After graduating from Textiles - BA (Hons) in 2012, Philippa Hill decided that her interests lay not in print design but textile science. Now working towards her PhD at the University of Leeds, Philippa's research into 'Durable Water Repellent Treatments in Outdoor Apparel' has been gathering media interest for its exploration of the use of water repellent chemicals.

Philippa shares how her interest in the chemistry of clothing started and offers sound advice for the next generation of graduates.

From textiles to chemistry

During my time at ECA I would spend a large part of my time mixing print media or dyeing fabric and, as demonstrated by my very large technical logbook, I found I was definitely more interested in the technical aspects of textiles. I would experiment with traditional processes ending up, usually, with holes in my fabric sample! During my final year, I collaborated with a Performance Costume student using seven different textile processes on several metres of fabrics (this time without holes).

My final year project was based on fishermen’s’ jumpers. 'Ganseys', or 'guernseys', were tightly woven knitted garments worn by fishermen for protection from the weather and conditions experienced at sea. Whilst my final year project focused on patterning and screen-printing techniques, I began to experiment with hybrid fabrics and fabric construction. Without knowing it at the time, I think this was the start of my interest in technical textiles.

When I graduated, I realised that print design was not the career route for me and I began to investigate further study in textile science. In 2013, I came to the University of Leeds to study for an MSc in Advanced Textiles. During the course, I learnt about fabric construction, manufacturing processes and construction in relation to fabric performance. My background knowledge and trial and error approach as an undergraduate in the dye lab helped me here. I began to understand that textiles is chemistry, from the polymer makeup of synthetic fibres to the finishing processes of fabric for garment production - the two subjects overlap. Whilst my research has a chemistry focus, it has a textile and apparel application.

Image courtesy of Philippa Hill
Image courtesy of Philippa Hill
Water repellent fabric

"[T]here is such a wide range of career choices you can follow ... textiles is applicable to so many sectors; you could find yourself in medical textiles or even developing textiles for space exploration!"

Philippa Hill, 2012 Textiles graduate

Repellency

Sustainability has been a buzzword within the textiles and apparel industry for many years and, whilst I’ve always been aware of it, I didn’t realise the effect that textile manufacturing has on the environment, people and the world. I found repellency fascinating as a finishing process and, as many people do, had taken this fabric functionality for granted. As I learnt more, I discovered that it was actually a large topic with many dimensions to it, from the chemistry used, to the broad range of end-uses.

Repellency in textiles is such a large topic that there are many opportunities for further research and we have potential collaborations with other researchers in the pipeline. The journal paper we published from the work specifically looks at outdoor apparel, and there is lots of potential for further research to be carried out on chemistry used for repellency in both outdoor apparel and performance protective apparel.

Alumni advice

Experiment and don’t just follow the norm. Fellow students across the years that I was studying at ECA did some really experimental and innovative work in various formats. Take an interest in the less experimental aspects, too – how dyes are made, fabric construction and the manufacture of textiles from fibre to finished product. An understanding of textile science is really appreciated in industry. For textile design in particular, there is such a wide range of career choices you can follow after completion of your programme and textiles is applicable to so many sectors; you could find yourself in medical textiles or even developing textiles for space exploration!


Are you interested in studying Textiles - BA (Hons) at Edinburgh College of Art?