Textile Design Education and Careers

Textiles are a reflection of lifestyles, beliefs and a “spokesperson for culture”1. The individualized manner with which we interact, live with and use textiles creates a myriad of possibilities in design. These possibilities, combined with advances in technology, have generated exciting opportunities in the Textile Design field.

Textile Design encompasses all areas of fabric design and development, from fiber to finished textile. Students entering this field may choose to focus on constructed textiles (e.g. weaving, knitting, nonwovens), surface design and embellishment (e.g. printing, dyeing and finishing, embroidery) or any of the limitless combinations of these. The areas are further expanded with consideration of end use. Textiles are used for apparel and home furnishings, for accessories and commercial interiors, in transportation, architectural and biomedical applications.

This range of options warrants programs in Textile Design including courses that span from art to technology, and science to math. Students study: drawing and painting, art and costume history, print design and technology, fiber and yarn development, knitted and woven design and technology, dyeing and finishing, and textile testing procedures. Students learn how to gather color and trend research to create innovative, marketable designs. Courses include lectures, laboratories and studio sessions; working hands-on in this tactile discipline.

Much of the excitement occurring in the textile design field is due to technological innovation. Smart textiles respond to a variety of stimuli: light, sound, temperature or movement. New fibers bring new functionality, often through the use of nanotechnology. Textiles today are designed to incorporate light emitting diodes (LEDs), flexible circuitry, GPS devices, solar cells and conductive yarns. The more seamless the integration: the more successful the resultant product. Textiles need to retain the familiar associations of color, pattern, texture and comfort, while serving a secondary function. This could be a garment that acts as a communication device, or a drapery that responds to light and temperature changes. Textile design education is exploring these technologies to develop cutting edge, individualized material solutions.

In many cases, sustainable artisan techniques are combined with technology. Textile designers are exploring the upcycling, zero-waste, and slow fashion movements, while taking full advantage of current technology. Felt (an ancient technique) is married with LEDs to outfit spaces that are contemporary, sound absorbent, cushioned and directionally lit. Innovation occurs in the space where disparate ideas intersect.

Through access to technology, students are able to gather data and imagery, post to blogs, “pin” to favorites’ boards, and collaborate on projects globally. This interaction that crosses boundaries of disciplines, institutions, and countries is one of the most exciting trends in Textile Design education. Students can now use technology to seamlessly collaborate on a global scale. Universities are reaching out to partners internationally to solve industry-sponsored challenges, innovate on interdisciplinary projects and develop virtual spaces for creative problem-solving. Textile design students are working with business and engineering students to create products that are desirable, marketable and feasible.

The above factors merge to create an exciting range of career possibilities in the textile design field. Students may become fabric or product designers, color and trend forecasters, digital imaging artists, textile sourcing specialists, color consultants, trim developers, interior stylists, apparel managers, upholstery designers, etc. Graduates of textile design programs with an interest in artisan techniques and sustainability may choose to start entrepreneurial ventures, or associate themselves with firms with similar philosophies. The increased availability of technology has enabled a new level of smaller-scale, custom, textile production. Whereas large textile manufacturers previously were the primary employers for textile design students, graduates today enter a wider range of companies. Large retailers have in-house development teams that employ textile designers to create patterns, develop textiles, and work with global suppliers. Brand houses hire textile designers to help craft and reinforce their vision, whether through color and trend development, innovative product design, or sourcing. Textile designers: partner with fashion designers on smart textiles for performance apparel and couture statements, develop high-tech fabrics for sails for competitive racing boats, and create wall coverings, with knowledge of color, pattern and application. Students work in small and large firms, throughout an international marketplace, to develop solutions to wide-ranging opportunities.

The best textile designers today are savvy on the global stage, understanding the market and available resources. They marry creative, innovative, aesthetic ability with strong technical knowledge and business acumen to create the products of tomorrow.

1 Interview with Li Edelkoort, accessed online at http://www.designindaba.com/video/talking-textiles-li-edelkoort-milan2011