D&T Textiles or Art Textiles?

This page outlines some of the questions I am regularly asked about issues facing textiles at the moment, and in particular about whether to focus on a D&T textiles or art textiles route. These answers are my own thoughts and opinions only and are not linked to any exam board or other organisation. The quotes on this page are from key figures in textiles and most were taken from meetings, lectures or events where I heard each individual speak.

You might also be interested in the Q&A page on textiles in the new curriculum

You might also be interested in reading about The Textiles Ten

Q1  Should I go down the D&T textiles or art textiles route?

This is a difficult question to answer! For me all areas of textiles are amazing and there isn’t a ‘best’ type as it depends on so many factors. There are also massive cross overs between D&T textiles and art textiles; a good teacher can deliver art textiles within a D&T context, and vice versa, so dividing textiles into two areas creates an unnecessary division (and one which restricts creativity and thinking).

I have taught both art textiles and D&T textiles, and I do both D&T textiles and art textiles at home, but most of my teaching career I have chosen to focus on D&T textiles (more about that later on). My D&T textiles teaching has, however, always combined an art textiles and D&T textiles approach, as I value both areas, and feel you can’t have one without the other. 

Some of the things you would need to consider when making this decision are outlined in the Q&A that follow. The most important thing is that any decision is made based on facts rather than assumptions. Both qualifications are excellent but it’s important it isn’t offered just because D&T is perceived as too hard or not ‘textilesy' enough. D&T textiles and art textiles are two different qualifications that offer students different things and it’s important we still have students who have both sets of skills. Times are changing in the industry and we have to see the bigger picture in terms of careers and what the industry needs.

 It is important not to just base decisions on the teacher’s personal preferences, but to consider what is right for the students, particularly in terms of longer term career opportunities. This means it is therefore important to be aware of what skills the textiles and associated industries need along with the needs of the students themselves. Whatever route students take, feedback from industry and universities indicates that the following are essential key skills young people going into the industry will need. Note that these don’t necessarily have to be examined as part of a qualification and might be evident through interview, sketchbooks, and portfolio work:

  • A combination of understanding a range of traditional materials and techniques along side high tech ones
  • The use of traditional materials and techniques in new ways (including textiles materials being used to replace non textiles materials)
  • The use of non traditional materials & techniques in textiles 
  • An understanding that the world is constantly changing and that developments such as new ways of doing things, new materials, and things like electronics in textiles are key areas in the development of fashion and textiles
  • High profile of IT whether it be for designing & manufacturing or in any other format
  • An understanding of how the industry works  
  • Sustainable approaches
  • The development of a different type of consumer & market place within a global context
  • An ability to be creative, think differently and solve problems
  • A broad approach to creativity rather than a focus on a narrow area of interest
  • Independent learning skills and a self motivated and inquisitive approach
  • Flexible work ethic & receptive to change within an industry that is constantly changing

For me, and the schools I have worked in these points are ticked off more by D&T textiles but that won’t necessarily be the same for all schools. Find out more about why I have focused more on D&T textiles than art textiles in my career by scrolling down to this question. 

We want creative design with technology….

Jeremy Graham, Milliken Industrials Ltd

Q2  Why does this discussion about art textiles and D&T textiles matter?

This debate has been around for as long as I have been in education (over 30 years) but it has become more prominent with the changes in the GCSE D&T qualification where there is only one qualification rather than a series of separate material areas.  

Fear of change is understandably unsettling many teachers and this is leading to sweeping and inaccurate generalisations about both art textiles and D&T textiles. This in turn is leading to decisions being made without the full facts being considered. 

In particular the debate matters because there are a number of ‘urban myths’, stereotypes and inaccuracies that are being shared and this has the potential to have a negative impact on both art and D&T textiles. Influential people who hold the purse strings are also starting to believe some of the negative myths textiles teachers themselves are circulating and self fulfilling prophecies are being created. This also means that a wider issue is being missed completely around why textiles of any type is undervalued in our education system when it is a major industry that is currently growing (for more on this take a look at The Alliance Report)

…there’s a confusion between art and Design and Technology

Diana Choulerton, Ofsted National Lead for Design & Technology

Q3  What are these myths about art textiles and D&T textiles?

