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Are you fascinated by beautiful patterns or fabrics and textile products? If you have a fine sense of color, some degree of manual dexterity, and an interest in the fashion field, you should consider a career in textile design.

Long before any fabric is produced, the design must be created. Men and women who have two to four years of specialized education beyond high school in textile design find challenging careers creating patterns or designs that are woven, knitted, or printed on fabrics. Most designers work in New York City, where the designing and styling departments of the major textile firms are generally located. With school training in drawing, use of color, and specific textile design techniques, artists begin to design original patterns. Generally, print designers paint their designs on paper for eventual reproduction by printing machines. This procedure differs somewhat for the designers of woven fabrics, who may work out their ideas in another way. Designers of woven fabrics may work directly on small hand looms, weaving their sample fabrics. Knit designers may create their samples on a hand-knitting machine. Many designers now use a computer to assist in the design process.

All designers must have a good knowledge of textiles, fabric construction, and production processes in addition to a strong feeling for pattern and color. Designers of woven or knitted cloth have less need for a fine drawing ability but require more knowledge of yarns, technical processes, and machine capabilities.

Designers may be given a particular direction or "fashion look" by the textile stylist, or they may be familiar enough with trends and styles to know what fashion looks consumers will be eager to buy in the future. Working a year or more ahead of the current season, textile artists create original designs that are then sold to the manufacturers of the clothing we buy. Some artists design only the fabrics used in the home furnishings industry. Their designs are then used in the manufacture of draperies, slipcovers, pillows, and upholstered items. Other fabric is designed to be sold to people who sew at home-this is called over-the-counter fabric. Whatever the final use of the fabric, the textile field may provide you with an exciting career once you have the required specialized training.

Textile Colorist

Graduates of college textile design programs usually enter this creative end of the textile industry as textile colorists. This position allows a beginner to gain speed and a sense of color by learning to match and paint various color combinations or arrangements on a design created by the textile artist or designer. You may have seen a particular textile design that was available in three or four different combinations of color. It is the textile colorist's responsibility to decide which combinations of color will appeal most to the customer and skillfully apply those colors to the design with paints or dyes.

The well-trained colorist is an important member of the designer's team and must quickly learn how colored dyes will look on almost any type of fabric swatches. They often research files of older textiles to get color information.

The textile colorist generally does not paint directly on fabric. Initially, the print designs and colorings are on paper. Most of the creative designing and coloring process is all worked out on paper, allowing for many changes before final approval is given for the production of each design. Then specific instructions are sent to the mill where the next stage of the fabric manufacturing process begins.

Colorists and textile designers must be very neat and careful workers who can follow precise instructions and work at a fast pace. There are many deadlines that must be met to keep the expensive production of the fabric on schedule. A two or four-year college program in textile design qualifies you for a position as an entry-level textile colorist. Courses may include the study of woven and printed fabrics, color fundamentals, nature studies, and creative principles. A portfolio of textile colorings and designs must be submitted when applying for this position. While gaining speed and experience as colorists, ambitious men and women look forward to moving up to the position of textile artist or textile designer.

Textile Designer

The textile designer has the opportunity to create original patterns or redesign already existing ones, while functioning concurrently as artist, colorist, and technician. It is just as important for the designer to know about new fibers and new machinery as it is to know about new styles and fashion trends. As the textile designer is responsible for creating and sketching ideas on paper and then translating them to fabrics, the ability to draw is an important asset in the designer's range of skills.

Textile artists may spend part of their workday viewing older fabrics and works of art, looking for ways to redo them as new fabric looks. Many firms have their own fabric libraries for this purpose. Museums are often excellent sources of inspiration for artists who can change or modify an old idea and give it a fresh new look that is both fashionable and marketable. In fact, many textile artists are able to create exciting new ideas simply by observing the world around them and being sensitive to trends, fads, and current events.

The textile designer also must acquire a technical background, as it is necessary to have knowledge of the capabilities and the limitations of the machinery used in the production of the fabric. This information broadens a designer's range and allows for the design of textiles that can be produced within a specific price category. The designer who is familiar with the latest changes in finishes, dyes, and equipment is often the most valuable to an employer.

