textile designer

Designing Textile Products

Designing for a Purpose

Textile products are made for a very wide variety of purposes, for clothing, accessories, and furnishing and also for use in industrial, medical, architectural, landscaping and transport contexts. What guides the designer’s thinking is the function that the textile product will need to perform, who it will be used by and how to make it stand out from similar existing products. The new product design must meet the client’s specifications and be attractive enough to appeal to those making planned purchases or impulse buys. Understanding what is required will focus the design ideas.

Analysing Trends and Color Forecasts

Designers need to know what consumers will want to buy in the future. This will ensure that the products that they are designing now ill sell when they have been manufactured. To help them keep up to date with the next new ideas, they will attend trade fairs or look at fashion forecast websites to collect information about future fashion trends. New concepts or influences that will affect consumer preferences in the future are presented on a range of storyboards that link to different target market lifestyles and consumer group identities or style images.

At the trade shows, manufacturers present their new developments in fibres, fabrics and finishes, which they hope will inspire designers to incorporate their latest range of materials in the products that they are designing. Companies selling fabrics will be keen to promote sales by offering fabric swatches and specifications for the designers’ reference.

Colour charts group exciting new colour combinations in easy to refer to colour palettes, to inform designers of the fashionable shades for future seasons. These colour predictions have been researched by forecasters to help yearn producers work months ahead of the garment designers, and to develop fashion colour range into fabrics.

In addition to the use of fashion forecasts, modern technology has enabled a much more rapid response by designers to changes in fashion. Shop floor sales data and fashion influences from the media, such as what the latest celebrities are wearing, are directly determining product development. To some extent, the traditional seasonal patterns of spring/summer and autumn/winter fashion collections have been overtaken by a more flexible approach to product range development. Smaller midseason additions to stock respond to the consumer drive for fast fashion.

The “Design Brief”

An individual designer or design team will work on a project that will lead to the development of a particular product or product range. The client will explain what is needed by setting a design brief. The brief will provide a starting point so that the designer can consider what will need to be researched in order to collect together information to guide design thinking. This early stage in the design process is known as task analysis. Once the brief has been understood and a plan of action noted, specific research can start.

The designer will need to research the theme and find out about relevant existing products. They will also need to consider the preferences of the target market and the purpose of the product to be designed. Appropriate textile materials, techniques and processes will need investigating and client requirements for cost, quality, company logos, health and safety, and issues such as sustainability may need to be taken into account.

“Mood Boards”

During research, the designer will collect a wide variety of pictures and samples based on the theme. The material needs to be displayed on a single sheet to convey the essential ideas about colours, patterns, shapes and textures to inspire the design ideas. The most effective mood boards will clearly summarise the theme with a limited selection of inspirational and informative items. Mood boards can be compiled using a computer for speed and ease of communication with the client.

Mood boards are:

  • A focused presentation of selected visual research material
  • An inspiration display to capture the mood of the theme
  • Images, colours, fabrics, photos, patterns, textures, and text arranged to express the qualities and concepts of the theme
  • A means of communicating ideas to the client
  • A way to inform and inspire design ideas, sketches, and modelling
  • Sometimes referred to as theme boards or storyboards

Existing Product Research

Designers research existing products to see how other designers have coloured, shaped and styled their products. The examine which fabrics and components have been used, which decorative techniques have been employed and how the item has been constructed. Size and special features can be noted and labelling, price, quality, and packaging considered. The designer may have access to sales data for the product or may use it to test the opinions of the target market.

Product Disassembly

Designers take an interest in a wide variety of textile products seen in daily life as well as those that are specifically researched for a project. They will note fabrics, finishes and decorative techniques, which create colour, pattern and texture in the product, and the components selected for appearance as well as function and performance. Designers also examine how the product may have been assembled. They consider the probable order of putting together the separate pieces to make the item and how special design features may have been added.

To help understand how a textile piece is made, each section of the item is examined closely, or it may be scrutinised and actually taken apart. Both methods are known as disassembly.

Disassembly is a very useful research method. It not only given designers some good ideas to try out but also helps build up their understanding and knowledge of textiles.

