Which Designers Shaped Today’s Textiles?

15th Jul 2021
Which Designers Shaped Today’s Textiles?

Today, the art of textile design is flourishing, with colours, patterns, and textures to suit all tastes. Every home is shaped by some element of visual fabric pattern, whether it is a favourite cheery duvet cover, or a pair of elegant curtains which beautifully set the tone of a living room. Here are some ways textile design has evolved over the years.

Textiles have been used by humans since ancient times for insulation and decoration. Even early weaving methods could produce designs of striking beauty and complexity. Sadly, most very early examples no longer exist, but there is evidence that early Egyptian, Chinese, African, and Peruvian cultures practiced weaving techniques.

An ancient Siberian tomb which was excavated in 1949 revealed a rug which was preserved in ice, known as the Pazyryk rug, which is thought to be over 2,500 years old. It has a rich and sophisticated decoration. The inner composition consists of 24 shapes made from stylised lotus buds, and it is framed by five borders of varying sizes and compositions.

The inmost border is decorated with a repeated motif of the griffin, a legendary creature with the head of an eagle and the back legs of a lion. The next border contains 24 fallow deer, and the widest border features men on horseback, and dismounted. It is thought that the original colours were bright yellows, blues, and reds.

By the early Middle Ages, Turkish and Indian populations were highly skilled in the art of textile weaving, producing highly decorative cloths, carpets, towels, and rugs. They brought their skills to Sicily, where beautiful fabrics of interwoven silk and gold were produced. Later, many of the weavers settled in Lucca and then Florence.

Here, they produced silk fabrics with a range of imaginative floral designs, and are also believed to have developed velvet and brocade fabrics. By the 16th century, Italian weavers brought their skills to Lyon in France, which became the heart of Europe’s silk manufacturing trade.

Flemish weavers were also brought in to work in French tapestry workshops during the 16th century, and textiles thrived, both in technique and design. The patterned fabrics evolved into a distinctive style, based on symmetrical ornamental forms, and echoes of this can still be seen in the work of contemporary designers.

Some French weavers who found themselves under persecution for religious reasons fled to England, settling in Norwich, London, and Braintree. To this day, Norwich has a rich legacy of textile production, and is famed for its shawls.

Advances in textile machinery gradually increased the amount and varieties of textiles that were in production. The World Wars of the 20th century seriously interrupted the evolution of new designs, but by the end of the 1940’s, a designer named Lucienne Day emerged with a fresh new talent.

Her most famous design is the Calyx which takes a traditional form of botanical inspiration, and stylises it to the brink of abstraction. The optimistic horizontal and diagonal lines are full of energy, and were perfect for a post-war world that was eager for fresh beginnings.

Day’s non-traditional approach to colour and line marked a radical move away from the cosy chintzy patterns that were mainstream at the time. However, they were hugely popular, and Day went on to have a successful commercial career. By the 1960’s, she adapted her work to the geometric based patterns and bold colours that were fashionable.

Another iconic designer of the era was Mary White, who was influenced by the leader of the 19th century Arts and Craft Movement, William Morris. She drew inspiration from the flowers and countryside of her native Kent, and her most famous works include Coppice, Cottage Garden, and Zinnia.

White’s uplifting designs still have such a contemporary feel that they were being reproduced and sold commercially until as recently as 2010. Like Day, she combined simple but energy-packed lines with semi-abstract shapes that retained their inspiration from nature.

The influence of iconic 1950’s designer such as Day and White can be seen in some of today’s best interior fabric designs, which have a similar sense of joy and simplicity which is rooted in nature.

Designers such as Orla Kiely have taken the use of clean-cut shapes and lines combined with complementary colour schemes, and put their own unique twist on it. Kiely’s Stem Pattern is perhaps one of the most recognised motifs of the 21st century, and can be found everywhere from interior design, to clothing and accessories.

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