Most colorist and design positions are full-time, but it may be possible for experienced colorist and textile artists to find freelance work or short-term jobs that end once the assignment is completed. Because it takes a long time to build up freelance clients and because employers expect highly professional work on short notice, it is never wise for beginners to consider freelance assignments. One ought to have a minimum of six months of experience as a full-time colorist before giving serious consideration to a freelance career.

Textile Stylist

Textile artists may want to consider another aspect of the textile field: textile styling. The stylist acts as a colorist, technician, merchandiser, salesperson, and occasionally even as a designer. This demanding and diversified job is for the person who has an extensive knowledge of the textile industry and who is fully aware of a wide range of fashion industry contacts and resources.

The stylist is responsible for determining the proper look, or concept, of the fabric line. The stylist may tell designers exactly what types of patterns to work on and may even indicate what colors are fashionable and should be used for new lines. The stylist then coordinates the efforts of the colorists and designers in the design studio with the efforts of the production workers at the mill or print plant, often many miles away. This may mean supervising or directing one or two or many more colorists and artists in the design studio. It also may mean frequent telephone contact with workers or supervisors at the plant where the fabric is being printed. The styling job also involves visits to the mill to check on the accuracy of the colors that are being printed. Unless the colors are exactly the ones ordered by the customer, hundreds of yards of fabric worth many thousands of dollars may by ruined. An alert stylist can prevent such expensive errors. Experienced textile artists also may be trained for this part of the production process at the plant, referred to as mill work. Having this sort of highly responsible "strike off or mill work experience makes a textile worker very valuable to the employer.

Frequent contact with customers is important to learn what kinds of fabrics they wish to buy to produce their own products. It also is important to suggest ways in which the fabric can be used. This means working closely with a company's merchandising department to plan ahead for future lines.

Stylists may rely on the direction and advice of fabric editors or fabric coordinators who work for trade publications, fashion magazines, or industry associations. These fabric specialists have firsthand knowledge of texture, colors, and cloth construction and can provide stylists with information on new developments. The stylist's own good taste and fashion sense combined with researching the marketplace, referring to established trade resources, and many years of textile industry experience all work together to allow the stylist to predict what the public will want to buy a year or more in the future. The ability to do this season after season makes a textile stylist a success.

The stylist has the overwhelming responsibility of handling the fabric line from its beginning stages and seeing it through to completion. In knit firms, stylists are required to have a more technical background and work very closely with technicians in developing new yarns, or work with new kinds of yarns from the fiber companies. They may need to be very familiar with the latest advances in dyeing and finishing goods and still be responsible for styling new lines, coordinating colors, working with customers, and advising their customers on trends. In addition they have mill responsibility, and may even have a hand in designing and originating new patterns.

These styling opportunities are all highly desirable, very competitive, and generally pay well. The sales and profits of textile firms depend greatly on the talents of the stylist, and it is often a position reached only after many years of exposure in the textile field. Large textile manufacturing firms may hire several stylists, each one responsible for a specific group of fabrics, such as those used for home furnishings, children's wear, men's wear, or women's wear items.

Assistant Stylist

The stylist's assistant is really a person who is being trained to function as a stylist at some time in the future. The assistant can observe and learn a great deal on the job. Assistants help the stylist by setting up appointments with customers, having regular contact with the mills to check on the production process or to investigate particular problems, handling all the many clerical details and correspondence, and generally filling the shoes of the busy stylist in her or his absence.

These assistant spots are often filled by people who have completed college-level programs in textile design, textile technology, or fabric styling and who may have experience as a textile colorist or textile artist.

It is interesting to note that, with solid preparation in textile design, creative artists can branch out into other aspects of the design field: greeting card design; rug and carpet design; vinyl and wall covering design; lace, embroidery and appliqué design; and other related industries.


Textile production involves the many positions on the more technical side of today's high-tech textile industry. The duties and responsibilities of textile technologists are changing rapidly and opening exciting new vistas. Sophisticated new machinery produces vast quantities of fabric for a wide variety of uses. Men and women with technical training in specialized textile programs may begin careers as assistants in converting, quality control, and lab testing.

The demand for textiles is expected to increase over the next decade, as there is a growing need for new varieties of textile products in the apparel and home furnishing industries. Competition from foreign imports also may diminish, because international trade agreements now limit many imports. Overall, the numerous areas of work in the textile production field suggest a solid career choice for you to consider.