Starting a Disassembly

Required Items

  • Small, sharp scissors
  • Seam ripper
  • Iron
  • Ruler
  • Sketching equipment or digital camera

Methods of disassembly

  • Record the front, back and inside close-up views of the product, as appropriate. This could include packaging, if new. Make written notes.
  • Unpick the main seams, cutting the stitch but not the fabric. Remove care labels and nay lining sections. Record and make notes about how each main section was joined, the type of seam and if there is a hem.
  • For each section, unpick the additional parts, such as pickets, belt loops, interfacing and trims, fastenings, labels, and other components. Note possible methods of adding these details and record results.
  • Identify colouring methods and decorative techniques and at which stage they were applied. For example, try and work out if the colour is added to fibre or yarn or during fabric construction, or by dyeing the fabric. Or, is the colour printed, painted, stitched, or bonded on to the fabric. It can help to refer to books or the internet or ask an expert to help you to understand how the product has been made.
  • Present your researched information to explain how the product had been made. Label the photos/sketches with the detailed annotation to record the results of disassembly.

Developing a Pattern from Disassembly

The fabric pieces that result from taking apart a product can be laid out on paper and drawn around to make a new paper pattern. This can be the actual paper pattern or the basis for pattern modification/development for a new product.

Writing a Design Specification from Research Analysis

Once research data have been analysed, the designer is able to write a list of specific points to refer to when designing. These criteria will guide and focus ideas, ensuring that sketches, sampling modelling are relevant to the design brief and to what has been found out during research. This list is known as the design specification.

Design Specification

The design specification will outline the specific requirements of that new product:

  • The function – for what purpose for which target market?
  • Performance – how will this influence product safety and quality? What modern and small materials are to be featured?
  • Special design features – what will make the product unique and appealing?
  • The appearance – what colours, textures, shapes, and patterns are suggested by the theme?
  • The budget – what restraints are there?
  • Is there any requirement to consider such as social, moral, ethical or environmental issues?
  • Materials, techniques, and processes – are particular fabrics, decorative construction methods to be featured?
  • Size, shape and style will depend on the target market, theme, costs.
  • Aftercare – has the client specified instructions? Will these influence design ideas?
  • Lifecycle – how long should the product last? How will it be recycled?
  • Packaging – will this impact on product design? Will sustainability issue be considered?

Othe type of Specifications

  • When sourcing fabric, the designer will need to consider fabric characteristics properties, quality and cost. These will be listed in the fabric manufacturer’s fabric specification.
  • A product specification describes the details about the product so that a potential customer can decide whether it is suitable for their purposes.
  • The manufacturing specification for the product would include the instructions on the making of the product.

Designing a Quality Product

Companies have to plan for quality throughout the design and making activities. The client and end-user of the product successful. A safe product, appropriate for use as intended, with appealing aesthetics, at the correct price and made to the agreed standards, will be a quality item.

Quality Assurance

A Total Quality Management (TQM) System

is used to make sure that quality is designed and manufactured into the product. every company employee has the responsibility to check they are following correct procedures to the highest standards.

To assure quality, at each stage of the design process, ideas are evaluated against the specification and kept focused on the brief. It is essential to understand customer preferences and market needs. Sampling, modelling and prototyping will check that materials and processes are safe and result in the correct quality. Testing and evaluating at this stage leads to modifications, improvements and further development. The final sample or prototype becomes the reference sample and this is the standard product that others in the production run can be checked against.

Importance of Quality Assurance

A quality assured product will promote the reputation of the designer, manufacturer and retailer and is important to brand image. The client needs to feel confident that the batch of products made will sell and that their success will help build future sales. The statutory rights of the customer need to be upheld, and the product should conform to relevant standards to achieve the BSI Kitemark or CE mark. In short, the product must fully meet expectations and requirements.

When quality and safety symbols appear on the packaging they assure customers that safety checks have been carried out on the product and during manufacture and that the company and product have been awarded the mark of approval.

Testing and Evaluation Methods

To keep focused on the design brief it is helpful to check that ideas are relevant and appealing at each stage of the design process. This can be done in a number of different ways to help suggest improvements to the product design.

