What does a textile designer do?
Textile designers create designs for woven, knitted or printed fabrics. These can be used for furnishings, clothing, packaging and floor and wall coverings.
Textile designers have to research trends and forecasts in the textile industry. This helps to determine what is likely to sell, and leads to increased knowledge of new manufacturing technology.
As a textile designer, your key duties would include:
- producing initial sketches by hand or on computer, using specialist computer aided design (CAD) software
- manipulating digital designs until they meet customers' requirements
- making up samples or having them constructed by technicians
- researching design trends and forecasts to decide what is likely to sell
- liaising with clients, technical staff, marketing and buying staff
- keeping up to date with developments in manufacturing technology.
Some designers work for organisations such as design agencies, manufacturers or retailers. They will have to liaise with clients, technical staff, marketing and buying staff to create a product.
A textile designer will produce initial sketches by hand or on computer. They will either make samples or have them manufactured.
While some designs are machine-made in large quantities, other designers use traditional techniques, such as embroidery or block printing.
As a textile designer with a manufacturer, retailer or design company you will usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with additional hours at busy periods. A lot of your time will be spent at a computer, designing fabrics and manipulating patterns. You may need to travel within the UK or overseas, to exhibit at trade fairs or visit clients and manufacturers.
Freelance textile designers often have relevant craft skills and may carry out entire projects. A freelance designer may use techniques such as embroidery, hand-printing or block printing. They can market these direct from their own studio, through craft fairs or through retail outlets.
As a freelance designer you will normally split your time between designing and marketing your work. You may also need to supplement your income with other types of work, such as teaching.
There are two main entry routes:
- By taking a degree in textile design or a closely related subject at an institution with a proven record in this field. If you already have appropriate work experience you may be able to start a degree course without the usual entry qualifications.
- By starting work as a textile operative, gaining relevant experience and eventually moving into textile design.
You may be able to enter the textile industry through an Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers.
You will need to present a design portfolio when you are looking for work. You can also use your portfolio to make speculative applications to companies whose products match your style.
If you intend to become self-employed, it may be useful to do further training in business skills and photography (which will help you to market your work).
You could gain recognition of your skill level by joining a professional body like the Textile Institute or Chartered Society of Designers. Being a member of an association would give you access to opportunities for professional development and networking.
You’ll need to show:
- creative flair and artistic ability
- a good eye for colour, texture, fabrics and patterns
- excellent attention to detail
- an interest in fashion and textiles, and an understanding of trends and materials
- understanding and experience of using different textile processes and techniques
- design skills and the ability to use computer-aided design (CAD) packages
- good communication and teamworking skills
- ability to work to deadlines and a budget
- marketing, administrative and business skills - especially if you are self-employed.
A degree in one of the following areas may help your work as a textile designer, whether employed or self-employed:
- art and design
- surface design
Textile degree courses may have a specialist focus, e.g. constructed textiles, mixed media or printed textiles. You should check whether your choice of course is appropriate for the way you wish to work. For example, a mixed media course may be most relevant if you wish to work in decorative design, creating artefacts or in the craft industry.
Most fashion degree courses offer a general background in all aspects of fashion design, but it is possible to specialise in:
- clothing technology
- contour design
- costume accessory design
- production management.
Some fashion degrees also offer students the opportunity to spend a year working in industry. For a full list of university courses, see the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
Whilst a relevant degree significantly increases opportunities, entry is possible with an HND in fashion and/or textile design. A directory of textiles courses, colleges and universities, up to and including BA (Hons) level is provided by Creative Skillset: Fashion and Textiles.
A postgraduate qualification is not essential, but might provide opportunities to develop and experiment with ideas and build specialist knowledge.
Relevant work experience, undertaken through course placements or during holidays, is really important for getting into the fashion and textiles industries.
Be proactive about looking for opportunities, and ask course leaders to help you find contacts.
Other useul information
Laura Slater is a textile designer who creates hand screen-printed textiles. Laura’s fabrics are mostly used in people’s homes and are sold through stockists such as John Lewis.