Product Design

What It Takes to Be a Textile Designer

April 29, 2016

The best thing about block prints—which have cropped up all over, including on our own site!—is that they nearly always seem spunky while still feeling intentional, mature in tone but playful in design. And the pieces that painter-by-training, textile artist-by-chance Caroline Z. Hurley makes are no exception: All her designs—from her paintings to her linen pillows, throws, and woolen rugs—make us smile with their bright colors and punchy shapes.

What goes into designing, producing, and selling a line of textiles like Caroline's? Here's how she makes it all happen:

Photo by Melissa Walbridge (via WorkOf)

Translating inspiration to designs.

Caroline studied painting at RISD, and prioritizes her painting practice even while running her textile company. She's inspired by so much—by the artisans she works with, by the art of the kindergarteners she used to teach (playfulness is still a huge element of Caroline's paintings and textile designs, as are simple shapes and sunny colors), by the cities she visits. Each of her collections are first inspired by a city. (This coming season's designs were inspired by Rome!)

Shop the Story

She makes a drawing or a painting sparked by her travels, and then translates that initial piece of artwork to the design for a pillow, or a throw, or a rug. "The paintings are a looser side of myself and the designs a bit tighter. I don't think I could do one exclusively. Thinking about doing just one is a little overwhelming." Then she makes the sample textile, which she brings to merchant shows and shares with the teams of artisans she works with.

Working with artisans to produce on a larger scale.

Caroline feels "really lucky" to work with a few teams of artisans she met through a combination of word of mouth and the Artisan Resource Tradeshow—one in Mexico (who work especially with her woolen products) and one in Guatemala (who produce all her block-printed designs). She knew she wanted her pieces to be block printed, so taught her team in Guatemala how to do the printing.

But overall, her goal is to "work with artisans in what they feel they're the best at. If an artisan wants to weave with a thin wool and they're great at it, [I want to] go with that." While she's insistent on the quality of the goods, she seeks a compromise between the artisans' expertise and the product in her mind's eye. (Pieces made with thick wool, for example, can wait if she's working with an incredibly skilled artisan who is most excited about working with thin wool.)

Running a shop.

The pieces return to Caroline from the artisans, and she sets them up for display in her brand-new Greenpoint, Brooklyn shop cum gallery, which also houses her painting studio in its back room. Even though she feels most loyal to her painting practice—and is excited to get to showcase it and the textiles it inspires—Caroline has been pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoys being a shop owner. "I get to meet people all day long. I love the people who come in here and getting to talk with them. It makes me excited about the world. It's a cozy time for me right now."

Find more of Caroline's designs over at WorkOf.

Have you dabbled in block printing—or other textile crafts? Tell us about your current projects in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.

1 Comment

Hannah W. April 29, 2016
This is so inspiring, Caro! Thank you for an amazing look behind the scenes to one of my favorite designers :)