How to Become a Textile Designer

Have you ever wondered who comes up with sweater patterns, your bedsheets print, or maybe why there are 100s of different types of curtains out there? Well, the person who takes care of making the different patterns, colors, prints, etc. is a textile designer. They are responsible for creating the various designs for apparel, bedding, and home designs among others.

There are many different aspects to textile design. While there are some who use hand designs in their work, especially for one-of-a-kind pieces, most textile designers work with high-end software and CAD programs to create and share their designs with clients. There are also various options as to the industry niches that someone interested in textile design can choose from, and many companies, varying from freelancers to large corporations.

Does this sound like an industry for you? Our experts say that the most rewarding thing is seeing their textile designs come to life and become actual clothing or already printed pieces. Take a look at what else is important within the industry by checking out this infographic.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Colleen Farnsworth

Freelance Textile Designer

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I received my BA in Art & Art History from Dickinson College with a focus in Ceramics and my M.S. in Textile Design from Philadelphia University with a focus in Print Design. I had the lucky opportunity during my studies to intern with women’s fashion designer, Elie Tahari, in New York City. Shortly after I completed my graduate studies, I was offered an Assistant CAD Designer position with Abercrombie & Fitch, located outside of Columbus, Ohio. We worked from purchased artwork, original artwork, and vintage fabric finds to create unique prints for our brand. I started on the women’s side of the company and eventually moved over the men’s side, which gave me a nice perspective and more versatility within the fashion industry. Currently, I am a full-time freelance CAD/Textile Designer at a women’s fashion house also located in Columbus.I get into the office at 9AM and settle down to a batch of emails from the vendors we collaborate with overseas and the designers we directly work with in our home office. I then prioritize the work flow for that day, checking in with the team manager. On a given day, I might be working on 3 different seasons including artwork for the current season that we are designing, concept artwork for the next upcoming season, and re-working artwork from a previous season. The day is all about multi-tasking and being flexible. Try as I may to zone out and dive into the day’s work, there are always urgent emails, urgent prints needing tweaks or re-colors, or just general trouble-shooting. Prints and tech packs are sent out digitally at the end of each work day. I usually leave the office by 6PM.

I enjoy always being challenged. Every print has its story, and it’s satisfying to see a print’s journey from an idea on paper or the screen into a fabric and finally into a garment and into real stores! It’s even more amazing to see your fabric design on a real live person out in the wild! So many people don’t know what textile design is all about, and it’s part of our everyday life whether you like it or not. I love being part of an industry where your creative efforts make it into the everyday lives of people around the globe.

The nature of the fashion industry includes a lot of constant changes, re-doing work you’ve already spent hours on, stress, late hours, and intense emotions. Like every job, there are good days and bad. It’s on the bad days, that I am thankful for another part of the job…the wonderful and talented designers I get to work alongside. They make the bad days bearable.

Advice

Enjoy school as much as possible
Let the creativity flow and enjoy it, because once you are in the industry you will be designing for someone else. While I enjoy many parts of my job, it’s not as fun as designing for myself. On a more practical note, I wish I would have learned more about clothing construction and fashion design. I primarily studied textile design for home decor and not for fashion. Having a basic foundation in fashion would have helped considerably in my first job.

There are opportunities in the industry
There are good paying jobs out there in textiles, and it’s still a niche industry. Fashion textiles can be incredibly stressful, and job security can be rough, especially if you are working for a big corporation. However, there are smaller companies and many freelance opportunities which ended up being a good fit for me. There is also the chance to start-up your own company with your own line of textile designs to turn into products to sell or to license your design. It’s a great field to be in. I believe if you want to start your own company, you should still consider working for a larger company first to get to know others in the field and learn more about the business side of things. It’s a small world of textiles, and that experience is invaluable.

Specialize in your studies
Absolutely choose a school that specializes in textile design along with a healthy dose of painting, drawing, knitting, weaving, screen-printing, business & marketing, and fashion design (if that’s your particular interest within textiles). Philadelphia University, Syracuse University, Savannah College of Art & Design (just to name few) have great well-rounded textile programs.

