A British friend of mine travels the world for work. She’s been to Nairobi, Kenya, Havana, Cuba, Lima, Peru and everywhere in between. Wherever she goes, she carves out a small piece of time to buy indigenous fabric, maybe an intricately patterned pillow case, a small piece of cloth, or a fabric purse.

Then, when she gets home, she cuts the fabric to a certain size and places it in a frame before adding it to her wall. It’s a way to remember where she’s been and expand an interesting, eclectic art collection at the same time.

One of her favorite places to buy fabric is India, with its thousands of years of fabric dyeing and weaving traditions. My friend, like the Chinese, Romans, and Europeans before her, loves the intense colors, designs, and varied weaving techniques of Indian fabric.

Since she has traveled throughout the India, she has cotton and silk cloth hand-woven from many different regions. Much is embellished with embroidery, metal threadwork, and beads.

Indian Fabric Motifs

One of her favorite fabric design motifs is paisley, which originated in Kashmir, India.

The design traveled to England in the 1760s where copies of Kashmiri shawls were made in the Scottish weaving town of Paisley. (Read more on Paisley history here.)

(Interestingly, that’s where its English name came from. In India the motif is known as kairy (mango) and buta (floral form) and in Kashmir it is kalanga or kalga.)

By the way, our Bombay senior designer Brooks agrees with my friend about the power of paisley.

According to him, “The great thing about paisleys is that they never really seem to fall out of fashion, and they can be reworked and recolored to appear fresh and updated.”

My friend’s also a big fan of Ikat, a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles that employs a resist dyeing process on either the warp or weft fibers prior to weaving, which is the big difference between ikat and other techniques like tie-dye and batik.

As you can see, the colors are vibrant and varied, one of the hallmarks of this technique.

Here’s how Brooks sums it up: “Indian fabric has an incredibly rich history and color palette.  It is always an inspiration when applying to colors in general as well as embroidery techniques and threads.”

Color Dyeing Techniques

Alex, one of our Bombay textile designers, then told me more about the bright colors I find so appealing.

For instance, I didn’t know that Indigo, one of the biggest colorants in Asia, employs a different dyeing technique than others and that Saffron, another vibrant color, is one of the most valued dye colorants and at one point was only used on Buddhist robes.

“The beautiful vibrant yellow can be replicated with Tamarind or Curry powder, but isn’t as saturated as true Saffron. Pomegranate rinds also create a beautiful light yellow,” said Alex.

Who knew that pomegranate rinds would produce yellow—not me, that’s for sure!

Finally, Alex told me about Lac.

Lac is a beautiful colorant extracted from insects that produces a dark red or purple color, depending on the mordant used with it.

(Mordants are natural substances which produce a chemical reaction that molecularly combines the dye and fiber. Most often they are a metal like iron, copper, tin, or aluminum.)

Now when I gaze at the art on my friend’s wall, I will have a much better understanding of the artisans’ craft.

What about you? What kinds of fabric designs or colors do you like on your furniture or walls? Take a picture and post it on our Facebook page.

Want to Learn More?

Want to DIY fabric in frames? Check out this article on RealSimple.com about how to frame fabric for quick, inexpensive art!

If you would like to learn more about natural fabric dyes, you can learn more about it here on Wikipedia.

Here is more information on Indian fabrics — from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design) — about dyeing techniques, inspiration from nature, and the country’s textile trade.

There is also a lot of interesting information about brocades here at TextileAsArt.com!

Pashmina Cashmere Wool (Photo: ©Depositphotos | sarosa)