Fabric Designer

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Fabric Designer


Most of us are well aware that fabric designers have had a hand in everything we wear, from our undershirts to our overcoats. What we don't really think about, however, is who designs the actual fabric. Those plaids, flowers and polka dots don't just appear by themselves on the cloth. Someone takes the time to put them there.

Fabric design is a highly skilled job. The designers create designs for cotton, fake fur, velvet, tweed, knit, carpets, upholstery, vinyl wall covering and scuba suit material, among others. They work with furniture or clothing companies, or they create patterns which they then sell to manufacturers. They may be involved in printing their patterns onto fabric, or they may simply invent the designs and sell a template.

Fabric designers meet with clients and supervisors to discuss any fabric requests of ideas. They have to have a good understanding of design principles, but must also know something about the machinery which will be producing the fabric. They need to know what patterns will work well for what type of cloth, so they may have to do some research into fabric composition, dye qualities, as well as ensure they know the latest trends and colors being used in different industries before they can get to work.

Once the design has been approved, it is taken to the mill (the factory where the cloth is made). Once there, questions may arise about color, pattern specifications, or weave, and the designer must be comfortable enough with the machinery and the manufacturing process in order to help with the questions.

Some fabric designers specialize, especially if they work in a large company with many designers. Some specialize in color, others in computer design, while others may focus on creating single templates like pictures and slogans to be used once on fabric, instead of all over in a pattern.

Some fabric designers work as artists. They create unique, one of a kind fabrics, and then either sell the cloth or design and sew functional items out of it. They may even create cloth for sculpture. There are a number of traditional fabric printing techniques still at use all over the world, and many fabric artists use traditions like tie-dye and batik in their work.
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  Interests and Skills  
Interested in becoming a fabric designer? Fabric designers must have good artistic and design skills, both free-hand and with computers. They have a good sense of color, fashion sense and a creative flair. Fabric designers also have to feel comfortable with machinery and the manufacturing elements of the business. They are hard workers, even under pressure.They are also self-confident, and enjoy speaking in front of others. Fabric designers need good manual dexterity, steady hands, and they should be patient, careful, and not afraid of taking risks and trying out new and unknown things. They need to have confidence in their abilities, talents, and strengths. It is also helpful for designers to have some business sense, especially if they want to make this their career.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with client and/or supervisor and/or other designers about fabric requirements
  • Research costs, fabric types, current styles and trends
  • Use computer-based design programs as well as free-hand sketches
  • May print fabric
  • May design and create functional items
  • Assist with printing problems
  • Fabric designers spend some of each day brainstorming new fabric ideas for use in swimwear, clothing and upholstery, among others. They use various techniques to develop the designs. A typical day could involve a meeting or two to discuss ongoing or upcoming designs, and there is travel involved for those designers who work for design firms or are self-employed, as they will travel throughout their communities to sell their designs, observe mill production, and learn new design techniques from other fabric artists.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Fabric designers can be found working in a number of environments. Some work independently, as freelance designers, and sell their designs to fabric manufacturers. Some work for furniture, swimwear, or clothing manufacturers, creating fabrics to be used exclusively by those companies. Designers work in teams or alone in studios and offices. They may work shifts, including weekends, depending on the circumstances.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Fabric designers can start their own design business, producing their own patterns and fabrics. They can become fashion designers, teach fabric design, or textile artists. They can travel the world and study the many fabric and printing traditions out there around the globe, or they could become fabric historians, and work with costume designers and museums to select the proper fabric for historical recreations.

  Educational Paths  
There is no set educational path for people who want to design fabrics. They should have a university degree or a college degree in fine art, design (including computer design systems). They should take courses which focus on color, textures, and may want to take some weaving, knitting, and printing classes. There are some fashion design schools, which can place an emphasis on textile design; make sure you check them out before starting the fashion program.

Some colleges have internships or cooperative programs; this may be a good way to get experience in the field. You should look for opportunities to explore production processes, as well, including machinery, printing, and mass production techniques.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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