Create a portfolio, both digital and hand
Never stop creating art and updating your portfolio with hand-drawn designs as well as computer generated ones. Also, get to know your software. Make Photoshop & Illustrator your best friends. In the industry, everything is on a screen. The technical aspect to textile design can be frustrating, but knowing these programs inside and out will give you an edge and make your life easier. Make sure you invest time and effort into a great looking online portfolio. If you have access to textile design software like NedGraphics or Kaledo, learn and practice these programs as much as you can.

Shanane Davis

Gajendra Shanane

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My education is broad, covering many subjects including metallurgy for applying to jewelry making, mineralogy and different methods of application for hand processes in textiles, wood, metal, statuary and leather. The great knowledge I have now on textiles comes mainly from my grandfather who was a passionate collector of Central Asian and South Asian textiles. From when I was 8 years old until my early 20’s, I was taught weekly on the processes, identification and quality control on hundreds of different textiles and hand looming processes. My professional background in textiles is combined with my professional partner, Gajendra Singh Chouhan, who is also a textile and haute couture designer.We have 5 workshops in India producing high quality silk, muslin and pashmina textiles that combine hand-looming, hand embroidery, hand stitching, and mineral colored block printing mediums. Gajendra and I design all our textiles, and in each workshop we have a master who applies our designs to the items we create which range from scarfs, shawls, bed linens, pillow covers, to throws and blankets. The textiles we design and manufacture are for the high-end market, and it takes anywhere from 1 month to 4 years to produce each piece. We market our textiles through our own flagship interior salon which is located in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India and is named after our first names, Gajendra Shanane by Royal Appointment.

I love everything about our work. We support and create artisans, beautiful textiles and have people who appreciate the luxury one-off (one-of-a-kind) pieces we make.

Advice

Study the basics first
Really learn the basics and rules of design; you can experiment later when you know the rules of aesthetics and textile production. If you directly move into your own ideas without understanding how to apply them, it is likely the outcome will not be favorable. Take the time to learn properly, and then create.

Dive into the hands-on practice
We have seen different designers and students who have gotten well-educated in the theory of textile design and processing, but they are extremely weak in being able to identify processes and materials hands-on, as well as not being able to decipher period designs. Many have little or no experience in seeing actual pieces. I would suggest finding an apprentice position part-time or after studies to gain important practical knowledge in this applied art. Connoisseurship in many subjects, including textile design and textile production, has weakened greatly over the last few decades and this lack of knowledge is becoming apparent in the textiles being produced almost everywhere.

Make textile design your passion
I would say be passionate, learn as much as possible on textiles and their processes. When, and if, possible travel to see textile processing in different regions of the world. If those finances are not available for travel then spend much time in your local museums looking at textiles and learning about them. Apply to firms to be an apprentice, as this is a good way to get your foot in the door of a couture or textile manufacturing company.

Jean Judd

Sisters in Stitches

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I am an artist first and foremost. Like many, I went to college not for art, but for a business background. I studied accounting and received my degree in that while living overseas in Japan in the early 1980s.My entry into textiles began in 1990, a couple of years after moving back to the United States, with wanting to work with fabrics to create artwork that was different from anything else being done at the time. The third piece I created sold, and that set me on a journey to explore and expand on my own. I didn’t have a preconceived notion of right or wrong and just went with the process itself. I didn’t want to create any artwork that was a repeat of something I had done before, so every piece I have created is exciting, new, and changes as it is constructed.

I am more regimented than most artists I think, in that I am in the studio by 6:30 each morning. I strive to get through emails by 8am so that I am then free to create in the studio for the rest of the day. I do three-hour chunks of time as much as possible with the following schedule: 8-11am, 12:30-3:30pm, and 6-9pm is my studio time. I will check emails only during the “off” time in between my studio practice.

The blocks of time between my studio time is when I do business related paperwork, package and ship artwork to galleries or collectors, return phone calls, and most importantly: eat! I lose focus and the work isn’t as strong if I go for longer than three hours I have found. I need to get away from the work and get fresh eyes.

I have set aside one day a month to review and submit my work for juried art exhibitions. On this day I will also submit for any artist residencies that I think will help me to move forward with my work.

I like the freedom I have now to create the work that I feel inside. Rarely am I asked by any client to create something with a specific theme, image, or other criteria. I am very fortunate that my work has found those that understand what I am doing.

