Learn the Basics of Textile Design

In their book about textile design, Understanding of Textiles, Collier, Bide and Tortora explain that the field of textile design enables individuals to apply their artistic talents to specific uses, such as the demonstration and application of fabric construction, the general development of textile designs, and the production of fabric designs that are specifically suitable for use in furnishings, apparel, and accessories. In other words, textile designers apply a wide range of fabric embellishments and manipulation techniques to create their personal designs. 

A textile designer works closely with clients and design teams to create unique fabrics using a variety of design concepts and media, including textile CAD software programs, such as Pro-Weave, 3D Mapping, Photoshop, and other software suites, to create both single and regenerated concepts.

In order to create and utilize new concepts and ideas, the textile designer must first possess excellent communication skills to discuss, understand, and interpret the requirements and needs of his or her clients. The designer must also understand the basic principles of design research to assess the distinction of a specific design or designs; is it a current design, are the colors attractive and do they harmonize?

In addition to communication skills, textile designers must have strong organizational and computer skills. They must possess the ability to analyze and interpret test data and compile presentations; working along with creative teams of textile engineers, project managers, and graphic designers.


Master the Fundamentals of Textile Design

While a career as a textile designer has no specific educational requirements, textile designers often have degrees in surface design, fashion, art and design, or a closely-related field to textile design. Through proper training, prospective textile designers gain knowledge of the entire fabric design process. They learn to analyze and understand the various textile properties, such as weight, material, flammability and durability, and how the textile will be used, then base their designs on these factors. Even more importantly, they learn how to utilize textures, patterns and color through experimentation with printing, dying, manipulation, and embellishment techniques. 

Schools that teach the fundamentals of textile design use specific principles to organize the structural elements of a given design. The principles include unity, balance, emphasis, proportion, and rhythm. The way these principles are applied affects the outcomes of the design. 

Textile designers must also possess the design skills necessary to carry out the production of design samples and sketches, and the ability to create client presentations using various printed or digital designs; whether written, draw, or verbal. Knowledge of sewing or weaving, graphic design, and line drawing are also helpful skills to have. These design methods support the textile design work and determine final outcomes; positive or negative. 

Color theory in textile design offers the guidelines and general principles that can help a textile designer create aesthetically pleasing color combinations. Analogies of tones, contrasts, and colors are all important elements used routinely in this discipline. Knowledge of luminosity, the solar spectrum, pigment theory, and color definitions are also important for all textile designers to have. 

Although approaches can vary, there are usually two major techniques used in textile design; painting and art-based techniques. Techniques often applied by textile designers include airbrush, splatter or spraying, stippling, hatching, dry brush techniques, shading, sponge painting, and marbling, among others. Textile printing-based techniques commonly include batik, tie-dye, ikat, kalamkari, block printing, screen printing, stenciling, and transfer printing.


Build a Strong Portfolio

Building a strong portfolio is a crucial step in getting your foot in the door in the textile design industry. A designer’s portfolio is used to win job contracts, to demonstrate competency in the field, and to showcase original textiles. It should be carefully organized to illustrate a wide range of capabilities and skills. 

Portfolios can be either physical or digital, but the textile designer can achieve better outreach by having both types, and both should be well organized. A physical portfolio should include at least twenty pages of original designs. A digital portfolio should have no less than thirty. Each portfolio should be tailored especially to the viewing audience(s) and should include appropriate examples for the role the textile designer will play in each job. Annotations and notes should be included on each page to give the viewer a greater idea of the context of each example. It is also a good idea to mention techniques used, the theory behind each design, and justification for its usage. 

The goal of branding is to establish brand equity, brand awareness and brand loyalty to affect a brand image. Personal branding in the field of textile design identifies the individual textile designer as a marketable entity. It is used to differentiate oneself from the crowd by highlighting your particular talents and accomplishments. Personal branding can include the use of stationary, business cards, brochures, and other pertinent printed matter, as well as a strong digital presence through a website, social media outlets, and related professional organizations. 

For many textile designers, industry success is dependent on making the right connections. The goal is to establish enduring and mutually beneficial relationships with clients and other people in the industry. A good place to start is in school. Many schools have outreach and placement programs that can put designers in touch with other industry professionals. Professional organizations such as The Textile Society for the Study of the History, Art & Design of Textiles, The American Textile Manufacturers Institute and The National Textile Center all have networking and referral possibilities. There are also trade publications that can be used for networking purposes. For instance, Textile Service Magazine has a directory of leading textile industry professionals and professional organizations that can be used for networking, and ultimately getting noticed.

Get to Know Our Experts

Colleen Farnsworth

  • Title:
    Freelance Textile Designer
  • Company:
  • Where:
    Columbus, OH
  • Experience:
    5 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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.


    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

  • Title:
    Textile Designer
  • Company:
    Gajendra Shanane
  • Where:
    Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
  • Experience:
    27 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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.


    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

  • Title:
    Textile Designer
  • Company:
    Sisters in Stitches
  • Where:
    Cushing, WI
  • Experience:
    24 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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.


    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.

    Textile Designer Infographic