Textile Converter

In the process of making cloth, fibers are turned into yarns and yarns into fabrics. Who is responsible for the many decisions needed during this complex process? A person known as the textile converter decides what fibers to use, what width and weight of fabric to weave, and how many yards of the goods should be manufactured. The converter is the key person in this process, and he or she must be aware of all the needs of the customers.

The converter's job is to calculate the amount of fabric that will be bought, decide on certain finishes and dyes, and set prices. Large textile firms may employ many converters, each being a specialist in a certain fabric range for a particular market. The converter needs to know what is current in the marketplace, needs to keep in touch with customers, and must be able to quickly sum up new economic trends. The converter also must set the quality standards for various fabrics, depending on how that fabric will be used. Textiles purchased by a manufacturer of children's clothing require more strength and durability than a delicate chiffon fabric used for a woman's scarf. The converter plans the fabric construction and chooses a suitable finish based on the particular item's function. This ensures wear-ability and keeps the price at a reasonable level.

Assistant Converter

Assistants to the converter, as well as the converter, must be good at details and recordkeeping, be organized, and have excellent ability in handling figures, communicating with others, and working under pressure. Assistants help the converter keep tabs on the various processes of turning uncolored woven goods into finished fabric. This means the assistant converter must be familiar with all the necessary dyeing, printing, and finishing procedures. Assistants are responsible for keeping very accurate production and inventory records and for handling many other clerical duties. They also must help with establishing prices. This is known as costing the fabric, based on all the costs involved plus a margin of profit. There is heavy telephone work, and often telex communications for off-shore contacts when dealing with the textile mills and with customers who are always eager to learn about the status of the fabric they have ordered.

Men and women who have completed a two-year textile technology program can qualify for positions as assistant converters. More and more employers welcome graduates of four-year textile technology programs as well. Such specialized college-level programs offer courses in textile science, woven and knit fabrics, converting and costing, textile chemistry and dyeing, color analysis, textile testing, marketing principles, mathematics, and other related areas.

Lab Technician

A person trained in a textile technology program is equipped to perform tests in a laboratory to make sure that yarns, cloth, and clothing meet certain minimum acceptable requirements of wear. As consumers, we need to know that the garments and textiles we buy will not fade, shrink, or wear out too soon. Independent laboratories hire lab testers to perform these tests, as do fabric and garment manufacturers. Employers of lab technicians seek people who are able to organize their own work, as often the job requires the tester to work alone in a small laboratory setting. It is important to be able to follow precise instructions, enjoy detail work, and have the ability to write accurate and thorough reports of the result of each test performed. Lab testers handle a variety of simple equipment and chemicals, as well as more complicated equipment that can reveal how well an article of clothing is made or how strong and durable certain fabrics are. Lab technicians may be hired by independent testing laboratories or work directly for large manufacturers such as J.C. Penney or Sears.

Quality Control Trainee

Men and women training to fill quality control positions learn to examine and inspect fibers, yarns, cloth, and garments. They check to see that precise production standards and specifications are met. For example, if a garment has not been cut to the proper size, the customer will be unhappy and feel that the manufacturer has cheated the public. A hole or imperfection in a bolt of fabric or a variation of color in a piece of cloth prevents the sale of that item. Quality control trainees learn to identify these and other production-related problems at different stages of the manufacturing process and are asked to write reports based on their findings. Men and women with good analytical skills who enjoy detail and follow-up work and who have completed a textile technology program or an apparel production program are sought by employers for this position.


When Lyn was in junior high school in Massachusetts, her parents encouraged her to start thinking about her future and plan for a career. Although her mother was a seamstress, Lyn had no special feeling for sewing or designing. She remembers that the fashion buying area seemed "somewhat glamorous" to her when she was taking distributive education courses in high school.

Interested in furthering her education, she applied to a variety of colleges in the Boston area. Having no interest in living or studying in New York, she applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology only as a back-up school. She was accepted at every one of the colleges she applied to, and FIT's acceptance was the last one to come in the mail. She remembers knowing that, despite its New York location, FIT was going to be her choice!

