Research Point – Investigate the diversity of style and design in textiles available to the consumer

‘Investigate the diversity of style and design in textiles’ available to the consumer.’  

Textiles are a fundamental part of our everyday lives and it doesn’t take much research to appreciate the huge diversity of textiles available to the consumer.  All we have to do is wander into any high street fashion store or interiors retailer or pick up any Fashion or Interiors magazine to be amazed at the range of materials, techniques, styles and designs on display.  This has been the case since the 80’s and 90’s, when cheap, mass-marketed fashion and other textile goods became readily available. In the last ten years, however, there has been a growing awareness of the environmental and social consequences of this mass consumption and the need to improve methods of production and develop new eco-fabrics. Ongoing research and new technology has led to an increasing variety of sustainable textiles and manufacturing techniques but such innovation is successful only if the designers take them on board, retailers are prepared to commit to them and the consumer is prepared to purchase them. Trend forecasters and the media also play an important role in spreading the knowledge about new products.


My interest is in Interiors Textiles and I decided to concentrate my investigation on current trends by looking at several interiors magazines: ‘Elle Decoration’ and ‘World of Interiors’ for middle and high end products and ‘Living’ magazine for high-street trends.  I also took out a short term subscription to ‘Stylesight’ attended an Interiors Trade Fair in Tokyo. The internet is a great source and enabled me to investigate new designers and smaller designer/makers, as well as current research and advances in technology. This is a huge and very interesting area and over the past few months I have been collecting a lot of information.  I have had to edit down this research to a concise summary for this Research Point.


Which fabrics dominate – traditional or contemporary?

I was very pleased to see a number of designers using traditional natural fabrics: organic cotton, linen, hemp and wool.  Many retailers (eg Loaf) demonstrate a trend for crumpled linen bedlinen, loose knitted woollen blankets and throws and even knitted pouffes.  These are all traditional fabrics but the designs are contemporary.  At the Heimtexil Trade Fair in Tokyo, the majority of textiles on display were woven linens, wools and silks.  There were a number of companies who were producing hand-woven textiles.


Not so long ago, upcycling was done on a small scale by designer-makers, with the mass-market not prepared to make the necessary investment. Today, however, more and more manufacturers are integrating the new material into their product ranges.  In the marketplace, we can see flip-flops; sweatshirts and old jeans being upcycled into carpets; bathroom textiles; bean bags and cushions. PET bottles are being re-processed into polyester for textiles. Coconut husks, wood pulp and corn have been developed into ecotextiles and others are still being developed from hagfish slime, fermented wine, spoiled milk and genetically engineered bacteria! (source:

Some designers are developing their own fabrics e.g. Elisa Strozyk who has been researching ways to provide wood with textile properties in testing methods to make wood flexible and soft, or to interweave textile elements. (

It is encouraging that even the big designers are repurposing and recycling.  Enviro Textiles produces sustainable/biodegradeable hemp fabrics and fabrics containing recycled polyester, polyamide, cashmere and denim for the clothing, furnishing, construction and bath product markets.  According to its website, their fabrics are used by designers such as Ralph Lauren, Versace, Volksvagen.

Which textile techniques are fashionable at the moment?

Digital printing has revolutionised textile printing. Photographs are blown up and digitally printed onto everything from bedding, cushions and wall-coverings. We see digitally produced textiles made to look handcrafted, hand-painted or hand-drawn.


Artists are producing paintings, which are then digitally printed onto fabric, and there is a definite trend for painterly placement prints on tea towels. Haute Couture is crossing over into interior Design with the latest collaboration between Jean-Paul Gaultier and Lelievre.


The trend for the look of handmade has led to hand embellishment – tassels, plaits and embroidery on mass-produced cushions and bedding.


Dyeing is often more toxic than textile production. It takes between 25 and 40 gallons of water to dye 1kg of fabric. This causes two huge environmental problems: millions of tons of chemical-laden wastewater and depletion of freshwater.  Strict E.U. standards now blacklist harmful substances and some designers are now using natural eco-dyeing, supported by the contemporary trend for handcraft and artisan dye effects

Natural dyes are not without their problems however.  They are rarely colourfast; only a few can be fixed without a mordant. Conventional mordants like iron, tin, chrome, copper sulphate and tannic acid are poisonous. Chemical companies are researching and delivering on sustainable alternatives but in the meantime one of the most ancient natural dyes, indigo, gives textiles and yarns deep magical nuances and it is making a comeback, along with woad.  Over the years, almost all denim mills moved to synthetic indigo because natural indigo is significantly more expensive and more difficult to use in mass production. However in recent years, natural indigo (which does not need a mordant) has re-emerging within denim dyeing and more recently in interior textiles.


Ethnic techniques are also evident in the marketplace, including shibori, batik and tie-dye.  There is also evidence of watercolour hand-painting, dip-dyeing, painterly splashes as well as block prints. Native patterns originating from far-flung corners of the world are providing a rich tapestry of contemporary design direction. Indian, African, Indonesian and Moroccan influences are everywhere. We can see mirror embellishments, mandalas and stripes offering traditional or modernized interpretations. Indian artisans are using their traditional techniques but working to the designs of Textile designers in the West for a decent wage and better working conditions.  Traditional designs and being reproduced digitally and new designs are being made but using traditional Indian handcrafted wood blocks. John Robshaw’s hand block printed cushions in traditional designs are an example of this trend.


Despite advances with digital printing, meaning that mass-produced textiles can be made to look handmade or have handmade embellishments, there is also a trend for real handprinted/hand-dyed fabrics. So in the marketplace, there appears to be a mixture of traditional fabrics produced using modern techniques; contemporary fabrics using traditional techniques; and contemporary styles using natural/organic products. Mass-produced items are made to look handmade or are embellished with handmade elements.

Are there any fabrics or techniques peculiar to where you live?


The Kimono is peculiar to Japan and is a wonderful example of how contemporary Japanese textiles demonstrate a reconciliation of craft and the look of handmade within a rapidly changing technological society that depends on mass production. Contemporary Japanese textiles have developed out of the rich Japanese traditions of spinning, dyeing, weaving, manipulating, shaping, and finishing fabric. The practice of manipulating and imposing structure on cloth, inspired by traditional shibori techniques, has a long history in Japanese culture.  The same techniques can be seen in traditional kimono studios and in avant-garde designs by Issey Miyake and Reiko Sudo of Nuno Corporation.


Which textiles appeal to you most and why?


Having lived for three years in Japan, I have fallen in love with the traditional Japanese textiles techniques, which can still be seen being produced in small studios by third or fourth generation artisans.  I love trawling the markets for vintage textiles but am equally entranced watching contemporary textile artists produce contemporary designs but using traditional techniques.


Which items you’ve collected appeal to you/interest you most?

I have some wonderful pieces of Japanese shibori and katazome (stencilled) textiles which I have collected. I have also purchased a few textile items from local small designer/makers, selling on Etsy or at fairs in UK.  I recently bought a small cushion which was made with a piece of vintage Japanese cloth on one side and a hand-woven piece of Welsh wool on the other – a perfect melding of two distant lands!

My most precious item is a piece of Japanese Boro which cost me a lot of money but which is worth every penny.  It reminds me of the value of cloth which once upon a time in Japan was so precious that it was continually worked on, darned, repurposed and handed on.


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