  • Testing design ideas against the design criteria listed in the design specification
  • Ideas showed to the intended users to collect feedback comments
  • Expert opinions sought to test the appropriateness of proposed materials, techniques and processes
  • Samples and prototypes tested and trialled
  • Comparison of own product design to a similar existing product

The testing is often carried out using questionnaires or interview questions that seek views about the performance, price and appeal of an idea or prototype.

Testing Design Ideas

Market surveys can be carried out to discover what consumers prefer and what type of new product might interest them. Special market research companies may be commissioned to collect the data, or a company might invite a panel of shoppers to give their opinions.

Experts will have excellent advice to give to designers about design ideas, methods of making and proposed use of fabrics and components.

Testing the Product Prototype

Once a prototype has been made, designers need to check that their product:

  • Is fit for purpose
  • Is it the right price level
  • Has appeal
  • Includes appropriate materials and techniques
  • Has a low impact on the environment
  • Meets maintenance requirements
  • Is easy to manufacture

User Trials

The view of intended users can be collected by asking a sample of the target market to try out the product and record their opinions on how well it performed. A questionnaire could be used, an interview held, photographs taken or observations made in order to collect data.

Many companies are keen to get feedback from customers to check on the success of an idea for a new product and to help with further developments in their range of products.

Product Comparison

It is useful to test the prototype against a similar existing product to see how the new product would compete with others on the market. The new product should be an improved or updated version with a unique appeal to the target market. Analysis of results form product comparison will highlight the differences between what is already selling and what might be sold in the future.

Industrial Machinery

A very wide range of textile machinery is used to process fibres, spin yarn, construct fabric using knit, weave and bonding techniques, print, dye and finish it, and then make textile products from the fabric. Machinery speeds up each stage of manufacture, and make some processes automatic. As long as the operators are well trained, machines can improve safety in the workplace, be more cost-effective and make quality consistent. Machine to transport materials, monitor, and inspect production and package finished products assist the workforce and speed production. computerised machines have been introduced at the most stage of production to simplify the route from design to manufacture and improve systems and control.

Stitching by Machine

There are many different types of sewing machines; some perform very specialist tasks such as making buttonholes, overlocking fabrics edges or embroidered motifs.

Generally, a basic sewing machine can be used to join fabric pieces together and to decorate them with a small range of embroidery stitches. To operate the machine skilfully, training is essential and practice is required.

Neat and accurate work is produced within the right type of needle is used and machine settings are appropriate for the type of fabric stitched. For example, a ball-point needle and stretch stitch is required to join a knitted fabric, to ensure that the fabric is not damaged while stitching and that the seam made is as stretchy as the knitted fabric.

Computerised embroidery machines are used to interpret digitized artwork so that original designs can be scanned, outlined and filled with decorative stitching and then reproduced on to the fabric as embroidery. The machine can also embroider from a design menu to stitch patterns, panels, motifs and to personalise products with written script and numbers.

The operator prepares the fabric to be embroidered, by ironing light interfacing onto the back of the fabric to stabilise it. The fabric is held in a frame to present a flat surface for stitching. A range of different threads can be selected to clour the embroidery.

Production Systems

There are three main types of production systems:

  1. One-Off
  2. Batch
  3. Mass

When planning which production system to use, a manufacturer will need to consider the product type know how many products are to be made and the timing of delivery dates. Choice of the system will affect the way fabrics and components are ordered and what sort of training the workforce will need. Large-scale production reduces the cost of manufacturing each product. Factory floor layout of workstation and production lines will be determined by the type of system in place.

  1. One-OffIndividual items are made once, by hand or by highly skilled machine operators. One-off products are exclusive and made by a craftsperson or designer-maker to meet an individual client’s requirements. This production system is also known as bespoke, made-to-measure, custom-made or jobbing production. Haute couture garments are made in this way.
  2. BatchA team of workers will work to complete an agreed number of identical products. Production costs are lower than for one-off production.
  3. MassLarge number of identical products are manufactured over a long period of time. This is also known as volume production and usually involves a production line to make items that are in continual demand such as white T-shirts. It is the cheapest system because materials can be bought in bulk and automated machinery and computer-aided manufacturing are used as much as possible to cut labour costs.

