Spotlight on the Surface Design Association

Spotlight on the Surface Design Association

We recently recommended Surface Design Journal in our feature on top textile art magazines. For those who aren’t familiar with this enduring advocate for the textile arts, we invited SDA to tell our readers more about their association. SDA Digital Publications Editor Leesa Hubbell, an SDA member since 1977, gave us a fascinating overview.

SDA have also kindly offered us a one-year subscription to the Surface Design Journal to give away to one of our readers. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize is to share this article on Facebook or Twitter. You can do this easily by clicking the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this page, or by visiting our Facebook page and sharing directly from there. The competition runs until the end of January 2014 – good luck!

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. 
– George Bernard Shaw
Surface Design Association textile artists

SDA embraces all textile arts media and genres. Work shown is by SDA members (L-R) Anne Selby, Daniella Woolf, Chris Allen-Wickler, Adrienne Sloan, Luke Haynes, Amanda Salm, Jennifer Moss

For the love of textiles What is the Surface Design Association?

Leesa Hubbell: SDA is a textile arts non-profit supported by its members. Our mission is to promote awareness and appreciation of the textile arts to an international audience. We accomplish this through our quarterly print journal and digital publications plus conferences, exhibitions, grants, awards and many other benefits. SDA was formed in 1976 and will begin celebrating 40 years of textile arts advocacy in 2016.

Most of our 4300+ members, whether individuals or affiliate groups, join us via the website to receive our outstanding Surface Design Journal. Since its inception, SDJ has become the thought leader in textile arts publications. Current SDJ editor Marci Rae McDade, former editor of Fiberarts magazine (which ceased publication in 2011), delivers the latest ideas from the frontiers of fiber in issues curated around an important trend or thought-provoking theme.

Surface Design Association covers

Recent SDA Journal covers show themes including (l – r) Spring 2013 “Dress”; Fall 2013 “Latin American Fibers”: Fall 2012 “Interior Spaces”

Casting a wide net

What is the aim of Surface Design Journal?

SDJ aims to inspire and ignite creativity.

It started out as an 8-page, black & white newsletter that announced the formation of SDA and reported on the first conference; it gradually grew to a 76-page full-color quarterly magazine. A wide net is cast to engage all kinds of readers in the exciting ideas being expressed by textiles. SDJ explores any and all textile techniques as well as textile-inspired work in performance, video, glass….even sound.

Our reader/members are both emerging and established makers. They are artists and designers as well as DIY/crafters and enthusiasts. They are educators, life-long learners, curators, writers, gallerists, collectors. The aim is to invite everyone to the table and offer a delectable menu – full of surprises – in every issue. Important exhibition and book reviews are always included. A regular feature gives exposure to SDA members’ work. A legacy column gives historical context to contemporary work. Our advertisers offer outstanding products and services.

Surface Design Journal Spring 2013

A view inside SDJournal Spring 2013 Table of Contents for Material/Science issue via issuu online format.

Critical assessment and historical context are often missing from publications that serve the textile arts community. Since SDA’s core mission is education, we best serve those who want to understand where their work fits in the history of visual culture and who their ancestors and relatives are. No one works in a vacuum. SDJ can serve as a dream book for those who simply love making or as a textbook for those who strive to make their voice heard in the wider world of art and design.

SDA is an under-discovered gold mine for the textile lover so we are very grateful for the invitation to get on the radar of the community. Readers are invited to view a sample our Fall 2013 Latin American Fibers issue via our website at Individual issues are available for purchase in SDA online Marketplace at

Membership in SDA is an investment in your creative growth.

A magazine with benefits

Tell us about the other benefits of SDA membership.

Surface Design news for textile designers and artists

SDA monthly eNews features member’s work in each banner. Shown here ( L – R ) work by LM Wood, Della Reams, Silvia Piza-Tandlich, Chris Allen-Wickler, Heather Macali, Catherine Armbrust, Mirjam Pet-Jacobs.

We publish a monthly emailed newsletter that highlights what our volunteer board and paid staff are working on to create value for both members and the creative community at large. It spotlights member accomplishments, job openings, exhibition opportunities and other resources.

Our online magazine-style NewsBlog explores textile-focused resources, international conferences, trade shows and select member’s projects. It offers high-quality information and advice on studio and business issues as well as books, videos and new product news.

SDA Blog aims to give great value for the contemporary working artist

SDA NewsBlog

One of NewsBlog’s most popular stories has been Feng Shui Your Studio to Maximize Creative Flow by our former journal editor and artist Patricia Malarcher. Readers also flock to UK artist Anne Selby‘s story about making a video to promote the pleating machine she invented to create her stunning work in arashi shibori. NewsBlog informs readers about design markets like Surtex (USA) and New Designers (UK). It also offers great advice on how to get your work out there – like how to write a press release.

SDA is Face-to-Face

Tell us abut SDA conferences and regional presence.

Montage of 2013 Conference Speakers at the Surface Design Association conference

Montage of featured speakers from SDA 2013 interface conference in San Antonio, Texas, includes ( l – r ) Janet Echelman (keynote), Elissa Auther, Michael James, Otto Von Busch, Lynne Bruning, Nathalie Miebach.

