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Textile Design: Definition & History

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  • 0:03 Textile Design
  • 1:15 History of Textile Design
  • 2:53 Famous Textile Designers
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever looked closely at a fabric and marveled at its colorful designs? Who decides how textiles are made and decorated? In this lesson, you'll learn about textile design and delve into its history.

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 or be woven or knitted? Who chooses the colors? Well, textile designers do.

Textile design is the process of planning and producing a fabric's appearance and structure. Textile designers dream up designs that are woven or knitted into cloth or printed on fabric. They might suggest types of thread to weave together for a specific look and feel or create patterns that adorn a fabric surface. Textile designers might also specify a dyeing method, or the use of dyes to color fibers or fabric surfaces to achieve a desired effect.

Depending on the geographical location and period of time, every culture has its own distinct textiles with favorite fibers, patterns, and colors. The names of earliest textile designers have been lost to time, and style trends came and then slipped out of fashion, which is still true today. In this lesson, we're going to explore some of the high points of textile design history. Keep in mind that this is just an introduction, and there may be more about the different periods that you'll want to explore. Now, let's jump back in time.

History of Textile Design

Textiles go back thousands of years, with cottons and silks from India and China dating as early as 5000 BC. When trade networks developed between European, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries, textiles became valuable commodities. We don't know who designed these early textiles, but we do know that 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 (or one-color) designs visible through sheen and reflection, originated in China. But in the 14th century, producing high-quality damasks became a specialty in Italy.

During a portion of the Baroque Period (1620-1660), France and England increased their imports of cottons woven, printed, and painted in India. Calico, a generic name for cotton products from India, originated in 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, where skilled artisans produced patterned silk textiles.

In the mid-eighteenth century, political changes resulted in a shifting of the silk industry from France 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.

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