Have you ever looked closely at a fabric and marveled at its colorful designs? Who decided how these textiles were made and decorated? In this lesson, you'll learn about textile design and delve into its history.
What is Textile Design?
Have you ever looked around at the different colorful fabrics in a clothing store? Who decides whether cloth will be made of cotton or wool, woven or knitted? Who chooses its colors? Textile designers do.
Textile design is the process of planning and creating textile structure and appearance. Textile designers dream up designs that are woven or knitted into fabric or printed on fabric. It's fascinating and more complicated than you might think. The textile designer is involved from the very beginning in creating new textiles. He or she might suggest types of thread to weave together for a specific look and feel, or create patterns that adorn a fabric surface, including choosing a specific dyeing method (using dyes to color threads woven into fabrics or printing on fabric surfaces) to achieve a desired effect.
How did textile design begin? Who were some notable designers? Before we get to the history, remember this: cultures all over the world had distinct textiles with favored fibers, patterns and colors, and someone designed them. Each historical period and geographic location had a textile design history. The names of people who did the work are lost to time. But everywhere, color and pattern varied. Style trends came and then slipped out of fashion. It was true in the past and it's still true today. We're going to explore an overview of textile design history, but in each time period there's more for you to explore. This is an introduction! Now, let's jump back in time.
History of Textile Design: Early Years
Textiles go back thousands of years, with cottons and silks found as early as 5000 BC in India and China. Trade networks developed between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and textiles became valuable commodities. We don't know who designed these textiles, but someone was making decisions about weaves, colors, and patterns.
By the 14th century, technological advances in processes like dyeing opened up new markets for textiles in Europe. Methods invented in one part of the world became popular in others. For example, damask, a type of weaving that produces monochromatic (one-color) designs visible through sheen and reflection, was from China. But in the 14th century, producing high-quality damasks became a specialty in Italy.Example of a damask from Florence, Italy (pre-1633). This one has gold threads woven into it.
During a portion of the Baroque Period (1620-1660), France and England increasingly imported cottons woven, printed, and painted in India. Fabric called calico (the word calico is the generic name for cotton products from India) came from Calcutta where the industry was based. Patterns included small flowers and geometric designs. During this same period, the silk industry became a major economic force in France and the patterned silk textiles produced there required skilled artisans.
In the mid-eighteenth century, political changes resulted in the focus of the silk industry shifting to England. One of the few designers we know by name from this period is an Englishwoman, Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763), a silk designer who created beautiful, intricate floral designs from her home and studio near London.Example of silk pattern designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite in 1744. The floral design includes peonies, lilies and roses.
History of Textile Design: Designers Become Household Names
The Industrial Revolution in England and Europe was crucial to the spread of textiles for all economic classes. Textiles could be produced and printed in greater volume. This also meant more visibility for individuals designing them. Artists became known for designing textiles. In England, they included Owen Jones (1809-1874) an architect and designer who promoted a flat, decorative style and wrote books on ornamentation. He designed wallpapers and textiles with influences from Islamic and Middle Eastern sources. A student of Jones', Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), designed wallpapers, textiles, and carpets inspired by nature and the arts of Asia and the Middle East.
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Possibly one of the most famous names in textile design is William Morris (1834-1896). He designed textile patterns and embroidery and worked to revive traditional textile arts. He created different types of fabric weaves, like wools combined with linens, and championed methods of traditional textile printing. Some of his beautiful textile patterns were hand-printed and the company he founded, Morris & Co., still sells his patterns today.Example of a printed textile designed by William Morris. This pattern, titled Strawberry Thief, dates from 1883.
In the twentieth century, textile designers like Alexander Girard (1907-1993), created bold patterns in vibrant colors influenced by folk art from around the world. Today, designers like Kristi O'Meara in Chicago; who creates wild, colorful patterns, and Craig Fellows in England; who designs textiles with images of feathers and insects, continue to move textile design in new directions. The next generation of textile designers are on the horizon ready to create exciting colorful textiles with new materials and innovative processes.
Textile design is the process of creating textiles, their woven and knitted form, and their decorated surface patterns. Sometimes textile designers have to decide which dyeing process to use.
The history of textile design goes back thousands of years, but we don't know the names of many early designers. Early fabrics included silk damasks with monochromatic patterns woven into them, and cotton-woven calicoes from India; often printed with small flowers or geometric designs. France was a center of silk textile production until the mid-eighteenth century, when it shifted to England. There we find famed silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite, one of the few names we know from this time period. The Industrial Revolution in England and Europe made textiles more available to everyone and designers became household names.