Many of our members join us for the rewards of face-to-face community. Our world-class conferences attract speakers like sculptor Janet Echelman and fashion hacktivist Otto Von Busch, who rocked the house with spectacular presentations at our San Antonio conference in June 2013. These confabs offer exhibition opportunities to every member; a chance to start showing work as well as build on a good reputation. The roster of workshops, lectures, panels and demos are carefully curated for maximum impact and stimulation. Members travel from all over the globe to participate.

Members of the Surface Design Association work in textile art, fashion, interiors and many other diverse areas of fiber

SDA Members’ Exhibitions offer the chance to show work and meet face-to-face with a supportive community from all over the world. 2011 exhibition in Minneapolis, MN, USA is shown here.

SDA members also create local events like critiques, symposia and exhibitions. These area meetings spark collaboration and enhance each member’s creative development.

Working the web

What’s the aim of SDA website? is a textile arts connector and information hub.

Members take advantage of multiple opportunities to get increased visibility for their work on our website. Each can create a mini-webpage with a bio, links and a portfolio of images. The online LookBook from our June 2013 Members’ Fashion Show is an absolute must-see showcasing fabulous fashion talent. Work from past SDA members’ exhibitions, including student members, can be viewed in our conference archives. Cash prizes and other awards to support creative growth are part of every member exhibition.

SDA Fashion Show LookBook

Gown by Eulanda Sanders from 2013 Members’ Fashion Show LookBook

SDA Swatch Collections feature 12 x 12 samples of our members’ signature techniques. Three collections can be viewed online or borrowed to examine at regional get-togethers. These collections embody a history of textile design and create tremendous excitement when they go hands-on.

SDA Calendar is a go-to resource of calls-for-entry, exhibitions, workshops, conferences and other opportunities that our members – and the international arts community – can use to promote their textile-centric events.

A “buzz feed” on the right side of SDA homepage offers daily fiber info treats fed by posts on SDA Facebook and Twitter. There’s also a Facebook SDA Member’s Only discussion group.

Swatches used by SDA members to create fiber art

SDA Swatch Collections feature signature techniques by our members for study either online or hands-on.

How does SDA Grants & Awards program work?

SDA supports emerging and established makers with a range of awards and grants. This part of our mission began over 10 years ago and now includes funds for small events, personal development or scholarship as well as for promising students at both undergrad and grad level. A committee of informed volunteers evaluates applicants. You can find out more about this career-boosting benefit of SDA membership at

Surfing the waves of textile resurgence

How did the Surface Design Association come about?

In 1976, two college-level educators took action on the clear resurgence of interest in textiles across the intersecting worlds of art, craft and design that had been building for several decades. Thinking they could spur support for new textile programs in higher education, they put together a conference at the University of Kansas (USA). They hoped at least 200 people would register. 600 showed up.

Since then, a series of multi-talented and passionately dedicated presidents, board and staff members have stepped forward to steer and steward SDA into the 21st century.

How has the association grown and developed?

Our association continues to grow slowly and surely. Read a short history of SDA that includes major milestones at We’re planning to index and publish the rich historical archive of our 37+ years of outstanding SDJournal and Newsletter content. We also plan to offer a digital version of the Journal for ease of access by our many students and international members.

Owyn Ruck talking at the Textile Arts Center

SDA Member and entrepreneur Owyn Ruck presents how she helped start Textile Arts Center in New York City at SDA 2013 interface conference.

But the most notable development – and challenge – is in the terminology. “Surface design” means something very different now than it did in 1976, be it architectural elements like cement paving stones or Microsoft’s new computer hardware. Get the backstory behind our name at “Fiber” – another mid-20th century term – is also on the wane. It now too frequently evokes associations of diet and elimination.

University programs have reacted most nimbly to this change. As students choose whatever media best express their concepts, the term “material studies” is now widely accepted as more comprehensive and stigma-free. And accurate. New generations of makers drop the “textile” before “artist”; they don’t need it – or want it.

Student Work from interface panel

Works presented by students ( L-R ) Chesley Williams “Conscientious Couture”, Meghan Urback “Woven Felt I”, Katherine Soucie “Vanitas Collection” during Student Panel at SDA interface conference 2013. Photo credits Meghan Nicole, Meghan Urback, Shimon Karmel

Some feel our name is a liability that needs to be updated since it no longer describes what our members do, thus sabotaging our visibility. Others feel the ambiguous name serves our inclusive mission. “Textile arts” is clearly winning the preferred usage contest at this moment in time. is to be congratulated for choosing it!

But whatever you call what we do, SDA means innovation in textile art and design. If you love textiles, you already belong. Now all you have to do is join us.

For more information about the benefits of joining the Surface Design Association visit the website here.

Don’t forget to SHARE this article using the social media buttons below for your chance to win a year’s free subscription to the Surface Design Journal.

Wednesday 04th, October 2023 / 10:51

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe



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One comment on “Spotlight on the Surface Design Association”

  1. Rachel Biel says:

    I became an SDA member last year and was astounded when I got my first copy of the magazine. I had never really heard much about it and the articles are wonderful, in-depth and thought-provoking. The last one on Latin American textiles was especially interesting to me as I grew up in Brazil and have lost touch with what is going on down there and it was so exciting to see what is happening there!

    My three favorites are the SDA Mag, Fiber Art Now and Hand/Eye. Between these three, the world of textiles and fiber art becomes a universe of inspiration, knowledge, and love. I appreciate the hard work that goes into all three bringing such great content and their contributions to our community!

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