailers are always investing in new research and trialing innovations that will take them ‘greener’ in order to create an environmentally friendly design process.
Arguably the biggest innovation in terms of performance comes from ‘smart textiles’ which are fabrics that have been developed with new technology to provide added value to the person wearing them. No longer will your trousers just be trousers!
Smart textiles can be broken into two different categories: Aesthetic and Performance Enhancing. Aesthetic textiles include fabrics that light up or change color based on their surroundings, e.g., light and temperature. Performance enhancing smart textiles can regulate body temperature, reduce wind resistance and control muscle vibration, all of which enhance an athlete's performance when they need it most.
All that you need to know about textile design
Granted, it is difficult to summarize an industry that has been around for so long into one article, but hopefully, this has covered most bases in terms of what you’ll need to know about textile design from a designers perspective. In summary;
- There are two main types of textile design; interior and clothing/fashion
- While there are similarities to other design-based roles, textile designers also need to have an in-depth understanding of fabrics and materials that they’ll be working with
- Some skills you might want to maximize before becoming a textile designer include:
- Attention to detail
- Color perception and fabric assessment
- Awareness of trends and concepts within the industry
- The future of textile design might well revolve around smart textiles and environmentally sustainable solutions
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