Advice

Choose your specialty
You have to find what you love in the wide world of textile design. There are so many different avenues to take. I know many artists who are beautiful drawers and designers and they work directly with textile companies to produce designs for commercial fabric. These designs are used for the interior design trade as well as the very lucrative quilting market where new fabric comes out on almost on a monthly basis. Others have found that their love is in teaching, etc.

Get formal education
I think that artists who know at an early age that they want to be artists should get a fine arts degree and look into textiles as their medium. Having a background in the history of art, and also experimenting with all mediums that are available, will make the decision so much easier and quicker as to where you fit into an artist’s life.

Make your art your own
I know so many artists who it took years and years to discover their true passion in art because they weren’t willing to look outside the box. Make whatever medium you chose your own. There really is no right or wrong answer; there is only your answer.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Textile Designer?


It is often highly recommended that you take professional studies in textile design. The reason for this is the extensive use of technology when it comes to this industry. While some hand-design is important, most companies and designers will use software to create designs, as well as to make them available to clients. This means that to be successful, you will need in-depth technological knowledge.

If you already know that textile design is the specific career you would like to get into, it is probably a good idea to earn a degree that will teach you all about it. You may also want to focus on the type of textile design you are interested in; for example, fashion versus fabrics for other industries. This being said, you have other degree options. If you are not sure that this is what you’d like to specialize in, you can take any Fine Arts degree or fashion degree.

Your other option is to apprentice with a designer after learning some of the basics on your own by using tools available online, in books and by practicing. This is a good route as well, but will take a lot of self-discipline and patience. Remember, if you complete a degree, an apprenticeship might still be a good idea, since an expert in the industry can teach you a lot more than university classes about the hands-on side of the job.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A TEXTILE DESIGNER?

  • Philadelphia University
    The Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce at Philadelphia University offers a well-rounded Textile Design program, where students learn in-studio and tech courses on weaving, knitting, printing, dyeing, and materials technology. The university also offers hands-on experience courses and study abroad opportunities. Annual tuition currently stands at $34,280.
  • Syracuse University
    This program in Fiber and Textile Design Arts is focused on in-studio training, once again covering both the artistic side of textile design, as well as the technology that goes along with it. The university has a multi-disciplinary approach. Current tuition is $40,380 per year.
  • Savannah College of Art & Design
    SCAD offers a BFA, an MA and an MFA in Fibers, focusing heavily on the technological side of the education. They also offer students alternative majors, such as Design for Sustainability or Design Management, and complementary minors, including Printmaking and Furniture Design. Tuition here is $33,795 per year.
  • Michigan State University
    The department of art, art history and design at the Michigan State University offers an Apparel & Textile Design Program, which combines artistic and technological aspects of textile design with fashion-related subjects. You have a choice of taking a BFA, focused more on the esthetics, or a BA, focused more on the technology. Estimated in-state tuition is $13,246 and $36,018 for out-of-state.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
    If you would like to focus on the more artistic side of Textile Design you can choose the Painting and Printmaking program at VCU. Here you will also learn about the technical programs available, but the education will be broader and focused on in-studio work. In-state tuition at VCU is $9,877 per year and $26,736 for out-of-state students.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

While getting your own designs out there is important if you would like to freelance or open your own company, it is probably a good idea to take an assistant’s job at first. This will not only get you started in the industry and provide you with hands-on work experience, so invaluable in the future; but it will also allow you to begin building a network within this relatively small industry.

In the long-run, however, every industry niche will have a slightly different entry point. For those looking to get into the large, corporate textile design companies, you will be looking at moving up the ladder. If you would like to work at the smaller shops, but still be work on a team for someone, then you will need to network and show your work. Finally, if you would like to have your own company, you will need to network even more, establish yourself as an artist within the community, and try to start building your client base early.

For all of the above, however, you should always have a maintained portfolio, from the minute you graduate and throughout your career. Choose your best pieces, and only include those. Also, make sure your portfolio caters to the niche you want to specialize in. For example, if you did some fashion textile design work in university but would like to design quilts, it’s probably a good idea not to include the fashion pieces, since they are not relevant.