Production Lines

In mass production, each machine operator works on a section of the product before passing it along to the next machinist to carry out the next stage of making. The workers much ensure that they work speedily to agreed standards to that the whole production line runs smoothly and is very cost effective. For cheap, simple products the machinery often runs continuously with machine operators working on shifts.


It may before efficient to join and attach small parts of a product together in an operation separate from the main production line. For example, a whole shirt collar is made before attaching it to the top of the shirt. Some production systems may have several subassemblies, some of which may be done in another workplace.

Just-In-Time Stock Control (JIT)

This is a cost-effective method of ordering fabrics, components and sub-assemblies to arrive just before they are needed. Stock storage time is reduced but any mistakes and delays in deliveries will hold production up.

Hand Tools and Equipment

It is important to select the correct tools and equipment, to know how to use safely and effectively and to maintain them in a clean, undamaged condition. This will allow the person using the tools and equipment to produce accurate work, resulting in a well-made product.

The following tools and equipment are the basic kit required for designing, colouring and embellishing fabrics:

  • A range of pencils, pens, scissors, and rulers
  • Colouring equipment to dye fabric, such as fabric crayons, fabric pens, fabric paint, print paste, powder or liquid dye
  • Protective apron and gloves to prevent dye from staining fingers and clothing
  • Brushes, spray diffusers, screens and squeegees to apply the dye or fabric-print paste
  • A range of needles for hand stitching, decorative stitching and beading work (beading is done with long, very fine needles so that even the smallest group of beads can be threaded along the needle, whereas stitching through open-weave fabric with a woollen thread is done more easily using a blunt-ended needle with a large eye)
  • A metal or wooden hoop for use in embroidery to keep the fabric flat when stitching; this improves accuracy and makes it safe when using a needle
  • A flexible measuring tape is used to measure curved surfaces accurately. A pattern master is used when making paper patterns to help draw curved lines and add seam allowance
  • Tailor’s chalk or soft pencils are used to transfer marking on to the fabric
  • Craft knives allow for more detailed and accurate results than scissors when cutting stencils for spray and print techniques. Use of mats when cutting with a knife prevents leaving cutting marks on the table surface
  • Scissors are made in a variety of sizes according to their purpose. Sort, sharp scissors are useful for detailed cutting work when snipping threads during embroidery or clipping curves when pressing seams, whereas longer, thicker blades will cut across fabric quickly and more easily. Pinking shears help with edge finishing to the neater fabric. Left-handed people need scissors with blades aligned for them.
  • Seam rippers will make the job of unpicking seams easier and quicker. Ther will be less chance of cutting the fabric instead of the stitching thread when using this hand tool.
  • Irons or heating presses are used to flatten fabric, press seam open, heat set fabric or heat transfer print designs on to fabric. Ironing or pressing is more effective if steam is also applied.
  • Heated pots are used to melt the wax used in batik. Metal training tools, which looks like a small metal down on a long handle, heat up to keep the wax warm and fluid and are used to transfer the was on to the fabric. The pot has a lid, a short cord and has a thermostatic control to ensure safety. This is important because if the wax overheats it could ignite; it spills it could burn the person using the hot wax.
  • A hat makes use a head-shaped block to enable them to mould felt to the correct shape
  • Fashion designers use a manikin to give correct figure measurements and body shape to build patterns from and to check garments for fit
  • Pins are used to holding pieces in position on the manikin, and to temporarily join pieces, prior to tacking or stitching.

Computers in Manufacturing

Computers are used throughout design and making activities in companies. Once computer systems and computerised machinery are in place, they increase efficiency, consistency and accuracy. Time can be saved and modifications made more easily. Production can be closely monitored for quality and safety, and costs reduced due to efficiency. The following list outlines where Computer Assisted Manufacturing (CAM) benefits the manufacturers:

