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5 Iconic & Influential Textile Designers

When you think of the most iconic sculptors, you think of Michelangelo and Donatello. When you think of the most iconic painters, you think of Van Gogh, Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Dali. When you think of the most iconic textile designers, you think of….


And that’s the problem. While not as revered in museums and society as much as paintings and sculptures, among other works of art, textiles are no less deserving of recognition. They may not be the iconic household names of some painters and artists, but there are and were some very influential textile designers that we believe everyone should know!


That’s the focus of this article. We’ll share the top 5 most iconic and influential textile designers, and we hope you come away with a little more knowledge and a little more understanding as to why they’re the textile greats and equally deserving of their place in history and art. Enjoy!


1. William Morris

There’s a reason why this man is number one on this list. He was arguably one of the more influential artists in the 19th century in general. When he set up his interior design company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. He spent years researching and mastering his craft, inspired by his many walks through nature and parks. 


Unlike the shoddy designs and quality of typical Victorian era textiles, he applied craftsmanship and elegance to his items, and became one of the biggest leaders in the arts and crafts movement of the 19th century. He was also polymath, being a prolific writer of essays and poems,  and usher for social change in English society.


Loom of Choice:  Jacquard loom


William Morris's Cray (1884–1917).

2. Owen Jones

There are many good designers that have emerged from England. This is because like Morris, Owen Jones was also an English artist who made ripples in his field. He was one of the first artists to thoroughly study the psychology and theory behind color patterns and techniques. He took to the Islamic world to study coloring techniques and to learn the geometry and algebra behind creating pleasing patterns and shapes, which carried into his textile designs and architecture (you’ll notice the people on this list tended to wear a lot of hats!). 


He took this knowledge back to London, where his principles were used to advice museum collections in South Kensington, and became the teaching frameworks for the Government School of Design. Some of those principles, including his work on color theory, is still used today, over 150 years later!


Loom of Choice: Jacquard loom 


Blue flower pattern, Examples of Chinese Ornament selected from objects in the South Kensington Museum and other collections by Owen Jones.

3. Gustav Klimt

Klimt is iconic in the world of art for being an accomplished painter and drawer, ranging from landscapes to the female body. This became the subject of controversy, as his work on female subjects tended to be seen as erotic and sexual, which was much more taboo in late 19th century Austria, where he lived. In addition to pushing the envelope with his paintings, Klimt also gained fame for for painting flowy fabrics and textiles; their loose and flowy designs, often featured on the women in his paintings, were the forerunner to the bohemian style, with their rich and ornate designs. These textiles were collected by him and his partner, Emilie Floge, who designed the dresses and outfits you see depicted in his paintings. This further pushed the popularity of bohemian designs in fashion and textiles to the forefront of art.


While not being a textile artist like the rest of the artists on this list, with the help of Floge, Klimt's artwork had a lasting impact on the textile and fashion community. Klimt believed firmly in the unity of all arts, which is probably the reason why he intersected his paintings and textiles. He was seen as radical for his time with his designs in both paintings and textiles breaking the classical, conservative ethos of the 1800s. This paved the way for new waves of art to come forth in the 20th century. 


Loom of Choice: Unknown 


Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) famous painting.

4. Lucienne Day

We’re back to England for the fourth textile icon on the list, and it’s the first female one. She came after Klimt, rising to fame in the 1950s and 1960s. The time frame is important to note because it was inspired by post-World War II society. In the 1950s, in the wake of the war, her designs were inspired by optimism and hope, which shone through in her patterns. 


They incorporated bright colors and catching shapes, possibly inspired by her start as a painter and her interest in modern artwork. She combined geometry and natural design motifs (leaves, twigs, florals) into her work, creating a marriage not previously seen before. She also wanted her work to be affordable and accessible to all people, another reason she jumped from painting to textiles. 


Loom of Choice: powered loom



5. Laura Ashley

Also from the British Isles from Wales, Laura Ashley rounds out this list. She first started in patchwork quilting, and after becoming intimately familiar with fabric as a girl and then a student at the Women’s Institute, she wanted to turn the tradition of patchwork on its head. She first started creating tea towels, scarves, and practical fabrics with catching designs in the 1950s. She got her big break and shot to fame with her aprons and smocks, rocketing into the fame of the fashion industry.


She moved into producing dresses and clothing, with her designs always staying faithful to her countryside roots. Besides her actual designs, as her business grew, she also made the groundbreaking choice to air witty advertisements and in-house photos, resulting in booming sales. She also produced a series of books and catalogs, cementing her role in the business of textiles, and is still an influential force in the field today. 


Loom of Choice: hand printing 



Conclusion: 


In the beautiful world of art and design, the names of iconic textile designers may not be as recognizable as many painters and sculptors, yet their impact is sill something to take note of. William Morris, Owen Jones, Gustav Klimt, Lucienne Day, and Laura Ashley each revolutionized textile art in their own way. Morris had a passion for craftsmanship and social reform, while Klimt created a relationship between painting and fabric. Jones introduced scientific rigor to color theory, while Day had a passion for putting post-war optimism into vibrant patterns. Ashley, meanwhile, moved textiles into fashion statements through her rural-inspired designs and marketing skills. These designers together remind us that there is artistry and cultural significance woven into every thread and that there is a huge significance and importance to textiles.


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