Some teachers are saying the new D&T GCSE single qualification is not creative, that students will have to know about all of the D&T material areas as well as textiles, that students won’t be able to study the things they enjoy, and that taking an exam is too hard. By contrast they believe the art textiles qualifications to be more creative, and the fact that there is no written exam means they feel it is easier to get a higher grade because students don’t have to write or do theory work, all of which they feel leads to less work for the teacher. 

These statements are all generalisations that are inaccurate. To say that the art textiles qualification is ‘easier’ than D&T devalues art and is an insult to our art colleagues  It also shows no real understanding of the specification and demands of the art exam. This type of statement also suggests that textiles and art teachers can’t cope with a challenge and this only serves to perpetuate other people’s negative opinion of textiles and art as ‘soft’ subjects. 

Whilst art textiles doesn’t have a traditional written exam, it is examined to a high level and, just like any other exam, there is a lot of pressure on performing well on the day. Students are required to study theory and to write, particularly in relation to artists, movements, techniques, as well as being part of the art critique process. 

There is also a myth that textiles is not required as part of the single GCSE D&T qualification. This is inaccurate and there is no reason why the new D&T GCSE will restrict student choices in textiles or be less creative. It is true that the D&T GCSE does bring changes, and that students will need a broader knowledge of materials, but this is likely to be very limited and students will still be able to specialise in the same way they always have. 

The broader knowledge is likely to be in line with what might be taught at KS3, and this will have the benefit of bringing textiles more in line with what is happening in the real world of design, where a wider range of textiles and non textiles materials are used than we focus on in schools. The ability to use a wider range of materials if students choose to is a potential opportunity for additional creativity rather than being something restrictive (click here to find out more about how D&T textiles is impacted with the move to the single GCSE).

Bigger myths that exist are that textiles is all about sewing, making dresses and pink fluffy stuff when the reality is that modern day textiles is just as much about engineering and science. It’s traditional identity, and the link to art textiles, is still strong (and art textiles teaching will remain a key factor when teaching textiles as part of the single GCSE) but it has grown and evolved into something much bigger and wider reaching. 

….design thinking….that means not seeing materials as something limiting… we ask people in an ideal world what would you want?

Dr Goswami, lecturer in Textile Technology, Leeds University

Q4  What is the impact of these myths being perpetuated?

The myths are creating an element of panic in some teachers leading them to make decisions about what curriculum to follow without having all the facts. Teachers are also not considering the wider implications for their students, for textiles, and for art and D&T as a whole. 

Important people, usually those with power of budgets, are believing the myths and there is a real irony that important decision makers are starting to believe the myths that textiles teachers themselves are perpetuating, which is then leading to self fulfilling prophecies. 

In a wider context if a large number of teachers move to art textiles from D&T this will a significant impact on the survival of D&T textiles. It is important that both art and D&T textiles exist, both from the perspective of students so that they have choice, as well as the wider perspective of the textiles industry (click here to find out more about what the textiles industry wants)

Textiles is a widely misunderstood subject in schools, and to a large degree so is the industry. Few understand that engineering is inclusive of textiles, for example. Whilst we  don’t want to lose our craft heritage, and still embrace that as part of the identity of textiles, times have changed and so has textiles and our teaching needs to reflect this. 

It is important that teachers positive about all areas of textiles, even if they choose to make changes in the qualifications they offer. If we can’t be positive about our own subject how can we expect others to be.

Take a look at ‘The Textiles Ten’ which is my set of 10 principles for maintaining a positive approach for D&T textiles during challenging times.

Q5  Does it matter which qualification is taught as long as textiles stays strong?

Both qualifications are important and valid and in many ways it doesn’t matter which is taught as both have the potential to generate a love of the subject. It is important that both art textiles and D&T textiles exist as strong areas and that they support and compliment each other. 

