Textiles study day with Mary Restieaux RDI

On Wednesday 19 September a group of A-Level Art students from Whitley Academy were welcomed to the home and studio of Mary Restieaux RDI for a textiles study day.

We gained a sense of the career pathways that a passion for working with textiles could offer and the multitude of ways that designs can be applied to make a living (from fabric, to wall hangings, to wallpaper, to greetings cards and wrapping paper). We learnt where a textile/designer might fit into the broader fashion industry, and reflected on the role of women in this industry. We learnt a new vocabulary, from the warp and weft, to a hank, to techniques such as Ikat, and tie dye. We saw textile designs from around the world and gained a huge appreciation of colour, looking at tonal relationships and the impact of clashing and contrasting colours.

Excitingly, later in the afternoon, we were invited to dye our own threads with the colours of our choice by dipping threads into hot dye solutions and then created own piece of original textile design using a card winding technique. We were also joined by Hannah, a previous workshop participant of Mary’s who is a student in her second year at the Royal College of Art. Thanks to Hannah’s contribution whilst we were all quietly working we heard that art school could be a next step for these A-Level students, and gained an understanding about what to expect as an art student and working in a studio environment. And the results of the dyeing were brilliant: colourful and energetic stripes of woven thread on black card – which students could take home (there was lots of enthusiasm to frame them and put them up at home!). A wonderful memento of an inspiring day.

Mary passed on some hard won advice to the students. She said to be generous, be kind, not to copy others work, to collaborate, to say thank you, that you will need to persevere in order to have a long career and to work hard, but to rest too as this is good for creative flow and energy.

The students fed back at the end of the day that it had been fun, creative, educational, therapeutic, inspiring, relaxing and informative.

There were many opportunities for learning, life lessons and inspiration. We learnt about Mary’s body of work and style, her real world industry experience taking inspiration from how the simplicity of an idea/design can form a body of work (as did for Herve Leger’s collections). Mary illustrated her creative process, showing the simplicity of her craft yet the intricate nature of techniques, including using a traditional loom, and how to incorporate feathers, wire, sticks, flowers within the designs, demonstrating the value of experimentation – and how to document this process in scrapbooks, both as an archive but also as a way to reflect on your creative process and draw inspiration. We compared this tactile approach to the digital platforms of Instagram and Pinterest.

About Mary

Mary Restieaux is an influential textile designer whose work crosses between craft and industrial design and contribution to the fashion and textiles industries has been significant. Receiving her MA from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1974, Mary was engaged as the College’s Research Fellow, charged with exploring the possibilities for the industrial application of the traditional Ikat dye-resist weaving technique. A consummate craftsperson with a passion for her medium, and a member of the First Eleven Studio since 1991, Mary’s designs have been accepted by a prolific and extensive range of clients, including Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Missoni, Kenzo, Sanderson, Mulberry, Colefax & Fowler, Habitat and John Lewis, amongst many others, leading to her award of the Silver Medal in 2009 from the Worshipful Company of Weavers, for outstanding contribution to the textiles industry.


With huge thanks to Mary Restieaux, RDI and to Hannah Robinson for supporting the workshop.

And thanks to Corrine MacLean, teacher at Whitley Academy for all her hard work to make this happen.


The RSA Academies are committed to an Arts, Creativity and Cultural Education which includes ‘commissioning professional artists to support and lead high quality learning and participatory experiences’ and ‘Ensuring pupils’ access to specialist teaching’ so we would like to extend an extra special thanks to Mary Restieaux, RDI for offering this wonderful opportunity – and donating books to the students and school.

Top image credit: Mary Restieaux.

Related project: Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) Related project: RSA Academies and the Royal Designers for Industry