Textile Design: Techniques & Process

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 wanted to design your own fabric? How do artists create colorful textiles? In this lesson, we'll explore the techniques and processes involved in textile design.

What is Textile Design?

Have you ever wanted to design your own textiles or create a colorful, unique piece of fabric for a special project? If so, maybe you have a future in textile design!

Textile design is the creation of designs or patterns that appear on knitted, woven and printed fabrics. It might sound simple, but textile design is a complex combination of artistic skill and modern technology. It includes creating textile structure: deciding what kinds of fibers a textile should be made of or what kinds of threads to weave together for a desired effect. Have you ever noticed how some fabrics feel especially soft and luxurious when you wear them? That's not an accident. It's textile design!

People who work in textile design develop new ideas for fabrics, which may involve coming up with several design samples for clients. Textile designers experiment with color, fabric and texture, and they follow style trends with an eye on what's coming next. Then they create ideas for fabrics accordingly. Designers tend to focus on one of two primary areas of textile design: textiles used in interiors, for home decorating purposes like upholstery on furniture, curtains, rugs and carpets; and fabrics for clothing and other products. The basic process of designing these textiles is similar. So now let's see how it's done.

How Does it Work?

Most textile design starts with drawing. A designer sketches possible ideas with pencil and paper or with computer-aided drawing software, known as CAD. CAD software is used to make very precise two-dimensional or three-dimensional illustrations on the computer screen. Using this technology, it's easier for a designer to make changes or modifications to a pattern as the work progresses. CAD programs also let designers create woven or knitted fabrics by deciding on patterns and colors of individual threads and producing detailed drawings of what they may look like.

When a textile designer chooses a specific weave or design element, they also have to decide on color and, if the design is a printed image, the color of the background fabric. There are even people called textile colorists who specialize in consulting on color trends and effects.

Textile designers also decide how large the design will be and the number of repeats, or how many times it's printed on the fabric.

Example of a simple repeat pattern. Notice how the design is repeated in a straight row

Sometimes, to vary a simple pattern and make it more interesting, designers may create half-drop repeats, where the design is repeated but placed halfway down on the pattern from the one before it. This leads the eye through the pattern in a more engaging way.

Example of a half-drop repeat. The rabbits are positioned so each line drops half the distance from the one above it. This allows the eye to read the pattern in a different way from a simple repeat. Yarn brocade from Japan, ca. 1750-1900.
half drop

Designers also must think about elements like alleyways, the spaces between design repeats that form lines in a design. They can use CAD software to make all of these adjustments. CAD programs also allow for very specific color matching, which is important when the final design is chosen and goes into production.

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