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Textiles Research

Textiles at the Royal College of Art is at the forefront of the world’s leading research into textiles and materials. Innovative processes, surfaces and products that reimagine our relationships with materials are the fundamental grounding for this research programme.


Interdisciplinarity is a hallmark of Textiles research; staff and students work with material scientists, manufacturers, healthcare specialists, architects and engineers with a global reach. Our research students explore and question the fluid hybridity of the textiles discipline through design, craft and artistic practice;

  • How can textile and material surfaces be responsive and multisensory in our real and virtual worlds?
  • How can textile products facilitate global inclusivity and responsibility?
  • How can critical textile and material practice subvert and innovate in society, systems, services and environments?

Doctoral students are supervised by staff with significant expertise and an active track record in research into SOFT (Smart, Optimised Fabric and Textile Systems), nanocomposites, new materiality, feminism, sustainability and cultural identity. Their work spans the fields of print, knit, weave, mixed media, installation, smart textiles and postdigital craft. We offer a range of training platforms, to enable students to develop their research skills both within their own discipline, across the School of Design and through interdisciplinary training across the College. MPhil and PhD students benefit from a rich range of guest lectures, skilled technicians, visiting professors and the expertise of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. Research students in the School of Design work in a dedicated research space which feeds the culture of working across disciplines and promotes peer support and learning.

We welcome proposals for PhDs which address the pivotal and liminal position of textiles and materials in mediating and addressing global issues concerned with but not limited to;

  • Soft robotics, data interfaces and intelligent fabric systems
  • Social care, inclusivity, diversity and the ageing population
  • Mobility, services, economic systems and security
  • Transition design, design futures and design politics
  • Food, waste and energy
  • Materials as agents

Recent research projects include:

CraftTech: Hybrid Frameworks for Smart Photonic Materials, a collaboration with The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Institute of Textiles and Clothing. The workshops set out to investigate hybrid design frameworks utilising photonic textiles and polymeric optical fibres (POFs) as mediums to explore interdisciplinary approaches.

PG x RCA – Future Materials Students were challenged by the Priestman Goode’s Colour, Material and Finish (CMF) team to explore humanising the high-tech transport environments of the future (2050) taking into consideration the shared economy that will exist in an autonomous domain as well as the democratic nature of these spaces, addressing the needs of all users and exploring the relevance in personalisation in shared vehicles.

Textiles Summer School at the Kyoto Design-Lab of Kyoto Institute of Technology

The KYOTO Design Lab Textiles Summer School is an ongoing collaboration between the RCA, the KYOTO Design Lab at the Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT), the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE), Central Saint Martins (UAL), Kyoto Saga University of the Arts and the Kyoto Prefectural Institute for Northern Industry. It facilitates a creative and collaborative encounter between Japan’s traditional and experimental textile producers in the Tango Peninsula and the designers, textile engineers and materials scientists from Japan and overseas.

Graphene Research

Dr Elif Ozden Yenigun explores wearable antenna designs developed based on the merits of graphene and flexible and conductive fibres, which has received funding from the H2020-MSCA-IF-2017 European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 796640.

Dark Materialisms The Dark Materialisms research group draws from work in the fields of new materialism, feminist materialism and ecological thought. It considers the drive towards new material futures in relation to our entanglements with the traces, impacts and histories of our material pasts. We therefore frame our research around practices of making and unmaking, of working with but also responding to and learning from materials.

Your Sweetest Empire is To Please by Dr Fiona Curran

The Grass Seemed Darker Than Ever by Dr Fiona Curran

What Do I Need To Do To Make It OK? by Freddie Robins

 A Thread Is Only A Line Leaping off the two-dimensional plane, the practitioners in this exhibition showed the single thread as a starting point from which to build complex layered narratives and experiences, which also challenge the perceived status of textile in the world of contemporary art. Exploring themes that vary from ideas of play, to notions of memory, to sexuality and the body, this exhibition celebrated and interrogated both the conceptual and formal possibilities of contemporary textile art and took place during London Design Festival 2018.

Our previous research students are now leading researcher practitioners in the field, these include; Dr Carmen Hijosa, Founder of PiñatexProf Sharon Baurley, Chair of the Burberry Material Futures Research GroupProf Jenny Tillotson, Founder of eScent® Transformative TechnologyDr Amy Winters Founder of Rainbow Winters.

The Royal College of Art is a member of the AHRC-funded London Arts & Humanities Partnership (LAHP), which funds PhD projects through two competitions: Collaborative Doctoral Awards, developed in collaboration with a non-HE organisation, and the Studentship Scheme, which welcomes individual applications. Both schemes offer fees and stipends for EU/Home students (please check eligibility terms and conditions).


Applicants are encouraged to view the profiles of the School of Design specialist subject areas and potential supervisors and then email design-research-admins@rca.ac.uk with a research proposal prior to application. 

Please make sure when contacting us and applying to state the subject area and name of the potential supervisor(s). For further enquiries regarding School of Design supervision please contact design-research-admins@rca.ac.uk.

Find us on Instagram at @rcatextiles and Twitter at @RCA_TexRes.


Follow these links for more information and guidance about Applying for a Research Degree at the RCA, the College's MPhil/PhD Application Process including details of  research proposal requirements and portfolio requirements (if applicable), and for full details of cross-college MPhil/PhD Entrance Requirements.