Women in Textile Design

Three people sit working at large textile looms in front of a high wall of shelves filled to the brim with vibrant and colorful yarn and other kinds of thread; a fourth person stands and watches their work.

Created through labor-intensive techniques such as spinning, weaving, and embroidery, textiles have been highly valued throughout history. Made from locally sourced materials such as cotton, linen, and wool as well as more precious threads of silk and gold, textile production became increasingly industrialized in the 19th century. This rapid industrialization exposed the need for skilled designers, and as design education and training expanded to meet this need, so did women’s participation. Through their engagement in activities such as commercial design, fine art, and studio production, the women textile designers featured here have established the discipline as a dynamic and essential part of the history of design.

Featured Designers

Aliki van der Kruijs

Blanket potraying different shades of the color blue, which are divided into rows with the darker shades on the left and the lighter shades on the right.

Aliki van der Kruijs (Dutch, born 1984) has a studio in The Hague, the Netherlands and works on self-initiated projects, collaborations, and commissions that juxtapose her interdisciplinary background in applied art. Interested in the relationship between humans and nature, she has invented a special technique to record the falling of raindrops on textiles and porcelain.

Althea McNish

Vertical columns of vibrant reds, oranges, pinks, and purples cover a long, horizontal textile, with equally vibrant columns of leaf-like ovals overlaid on most of the fabric.

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Althea McNish (British, 1924–2020) moved to London and studied textile design at the Royal College of Arts. After graduating, she began designing furniture fabrics for Liberty. Known for her unprecedented combinations of patterns and colors, McNish helped introduce the Caribbean aesthetic to an international audience.

Dorothy Liebes

A rectangular woven textile reminiscent of the American flag, with a solid blue rectangle in the upper left corner where the stars usually are and a blue, pink, and green plaid pattern where the stripes would be.

Accomplished weaver Dorothy Wright Liebes (American, 1897–1972) is often credited as a vital part of the California Modernist movement, and was once one of the most well-known designers in the United States. Liebes was a sharp businesswoman who believed mass-produced textiles could reach wider audiences while retaining a handwoven appearance.  


Ilonka Karasz

Cover of The New Yorker featuring a drawing of a crowded trolley passing down a people-filled street lined with giant flags. Title text at the top of the image reads [The New Yorker] with smaller text on either side reading [Sept 2. 1939.] and [Price 15 cents].

Ilonka Karasz (Hungarian, 1896–1981) studied art at the Royal Academy of Arts and Crafts in Budapest, where she was one of the first women to be admitted. After immigrating to the United States in 1913, she became an active member of the New York design scene. Working in a variety of mediums, Karasz is well known for her wall coverings and illustrations.

Lanette Scheeline

A sea of large, pumpkin orange poppies, whose petals appear to be blowing in the wind, amidst pale greenish-yellow grass and a black background.

Lanette Scheeline (American, 1910–2001) graduated from the College of Fine Arts at the University of California at Berkeley in 1932. After teaching for a year, she worked for a textile silkscreen factory in San Francisco before establishing her own studio. Scheeline was later noted for her work for the avant-garde wallpaper firm Katzenbach and Warren. 


Sheila Hicks

Thick, white, cloud-like fabric is wrapped in an uneven, net-like pattern of thin, colorful threads.

Sheila Hicks (American, b. 1934) is one of the most important contemporary textile artists of the 20th and 21st century. After receiving an MFA degree from the Yale School of Art under the tutelage of Josef Albers, Hicks was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to paint in Chile, where she learned to weave from local weavers, beginning her investigation into fiber as an artistic medium that continues today.

Sonia Delaunay

Alternating rectangular sections of red and black lines that have the appearance of piano keys cover a bright white background; the repeating lines and high contrast between the colors has a dizzying effect.

Working primarily in Paris, France, Sonia Delaunay (Ukrainian, 1885–1979) was a modern artist and designer who merged art and everyday life. Her work encompassed a variety of mediums, including textiles. Along with her husband Robert Delaunay, she developed a theory for the vibration of contrasting colors when they are placed side by side.


Suzie Zuzek

Large, lively, many-petaled white flowers bloom out from pea green tendrils of leaves, all set against a black background.

Prolific textile designer Suzie Zuzek (American, 1920–2011) created thousands of eye-catching prints for fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer. The unexpected combination of classic sportswear styling with playful, eclectic patterns defined a uniquely American style. Zuzek’s boundless imagination fueled Pulitzer’s runaway success.

Trude Guermonprez

Vertical columns of light golden thread run down the length of a long textile, with vibrant squares of pink, purple, red, and yellow cascading down the columns.

A student of European craft, Trude Guermonprez (German, 1910–1979) played an important role in the American fiber arts movement, particularly during her tenure at the California College of Arts and Crafts. An influential educator, Guermonprez’s Bauhaus-influenced textiles greatly contributed to the development of modernism.

Exhibitions Highlighting Women

Sophia Crownfield: Drawn from Nature

Watercolor study of yellow squash or pumpkin blossoms, with green vines, on white paper
On View through July 31, 2022

From the 1890s to the 1920s, Sophia Crownfield designed prints for prominent silk and wallpaper firms in the United States.

Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer

Watercolor textile design with full yellow-orange and pink blossoms outlined in black, alternating with cream flowers outlined in the same colors. Black-outlined leaves, colorful small florals, and black patches fill in the design.
Previously on View: June 10, 2021 to January 2, 2022

Zuzek was a staff designer for Key West Hand Print Fabrics, where Lilly Pulitzer sourced most of her fabrics between 1962 and 1985.

Contemporary Muslim Fashions

Previously on View: February 28, 2020 to July 11, 2021

Contemporary Muslim Fashions is the first major museum exhibition to explore the rise of the modest fashion industry.


Previously on View: September 23, 2016 to April 23, 2017

Offering creative approaches to textile waste, this exhibition presents the work of three designers thinking through sustainability.