Wednesday, 16 May 2012

So what is textile design, anyway?

My favourite design from our 'Wildflowers' project.

A couple of months ago I started a Bachelor of Arts in Textile Design. It was a big change for me: going from full-time policy work for the government to full-time creative study, moving cities, changing my life.

When I told people that I was applying, the common response was confusion. What was textile design, anyway? And why would I want to throw away a perfectly good job and career for it?

Textile design is about designing the look, feel, texture and structure of textiles that we use every day: in clothes, on your couch, curtains, rugs, bus seats, packaging, military camouflage, webbing, storm water pipes, curtain walls for buildings, you name it, if it has a textile component, there will be a textile designer somewhere in it. It's hard to define such a broad area, obviously, it's not like fashion design - you know, like Vivienne Westwood, what she does etc. It has the unusual status of being a niche area of study with really broad application.

We study a range of things in first year - computer aided textile/pattern design, traditional pattern design with pencil, charcoal, ink and paint, making textiles like knitting machines, weaving looms and screen printing, and understanding the textile industry and the uses of various fibres and fabrics. Studying textiles changes how you see them - I spend lots of time staring at people now, trying to work out whether the pattern on their top has been knitted or printed, where the repeat units are and what fabric has been used to make it. This can cause some awkwardness sometimes...

First attempts at screen printing...

Some parts are more fun than others, sometimes we get great projects that I really sink my teeth into, like a project to design a modern travel item in a modernist style, or knit swatches that evoke the destination of Portugal. Other projects, like womenswear patterns in wildflowers, I find much harder to be inspired by.

Knit samples - made on a knitting machine

Changing lives has been hard. No money, long study hours, wondering if I will get a job in the field… some days I have really wondered if I've done the right thing. Other days, I love the fact that I get to draw, and paint, and design, and knit, all day, and maybe one day someone will pay me to do it.

Computer aided textile design

Another Wildflower design