It is also important when choosing a qualification that teachers make the choice based on what is right for the students rather than basing this on teacher preference. 

Perhaps the most important point is where any qualification will lead students to in the future. It is important that students are able to make informed choices on this and understand the nature of what industry in particular requires from prospective employees. Students can take the art textiles or D&T textiles route into many areas of both the industry, as well as into further and higher education. It is however essential students don’t just see textiles as a craft or hobby subject and have realistic expectations of the industrial knowledge, knowledge of materials and IT skills they will need, along with creative skills and a passion for the subject (see question 1 for more information). 

We need to communicate to students what industry wants

Dr Goswami, lecturer in textile technology, Leeds University

Q6  Why are D&T textiles and art textiles undervalued on the curriculum?

There is a more detailed answer to this in the question as part of another page. Look at question 12 Why isn’t textiles valued in education?

Textiles of any type is often seen as a ’soft’ subject that is easy. An article in the TES (February 2016 Grading shake up could lead to ‘big drop’ in passes) sums up the inaccurate perceptions of our subject that have existed for a long time. The article included the table below on the 5 ‘easiest’ and ‘hardest’ subjects, with both D&T textiles and art textiles coming under the ‘easy’ heading (and with art itself also listed as ‘easy’). 

The way this is assessed is fundamentally flawed, as is explained in the more detailed answer at the above link, but the perception of others is very powerful and it is important not to just dismiss this table as being inaccurate (even though it is). There is also an irony that many D&T textiles teachers are being very public about moving to art textiles ‘because it’s easier’ and ‘because there’s no written exam’. It's very sad that teachers are choosing to put down their own subject in this way, reinforcing the negative perception of our subject and of art. 

In addition there has also been a resurgence of more traditional ‘craft’ projects in the classroom, such as aprons, needle books and pin cushions and these further reinforce negative perceptions many have of our subject. This issue is discussed more on the page that discusses the single D&T curriculum

Addressing this negative perception of our subject is a real challenge and focusing on the modern textiles industry and the skills it needs is the way forward, whether this be from an art textiles or D&T textiles perspective.

We are desperate for textiles designers that want to be creative even though we are a technical manufacturer

Jeremy Graham, Milliken Industrials Ltd

Q7  What are the similarities & differences between art textiles and D&T textiles?

Many of the differences between art textiles and D&T textiles are more about differences in the qualifications themselves than the differences in the subjects. It's when work is assessed within a qualification that the real difference emerges. This is an unfortunate divide which attempts to make two subjects out of something that is broad and varied, and which can’t always be equally split into two. 

In both art textiles and D&T textiles what you can create and experiment with, along with the types of techniques and materials that are used, as well as points of inspiration, are often the same. One of the biggest differences is that in D&T the product has a function and purpose and is designed with a user in mind. Whilst this might also be the case in art textiles a piece of work can have a validity without these. 

An art textiles piece of work doesn’t always have to have the same quality of finish, for example it can use glue to hold materials together, whereas in D&T textiles quality of finish is key. More technical skills such as construction skills and pattern cutting may also not be covered in the same level of depth in art textiles meaning students don’t develop these areas to the same level.

In D&T textiles background knowledge is also assessed, for example why something works in the way it does. D&T textiles also focuses more on how industry works and again this is tested as part of the exam. 

Art is examined via a practical exam and coursework rather than a written theory. It should not be underestimated how challenging both of these areas of assessment are. 

It’s not just all about fashion …if you catch a plane the filter was made in Leeds

Dr Hewitt, Non Wovens Innovation & Research Institute

Q8  Doesn’t the design folder in D&T reduce creativity & create a formulaic approach whereas art textiles allows more creative freedom?

This can be the case but much of this is down to how the folder is taught. The assessment criteria for GCSE D&T can be restrictive and encourage teacher to take a formulaic approach but the design process is a common process whether it is done in D&T textiles or within art textiles. 

