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I am Darshini Shah - UX Researcher and Design Strategist. 

After browsing through my projects and skills, do check out my blog which is my personal process notebook about the projects listed on this website.

Study of Textiles as a Design Tool (Undergraduate Thesis)

Study of Textiles as a Design Tool (Undergraduate Thesis)

This research is an analysis of textile as a space-making material that plays a role in creating a bond between the interior space and the user through its use in spatial configuration. It enlightens the reader, about the potential of textiles when used by designers as a primary tool to generate interior concepts. 

Since the late Stone Age, textile has been termed as a functional material as it serves various day to day demands necessary for human survival. But with the advancement of time, and due to change in production, availability, economic changes and cultural growth, it has taken an inclination towards aesthetics and ornamentation. ‘Textile’ established its identity through colour, texture and pattern as the functionality was being served by the modern materials. For example, window coverings that were previously adorned with textiles are now functionally served with the use of blinds. Though textile still serves the purpose of functionality, it is commonly perceived as merely an element of drapery or soft furnishings that adds colour, texture and vibrancy to an interior space. 

This research helps the user to look at the material in a more structural, multifunctional and versatile state through various examples by designers from all around the world. It helps in reviving the readers’ perspective towards textile by concentrating on materiality and its varied uses when pushed the material further than the confinements of its notions of draperies and soft furnishings. 

It will develop a new understanding of the term ‘textile’ through its basic component and its attributes. It will define textiles from its properties of making and the way it is implemented in space to develop an understanding of the material as a ‘surface-making’ element. Through this, textiles will be categorized in various ways by understanding its basic making and materiality. These varied categories will also be studied through examples of its implementation. 

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What are Textiles?

The basic definition of textiles originates from the Latin word ‘textilitis’ which means ‘woven’. This Latin word elaborates textile as any flexible woven material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibers. The terms ‘fabric’ and ‘cloth’ are also referred to as synonyms of ‘textiles’, but there are subtle differences in these terms, specialized to its usage.

When textile is associated with space, it transforms into various methods in which textiles can be categorized while it is in the context of an interior space.

The idea of perceiving architecture through textiles has been supported widely by nineteenth-century theoretician and architect Gottfried Semper from his theories.

Darshini Shah Gottfried Semper

A man’s basic design process starts from the art of weaving, and that is the intricacy of the relationship between textile and architecture.

Darshini Shah Knot

Types of Textiles

Due to the culmination of various fields and its interdependency on each other, India’s educational and cultural life, television and print media; its perception of itself and the world are undergoing profound changes. Among the other implications, it is certainly influencing the relationship between objects and culture. Textile is one of the most versatile materials and is largely dependent on those influences. It has various uses, techniques and expressions depending on the region, topography, customs and religion of a place. This makes it the most explored material, not just in India but all over the world. Many western influences have tried to assert their forces on the implementation of the material in interior design, but any attempts at marrying cultural imperatives of modernity with ones need to assert cultural identity has only led to a synthetic search and superficial manifestations. Hence, while new techniques and materials are coming up each day to broaden the possibilities of its bonding with interiors through its applications, its relation with the region and culture remains grounded.

Darshini Shah Types of Textiles

Design Processes

While most designers, generally term textiles as a secondary element in space, due to their tendency of relating textiles to aesthetics, there are certain designers who manage to overlook these banal views, and take textile as a primary tool to explore their design processes. Although largely overlooked, there are basic aspects that determine appearance and sustainability of textiles for interior use- fiber content, weave and pattern. Interior textiles are of a dynamic nature. They do not be in space and yet be idle. Various facets of a textile, for example- advancing and receding colour, materiality expressed by texture or structure of the fabric; defines the structure and space of that enclosure. Textiles in interiors can be used to increase or decrease the legibility of an interior space; it can act as a prime instrument for creating an illusion. These implications take one back to the Semperian theory of the ‘knot’. He refers to the ‘ knot’ as the joining of two planes of a similar or dissimilar pattern. This concept, as a textile, acts as a knot with an entire space.

Thus, the use of textiles to derive an interior concept has potential to juxtapose interior elements with architectural space. Commonly, there are three ways in which textiles have been used in interior space that interacts closely with the user.

Darshini Shah Vertical Space dividers

Case Study

The Dutch Pavilion

Year: 2012

Designer: Petra Blaisse

Location: Venice

The Dutch pavilion is a Re-set in a built form designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1954. It is an installation designed by Petra Blaisse, who works in a multitude of creative areas including textiles. Her firm Inside Outside works globally on projects of increasing technical sophistication, ambition and scale. As a designer, she has developed sensitivity towards textiles and its implications in space, which is evident from all her projects including The Dutch pavilion. For this installation, she was given a site that has been abandoned for a long time. She made use of textiles to highlight the qualities of the unused space and magnify the grandeur of the built form, designed by Gerrit Rietveld.

Key issues of the site: 

Light conditions- there are three openings in the entire space that include the entry and two openings on the sides. This made the designer to question the light quality in space for the installation to respond as desired. 

Ethos of the existing built form- the building is designed by a well-known architect, and the designer wanted to maintain the sanctity of the space in a way that the installation blends with the space. 

