Introduction to surface design in the textile industry

Introduction to surface design in the textile industry

First of all, I’d like to excuse myself for the long period of absence in this blog. I had some health issues I had to deal with – and am still dealing with – but now I feel confident that I can come back to blogging in a constant rythm.

So, surface design and textile design are linked together, you really can’t separate both. I plan on focusing on the furnishing, interior and household textiles on this post. To talk about Apparel textiles would be a whole new world (a new fantastic point of view), I really don’t feel confortable going there, I have no fashion background and you can find information about fashion design and clothing in general in other blogs.

Furnishing fabrics can be found in your home (domestic) and in public buildings such as schools or offices (contract). This category includes carpets, curtains, wall coverings, etc. Household textiles are, for example, sheets, pillowcases, towels, blankets, quilts, amongst others. When household textiles are used in contract spaces (like a hotel os a hospital) they are called “institutional fabrics”.

Furnishing fabrics example.

Household textiles example.

I would differentiate furnishing fabrics and household textiles by considering that furnishing fabrics tend to stay longer periods of time in their “positions” and are harder to replace, and also more expensive in general. How often do you change your living room’s curtains? What about your room’s carpet? Now compare that to how often you change your towels, or your sheets. Yes, I am aware that Prada sheets cost more than IKEA curtains, but let’s be reasonable, you get the main idea.


In the textile industry there are many different occupations for a designer. In her book “Handbook of textile design – Principles, processes and practice” Jacquie Wilson includes the following positions:

  • Colourists predicting and forecasting future colour ranges;
  • Yarn designers;
  • Knitted fabric designers;
  • Woven fabric designers;
  • Carpet designers;
  • Print designers;
  • Embroidery designers;
  • Knitwear designers;
  • Garment designers;
  • Accessory designers;
  • Print producers;
  • Stylists;
  • Colourists developing colourways;
  • Repeat artists.

I really recommend Wilson’s book. It gives a very good understanding on the textile industry as a whole, and also points out what can a designer do in the textile and clothing market. In the book you can also find interesting appendix with Gantt chart examples for textile projects and how to calculate an hourly rate. It’s a technical book, so if you are starting to work in the textile industry or studying it, it can be very useful.

Personally, I’m more drawn towards repeats and colourways. Learning to do a repeat pattern is absolutely necessary to work in the textile industry and in the surface design market in general.

So, as you can see, there’s a large number of roles a designer can have in the textile industry, each position will demand a certain amount of specific technical knowledge, but as long as you love what you do, learning is nothing but pleasurable.

Photo references and important links:

  • Wilson’s Book.
  • Yarns photo by Muffet on Flickr.
  • Furnishing fabrics photo by …Rachel J… on Flickr.
  • Household textiles photo by Peppysis on Flickr.

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