  • Pattern design, grading (making different sizes of the pattern) and pattern making can be computer aided.
  • Pattern lay plans are worked out using a computer plan. The lay plan ensures that the pattern pieces are laid out close together, in the most efficient way to reduce fabric wastage.
  • Digital printing on to fabric is done for sampling and for the full production run.
  • Computer controlled weaving looms – designs can be quickly altered on the computer linked to the loom.
  • Individual seamless knitted garments can be made from instruction sent by the computer linked to the knitting machine. Knitted fabric designs can be quickly altered on the computer linked to the machine.
  • Automatic spreading of fabric and cut out.
  • Sewing machines can be programmed to perform tasks such as making buttonholes and attaching pockets.
  • Labelling is done as part of product tracking through the production line; the design and making of the garment label may be computerised.
  • Monitoring quality
  • Fabric warehousing and stock control, using bar codes to enable just-in-time (JIT) stock control
  • Production scheduling to monitoring time schedules and flow through the production process

Using Computers in Product Designing

Computers are used by designers for:

  • Writing documents and display boards, including artwork, text, spreadsheets, graphs, and tables
  • Supplementing drawing and colouring by hand; a quick pencil sketch or detailed painted illustration will often be completed to record ideas and communicate them to others, but the computers will sometimes be more appropriate
  • Putting together slide show presentations
  • Digital photography and video making
  • Designing and sampling

Software Applications used by Designers

For Drawing

Drawing software can be used to design, illustrate and show working drawings. Drawn lines and shapes or photographic images can be imported and edited or scanned to manipulate and develop ideas. Collections with a range of coordinating products can be developed from one initial idea.

With some specialist software, it is possible to get a 3D impression of the design, by rotating the design and seeing it from different viewpoints. The designer can use the computer to simulate draping and shadowing to create a realistic image of the design. Also, ideas for woven fabric designs can be trialled on screen, to see the effect of each different combination of colour and texture.

For Presentations

The designer can present ideas to the client on screen or printed on to presentation boards, or via e-mail, and then quickly modify them according to client feedbacks. Promotional materials developed from design work can be adapted for use on websites, business stationery and advertising and marketing materials, such as Point-Of-Sale (POS) literature and display posters. Computers make this development and related design work a quicker process.

For Sampling

Computers can be used to pass detailed design information to machinery quickly so that samples can be made during the design and development stages, often without the designers even leaving their workstations:

  • Designers can use computers to design new fabrics on screen, then show the new fabric in use on a drawn model, on screen or on paper.
  • Printed fabric designs developed on the screen can be digitally printed on to actual fabric for sampling
  • Embroidered motifs and patterns can be designed on the computer and then stitched directly on to fabric.

A design process that previously took weeks or months can now take less number of hours. The images on colour monitors and those reproduced by colour printers are so realistic that they can be used to present ideas to fashion buyers. In the past, buyers have demanded to see and touch actual sample garments, before deciding to place orders, but with the new computer technology, they now have the confidence to buy from screened or printed presentations.

Researching on Designs

A designer carries out primary research to collect information and inspiration. Looking at what the target market is buying, examining existing products, asking people’s opinions and collecting pictures and samples are all second nature to the designer. A digital camera is an essential research tool; photos can be taken in shops, at exhibitions on the street – anywhere that will help give design inspiration.


Questionnaires can be designed to collect specific types of data. Open questions will be more difficult to answer by the respondent; data provided will be difficult to analyse as long sentences may be written, but answers may be very informative. Closed questions, where a choice of expected answers is given for the respondent to circle or tick, may get more results, as this style of question is easier to answer. Questionnaires can be printed or e-mailed to specific people.

Secondary Research

The internet is the main source of research already put together by others. A designer can use search engines to find websites, images and videos that will broaden ideas and give a very wide choice of written and visual material to work from. Company websites, magazines, and newspaper articles, TV broadcasts online and even blogs can give such valuable information. The internet is immediate, easy to update and accessible, perhaps making travel and conversation to find out information unnecessary. However, there is no guarantee that the information found on the internet is either valid or honest. Traditionally books, journals and catalogues have provided published material that is verified.

Databases and Graphs

Although designers can buy materials from online resource libraries, they usually also set up their own reference collection of photos and designs. Storage on computer hard disks may be quickly filled, so CD-ROMs may be used to store the library files.

Data can be presented using spreadsheets with graphs produced to analyse results. These can help to evaluate the research by providing visual impressions of the results.