In art textiles an experimental of approach is given high priority, and whilst this is also the case in D&T textiles, in the last few years the design folder has meant a lot of this has got dumbed down. The new D&T curriculum recognises this should not be the case and focuses a great deal on this experimental approach reminding teachers that this is the essence of what D&T is. 

…all teachers need to focus more on less teacher led prescriptive briefs and activities

Claire Knox Bentham, Outreach Manager, Manchester Met University

Q9  Why have you chosen to go down the D&T textiles route more than the art textiles route in your own career?

The simple fact is that when I started teaching I quickly found that D&T textiles generated more funding than art textiles and that directed much of my career. Whilst I have never agreed with this bias, this led to opportunities to develop my subject that wouldn’t otherwise have been available to me. This ranged from being small things such as getting out on a trip, through to being able to secure a higher budget, technician time, and even as far as being able to securing several new builds. 

I discovered that head teachers and other influential people were more prepared to give funding for D&T textiles particularly if I emphasised links to science, maths and anything high tech. I learnt to use these areas as tools for funding, whilst also maintaining the art textiles as an important area by using this as a tool to teach D&T textiles in my classroom. 

I also found that I could get more respect for textiles by taking the D&T textiles route. Again, I didn’t agree with this bias, but I always saw generating success in D&T textiles as a way to educate others about the broad spectrum that textiles offers. This success also allowed me to challenge the stereotypes of what textiles is perceived to be whether it be art textiles or D&T textiles.

An important reason why I have focused on D&T textiles in my career is because I enjoyed it! I found I could embrace D&T textiles, art textiles and craft through my D&T textiles teaching, and that it offered diversity, creativity and challenge. Whilst I preferred to focus on my textiles specialism, I also enjoyed the broader elements of D&T, as well as the focus on real products for real people with a real need, and this is something that has increased as my career has progressed.

A high percentage of my GCSE and A level students went onto either employment or further study in textiles related areas, and many who didn’t pursue textiles went onto red brick universities. This was also a big motivator for my focus on D&T textiles as I felt that the statistics proved that I was making the right choices for the future of my students.

I taught art, including art textiles, but often felt on the fringes of the art department. I was often considered a non specialist in art, despite part of my qualification being art based, and as such often felt marginalised getting groups others didn’t want, along with substandard rooms. 

For me personally the D&T route in my career offered me greater freedom, more funding, and more challenges. That won’t be the case for everyone but it explains why my own bias is towards D&T textiles.

Click here to read my blog post about my D&T journey

Q10  Am I more employable as a D&T textiles teacher or an art textiles teacher?

This really depends on each individual person, what your skills and experience are, and what a school and department is looking for. It is important to remember that art textiles is just one area of art, just like textiles is one area of D&T. If you work in an art department you would therefore be expected to teach other areas of art, just like in D&T you have to teach other material areas, and if these are your weaker areas, or if there are others that are more qualified, you then become a non specialist. 

Also art textiles is a separate art qualification but there is nothing to say that this will always be the case. Just as D&T has moved towards combining materials areas under one heading, because of the wider changes in education, it is always possible this will happen in other subject areas, including art. Whether you choose art textiles or D&T textiles it is important to remain flexible and get a variety of experiences in order to maximise your employability long term.  

There is also an argument to be considered that textiles may be stronger in D&T simply because it is with a subject that is not on the ‘easy’ list mentioned before, unlike both art textiles and art itself. Art has long held this negative perception, and as incorrect as we know it is, it important to be aware of this particularly during a time in education when many subjects are under threat. 

The textiles industry is also concerned about the lack of skilled young people with the right attitude and understanding of the textiles industry. They are keen for this to be a focus in schools, and in particular for young people to understand the wide variety of career areas that are available, particularly in D&T textiles related areas. To find out about what the textiles industry and higher education want visit the separate page on the single GCSE D&T

…..a strong understanding of fibres and fabrics and their performance is key to success in the industry…… 

Dr Mark Bradshaw, Principal Lecturer in Fashion & Textiles, De Montfort University

You might also be interested in the Q&A page on textiles in the new curriculum

You might also be interested in reading about The Textiles Ten

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