Designer’s interpretation: 

The designer wanted to transform the structure’s experience rather than filling it with objects. The idea was to celebrate the qualities that the space provided, by giving wings or transforming the old foundations and shell. The concept was based on the idea of making the visitors spend more time inside the space and absorb the effects of architecture through the installation. 

Final result: 

When people entered the building, they perceived a given situation, but it was never the final situation; as the essence of space changed with shift in position of the curtain. This effect made them spend more time inside the built form, absorbing the space and experiencing the architecture that otherwise had been vacant for a long time. 

Key points: 

The intervention is tactile and mobile rather than a permanent or a solid insert. 

The concept creates various experiences throughout the day, to involve a user in space for longer duration 

To manipulate light, there are mirrors placed on the roof that reflects the sunlight directly inside the space. 

The curtains change their positions 12 times throughout the day to give different combinations curtains playing a role on each other and its impact in space. 

The reflection of light on the curtains, at various times in a day, acts as an important factor. 

When a textile is vertically used in space, as explained before in chapter 2.1.0, it is known as a vertical space divider. It can be divided in four categories that can help in further analysis.

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Role of textile: 

When a designer understands the value of a built form, the attempts to overshadow a space with his design would not be a concern. Rather, the designer will make attempts to incorporate an insert in such a way that the existing built form is highlighted. Petra Blaisse understood the architecture and its importance thoroughly and hence installed a design that would help enhance the existing scenario. The role of textile has been aptly understood and implemented in such a way that the concept of adaptive re-use is justified. The use of curtains in the form of an ‘insert’ enhances the beauty of architecture and allows the user to absorb the space thoroughly. 

As quoted by Gottfried Semper,”Textiles are true antecedents to the wall” , in this scenario, the fabric acts as a means to provide enclosure that is a medium engaging the user for a specific amount of time in space. Textile, commonly used to manipulate light in space, in this case, also plays an essential role by engaging with time. The architecture acts as an envelope while the entire experience interior space is carried out by the use of textile. This experience includes the primary senses of voice, sight and touch. 

This installation replaces the wall as the primary element of interior space through the use of a curtain. The use of textile does justice to the space by providing a soft, free-flowing surface that makes the space visually light, allowing users to interact with other spaces. The interaction takes place with strategically placed transparent ‘openings’ in the otherwise semi-transparent and opaque fabric. 

Textile weaves into the architecture by Rietveld due to the subtle colours chosen to complement the built form. Also, the placement of mirrors on the roof helps in manipulating light in such a way that the efficiency of these curtains increases. Although, an ‘insert’ in existing architecture, textile has the potential of inter-weaving from micro to macro scale. Thus, it interacts with the user and the existing architecture to create a weave between them. 

Since its apparition, architectural textile has been associated with being an interactively active component to the environment it belongs. The modernist architectural built form demands limited materials that interact with the interiors. The impact of textile, in this case is such that if the material is replaced by any other modern materials of the present time, the effects may vary on various levels. Thus, the concept is such that it demands the use of textiles due to its innate qualities, and no other material shall do as much justice to the space as textiles.


Textile as a material has the potential to justify all elements of design making to form an interior merely, through its varied attributes. As a material, textile is generally accepted as a tertiary layer of refinement in interior design process. It is usually looked upon as an ‘accessory’ by some. But the question lies in the argument that, a material that suffices all the requirements for an interior space should not be termed as an ‘accessory’. With the abundant availability of mass produced items made through the application of textile techniques, the scope for reflecting individuality has metamorphosed from the art of ‘creating’ to mere art of ‘choosing’.

Despite these limitations, some generic conclusions can be drawn from this study that can be important to interior designers while implementing textiles and understand the importance of textiles in space design processes. The use of textiles holds importance in forming a space and relating to the user due to various reasons as mentioned below: 

Textiles can define a space or become a metaphor for an interior space. A metaphor object, in this case, can be the bearer of a message that translates visually to the spectator. Textile does not become present in a space and yet not communicate. 

Textile is flexible. Here, the term is not only used for its material qualities, but textile is flexible in terms of its design and implementation. In the case of textile, it is not the material that demands, it is the user that demands and builds boundaries, while the material provides innumerable possibilities of exploration.

Textile builds an association by conveying a story. It is an element that never sits idle in a space. It communicates and bonds with the user. The making of a textile, its material and technique of implementation associates with the user more than a piece of furniture on which the user performs all his tasks. 

Unless a user is the owner of the space, will not be allowed to change the character of a space, import, shift or relocate amenities and facilities, alter the quality of environment that perhaps is not acceptable to the owner. Textile is the only material that has the capacity to not only access but allow the spectator to modify a space. 

Architecture, in its traditional form, cannot adapt itself to the immediate social upheavals of the human needs. Here comes the need to operate and build the indoor and outdoor environment with flexible, light materials that can change or transform a space in a very short time. Textile, as a material has proved its qualities of bonding with any environment or the user that it is assigned to. From the use of textile in accessories to tensile structures, textiles have been widely used as the form instant connection with any environment they are part of. They have become a constant part of human habitation and survival.

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