In early 1932 or 1933, after his affiliation with Condé Nast Publications had ended, Sheeler began to explore designing fabrics for women’s clothing, working primarily for William Heller, a New York-based textile firm. Sheeler wrote to his friend and patron Louise Arensberg that he was designing fabrics for women’s sport clothes: “I enjoy it and the several designs I have in the Fall line seem to be liked by the trade. It is very agreeable work to turn to now and then and it serves as a freshener. If the returns justify it I hope to continue.” He noted in another letter that his friend, the artist Marcel Duchamp, had visited him at his home in Connecticut and was “quite enthusiastic about the fabrics.”
Sheeler’s designs for wool knits, woven cotton, and linen fabrics display his love of geometric patterning as well as his interest in simple but elegant design. To a degree, they are derived from his passion for Shaker furniture and rugs (which he collected and used as props for his paintings, such as Interior and American Interior), but they were also heavily indebted to his work as a fashion photographer for Vogue. While Sheeler is often cited for his impatience with the fashion work, there is little doubt that his close photographic study of the structural and decorative aspects of the clothes worn by the models influenced his own textile designs.
Sheeler abandoned textile design by the end of the decade, but his designs were included in a 1934 exhibition, Practical Manifestations in American Art, which was organized by Sheeler’s gallerist, Edith Halpert, and was on view at her Downtown Gallery. Ten of his textile designs were included in his 1939 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, a notable inclusion that suggests his contemporaries viewed them as part of his artistic oeuvre.