Based on her knowledge of merchandising gained in high school classes, she chose to major in fashion buying and merchandising. After settling in and talking to some students who were textile majors, Lyn became interested in learning more about that area. Talking to the chairperson of the textile technology department gave her a great deal of career-related information to think about, and after careful consideration she changed her major. She had a rather individualized program that took advantage of her early interest in the merchandising Held and her new-found interest in textiles.

Thinking back about her schooling, Lyn feels that every single course she took was important, as she has used all of the technical information she acquired at different times in her career. She even discovered which areas were not of special interest to her and were better for her to avoid.

Lyn was eager to start the job-hunting process as she neared the end of her two-year textile technology program. Her placement counselor helped her arrange an interview with a major textile manufacturing company. One open job was listed as a production assistant, but turned out to have too much clerical detail to interest Lyn. However, the personnel interviewer who spoke with Lyn was quite impressed with her background and her abilities and promised to keep her in mind for other opportunities as they arose in the firm. And the interviewer did exactly that, contacting Lyn when a sales position in one of the company's divisions became available.

Lyn went through a long series of interviews, ten in all. And the very last one was held on the morning of her graduation. With her cap and gown in hand, she was asked to identify and describe various fabrics, discuss the construction of different weaves, and talk about dyeing and finishing processes with the interviewer. The position was available because a very experienced salesperson was retiring after thirty years of employment with the company. The interviewer was impressed with Lyn but had some reservations about a nineteen-year-old filling such a demanding sales spot. Many textile firms are quite conservative and not at all used to such young women in the sales area, though this situation is rapidly changing. But despite whatever misgivings they may have had, Lyn made it clear that she could handle the job and that she was very interested in the position. And she was hired!

As a sales trainee for the wholesale home furnishings division of the textile company, Lyn began her assignment by running errands, making coffee, folding sample pieces of material, and getting exposure in every area of the showroom. After just one week at work, she started to see a few customers-something very unusual for any sales trainee. After six months on the job, and her first raise, her duties changed. She was asked to take on more responsibilities, such as showing the company's line of textiles to the trade newspapers. She began to work closely with home fashion editors of magazines and assisted them in choosing fabrics for various made-to-measure items like pillows and cushions.

The sales showroom accommodates the company's customers mainly retailers-when they are on buying trips in New York City and cannot be serviced by the regular "outside" salesperson. Lyn enjoyed this service role and liked learning how to put together presentations and displays of merchandise for the retailers' stores. She coordinated a presentation of a new line of fabrics and pillows for all the employees in the showroom to familiarize them with the latest items in the line. It was a great success. Less than a year later, Lyn was the assistant showroom manager. Now her job was to see that everything for the large showroom was attractively displayed, that displays were changed regularly, and that all samples were always in stock for the customers. She handled customer problems and trained new showroom staff. Lyn describes the job as "seeing that the showroom ran smoothly-definitely not a glamour job!"

While working hard to manage all aspects of the showroom, Lyn discovered that a position was available as an assistant department head in the firm's pillow division. Her boss did not encourage her to apply for the job, wanting her to remain on the showroom floor. But Lyn was convinced that she should apply for the spot. She wanted to work in a smaller unit and learn the total operation of the merchandising, marketing, and administration areas.

After spending two and a half weeks meeting with her boss and explaining why the move would be a good one for her and for the firm, Lyn succeeded in selling herself for the job. Now, working with two other associates, Lyn has the feeling she is part of a small group venture. She has the task of buying piece goods for pillows and importing ready-made pillows. She is working closely with two plants in Massachusetts and Connecticut and makes occasional trips to those plants as production problems come up. Two times a year, major production programs are scheduled by Lyn and her two colleagues. She has heavy customer contact and, in addition to servicing her major accounts, acts as advisor and consultant to the outside sales staff, who relies on her for news of fashion and home furnishings trends.

Lyn is eager to move ahead. She hopes her future duties will allow her closer contact with the large retail stores that buy her pillows, and that will surely mean more travel and more responsibility for her. Her parents are very proud of her. Their daughter, who once shunned the big city, is now an important part of one of its major industries. And Lyn's future is bright. She knows she has come a long way in a field that presents endless opportunities for someone with her vitality and drive.
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