Textile designers create patterns for fabrics and materials used in clothing, furnishing or other printed, woven or knitted materials. As well as the 2D patterns used in the textiles, textile designers understand the properties of different materials and can employ various craft and production techniques such as embroidery, block printing or hand painting.
Like fashion design, working in textile design demands an awareness of changing trends and styles and an ability to produce designs that are fresh, current or even ahead of the fashion curve. Textile designs for fashion tend to have a quicker turnaround than designs for furnishing, so designing for fashion may mean high pressure and tight deadlines, with designers often working across multiple collections.
Most employers will expect an undergraduate degree in textile design, fashion design or similar subject, such as pattern making, knitwear or surface design. It is also possible to enter the industry with a higher national diploma (HND) qualification. A portfolio of original designs, ideas and samples will also be invaluable in securing work (or clients, if you are a freelancer).
There are many courses in textiles-related subjects to choose from and many degrees allow specialisation in a particular area. Specialisation might be in a material or technique such as ceramics or embroidery, or it might be in a particularly industry area such as retail interiors or fashion clothing.
Industry-based work experience is very useful so it is worth considering a sandwich degree, where students spend up to a year in a work placement. Only some institutions offer the sandwich option, so check the UCAS website, where all foundation degree, HND and degree courses are listed, along with entry requirements and course descriptions.
For more general information on how the different levels and types of qualifications work see the Educational & Learning section of Directgov.
Fashion design and textile design are closely related and many people who start out in textile design may move to work in the fashion industry, just as fashion design graduates may subsequently focus on textiles and pattern making.
The following areas of study are also relevant to aspects of fashion design and many have their own dedicated courses:
- Fashion design
- Costume design
- Garment technology
- Textile technology
- Pattern cutting
- Interior design
- Surface design
Work, skills and salaries
As a rough guideline, expect starting salaries for a textile designer to be around £14,000 per year, rising to up to £25,000 after a few years’ experience. Established design directors may earn £35,000 and more.
A job in textiles design is likely to include some or all of the following tasks and functions:
- developing and presenting pattern ideas as sketches, samples and computer-generated visuals
- researching, analysing and predicting trends
- finding and liaising with suppliers and manufacturers
- calculating costs for materials and manufacture
- checking manufacturers meet design specifications
- working with clients, technical staff, marketing and buying staff
- remaining up to date with manufacturing technology developments
The kinds of skills needed by fashion designers include:
- 2D design skills (drawing)
- creative flair using colour, texture and pattern
- knowledge of how to identify and develop trends
- an understanding of the properties of fabrics
- an ability to use computer design packages
- technical skills, such as pattern cutting, knitting, weaving and embroidery
- an understanding of production processes
- commercial awareness
- team working ability
- ability to budget and calculate costs
- basic business skills, such as marketing, finance and administration
Textile Designers work in industry – researching and producing designs for textiles companies or fashion houses – but they might also work for a design agency or as a freelancer. One freelance option is to become a Designer-Maker, creating and producing your own work for small scale retail.
Lucy Fergus is a Designer-Maker who studied Woven Textiles at Glasgow School of Art at an undergraduate level and Design for Textile Futures at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design for her masters degree. She now creates products out of reused waste rubber silicone, made using craft techniques. As well as producing jewellery and bespoke pieces for sale, Fergus also runs learning workshops with children. Teaching is a common option for freelance designers looking to supplement their income. Fergus says that a lot of her undergraduate contemporaries went on to study fashion at a masters level, but few have moved into straight fashion design, with a lot of people working on a freelance basis and in related roles.
If you plan to produce and sell your own designs it will be invaluable to gain some business knowledge and skills. Fergus did a fast track to business course at Central Saint Martins. ‘It was really valuable. It gave me a basic understanding of business issues so I could then get on with it,’ she says. But she warns start-up designers to be prepared to be ‘skint’ for a while until they have established themselves and their business model.
There are numerous postgraduate degrees and diplomas that allow further specialisation in areas of textile and fashion design, usually building on the knowledge gained at undergraduate level. Examples of specialisation include textiles and engineering and textiles construction, as well as many fashion-focused degrees. To search for post graduate courses use UCAS’ dedicated postgraduate site UKPASS.
Ongoing professional training can also be beneficial in many areas of design activity and organisations such as D&AD, the Design Business Association (DBA) and the Chartered Society of Designers provide professional training courses, as do many universities and colleges. For more general information about continuous professional development and skills see Creative Choices.
UK Fashion and Textile Association
Member organisation for fashion, clothing and knitting businesses across the UK.
British Fashion Council
Promotes leading British fashion designers in a global market.
The national development agency for the contemporary crafts in the UK.
The Chartered Institute for Textiles, Clothing and Footwear.
A crafts association and educational charity.
Promotes British design, manages the Eureka project (which creates links between designers, retailers and manufacturers) and helps designers with business training after they leave college.
Creative & Cultural Skills
The Sector Skills Council for advertising, crafts, cultural heritage, design, literature, music, performing and the visual arts.