Textile Design: The Misconceptions

“So, can you make me a dress?”

I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard that question. Those seven words fill all textile students (including me) with a little bit of exasperation. Responses repeatedly include: “Textile Design is NOT the same as Fashion Design,” “You know, we’re more about creating patterned materials for fashion / interior items,” and even “I can make you a cushion instead…?”

The misconceptions are many, and though there is something fun about leaving people wondering what we do, while continuing to save the world a stitch at a time (Wonder Woman isn’t a patch on us), it remains annoying. Hence, the following list of common mistakes regarding the world of textile design courses. Because some things just need to be said.

Textiles misconception #1: While fashion and textiles bear similarities, they are certainly not the same.

Textile design involves the designing of materials and creating colour, pattern and texture, while fashion design produces clothing or accessories from the designed materials and is more concerned with pattern cutting and the overall shape of the garment. Nevertheless, it all makes for a mysterious allusion surrounding our degree.

Textiles misconception #2: though Textiles is an art subject, many feel it is not “proper” art.

Though it’s true having excellent drawing skills is not requisite, textile design is very experimental and some of the best drawings can take less than five minutes. We’re told to draw using both conventional and unconventional methods so whether using your non-dominant hand, drawing with sticks, with your eyes shut or even feeling the object in front of you to gain an understanding of their texture, all work to produce interesting effects full of personality.

A personal favourite is drawing with the non-dominant hand since it creates something with less control and more energy. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a five-year-old has drawn it; we can always use the excuse it’s art – even if some will continue to argue all but an oil painting is second division.

Textiles misconception #3: textile students spend all their time cutting and sticking.

In actual fact, courses tend to be part academic, part practical. Don’t get me wrong, running out of Pritt Stick is one of my worst nightmares but time is split between lectures and studio equally. This balance means we acquire a comprehension of the theory of art, while also having time to create our own designs. The mix builds our creativity, in addition to our writing and research skills –making us all the more employable as graduates. Fingers crossed.

And one truth… Textile courses ARE made up of masses of girls.

You’d think this would be a boy’s ideal situation, but because it’s perceived as a ‘feminine profession’, no-one with high levels of testosterone seem interested in designing pretty patterns. This isn’t meant to be a feminist rant, but in our diverse and integrated world, surely it’s time sexism elapsed and boys felt comfortable talking about floral patterns?

So, whilst the course may be lacking in eye candy, and you’d struggle to find romance amid the sewing machines and laser cutters, you’ll definitely find like-minded individuals. Ones who may very well make the transition from peers to contacts upon entering the real working world.

Whatever the misconceptions, textile design is a fun and expressive degree. Everyone has their own style and it’s great to see how others interpret the same brief. A personal favourite pastime remains looking through my box of buttons, ribbons and threads to see what I can create next (yes, I have a collection of buttons).

Unlike a Maths or Science degree, there is no right or wrong way of working in Textiles. It’s subjective and you’re free to create as much or as little colour, pattern, texture and detail as you like. To quote Forest Gump: “Textiles is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” (He said that, right?) and that’s the excitement of it!

Article by Rebekah Holroyd 


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