Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Q&A with Marcia Weiss, Director, Textile Design


What is your title and role at Thomas Jefferson University?

I’m the Director of the Fashion & Textiles Futures Center and the Director of the Textile Design M.S. and B.S. programs.  As an associate professor, I teach upper level undergraduate and graduate textile design courses. 

What interests you about textiles and fashion? What inspired you to pursue a career in higher education? 

I have always loved color, texture and pattern.  My interest in art and creativity, as well as excellent career opportunities, led me to Textile Design for my undergraduate degree at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences (which is now part of Thomas Jefferson University). Student internship experiences developed my interests and focused my career in the home furnishings industry.  I ran design and product development teams, from concept to finished product. 

Throughout my professional career, I remained connected to “Textile”; through presentations, projects and hiring students for internship and fulltime positions.  I realized that part of this connection was my strong desire to teach.  I began teaching full time after completing my MFA degree.  It was lovely when the opportunity arose to teach at my alma mater.  I’ve been at Jefferson (Philadelphia University/“Textile”) for the past 15 years. 

How did you first become involved with the Textile & Costume Collection?  Currently, you serve as a faculty liaison to the Collection.  What does that mean? 

I had the amazing good fortune to have a work study job in the Collection when I was an undergraduate student.  How remarkable of all the places on campus where I could have been placed, to be able to work with this extensive and endlessly inspiring collection!  I have loved it ever since.  Hence, when I was asked to serve as a faculty liaison the Collection, I happily accepted.  In this position, I work to raise the visibility of the Collection.  There is so much inspiration available to students, faculty, staff and the public.  Anyone interested in color, texture, pattern, global trends, design process, construction methods, Philadelphia history and textile history can find parts of the Collection that speak to them.  I encourage other faculty members to incorporate the Collection into their courses.  I also encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to do original research.  This is such an important skill for designers—to find and curate their own sources of inspiration.  I’m thrilled that we have this invaluable resource available to use. 

What items within the collection are most inspiring to you?  Do you have a favorite object or group of objects? 

This is such a great and tough question.  Every time that I am in the Collection, I find new and exciting sources of inspiration.  My research interests are centered in artisanal textiles from West Africa and Central Asia.  We have some wonderful textiles from both of these regions; certainly these are most inspiring to me.  I also find our collection of Coptic textiles remarkable, as well as the fantastic Quaker Lace archive which includes original drawings that illustrate the design process.  Dorothy Liebes material studies for DuPont, an extensive collection of printing wood blocks from England, vintage color cards and a beautiful collection of seashells with fabrics dyed to match round out my interests.  There are truly so many amazing aspects to the Collection.  Something for everyone!

In your opinion, how does a historic collection like ours benefit students and faculty on our campus?  Given your background, can you speak to how the objects it holds are useful for burgeoning fashion and textile design students?  

As I’ve mentioned previously, the opportunity to do original research, to curate a body of inspiration, is a very important skill for any designer.  We all have access to so much through platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram.  It’s important to remember that these are bodies of work compiled by someone else.  Articulating individual interests and direction, and supporting them through visual research, is part of what we as designers do.  Use the knowledge and inspiration of the past to form an exciting foundation for the future.  The Collection is a truly invaluable resource for our students and faculty. 

Do you incorporate the Textile & Costume Collection into the classes you teach?

Yes, I incorporate items from the Collection into my classes, particularly Graduate Studio.  Typically, students select items to use as points of inspiration for the collections that they are developing.  These can be quite diverse, ranging from Guatemala huipils to exquisitely embroidered Serbian vests and textile explorations of Dorothy Liebes.  I regularly refer to items including vintage color cards and beautiful sea shells/dye swatches.    

What are your hopes for the Textile & Costume Collection moving forward? 

My hope for the Textile & Costume Collection is to expand the visibility to a wider audience.  In many ways, this is a hidden gem.   As a study collection, it provides unique access to an extensive range of textile and fashion techniques and processes, from present day to centuries old.  I would love to see much wider usage of the Collection.  Our fantastic curator and her team possess remarkable knowledge and are able to assist interested individuals in identifying items for research and appreciation.   

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