10 Artisan-Made Traditional Textiles to Collect on Your Conscious Travels

10 Artisan-Made Traditional Textiles to Collect on Your Conscious Travels

A sustainable home, no matter how minimalistic its aesthetic, needs some texture to add some warmth and interesting visual points. Textiles make the perfect addition to any home as it captures cultural stories, honours ancient techniques and the item itself enhances any room or space. Thus textiles are the perfect keepsake to collect when you’re travelling as they pack easily into your eco-friendly suitcase and are great reminders of your travels abroad.

Here is a list of some artisan-made textiles to buy on your world travels (or if COVID-19 has you homebound, you can purchase at ethical online stores):

1. Ikat

Ikat is produced using a specific dyeing technique that has been practised in Guatemala to Japan though it is often attributed to Indonesia given the term ‘ikat’ is derived from Indonesian languages and means “bind”. To produce ikat the weaver uses resist dyeing on yarns prior to weaving the fabric. Individual yarns are bound together to create the desired pattern; a method similar to a tie-dye process. Yarns are then dyed and fabric is woven, and these steps are repeated to create the patterns. When finished, the bindings are removed and the yarns are then woven into the fabric.

A woman in Maumere City, Sikka Regency in Indonesia selling traditional hand woven textiles called “Tenun Ikat Sikka” which have been hand loomed using natural dyes. Photo: Bastian AS.

2. Block print

One of the oldest forms of fabric printing, the block printing technique originated from India and China and is traced back to the 12th century, though some experts believe the craft is at least 2,000 years old. Indian artisans use wooden blocks that are carved by a master block maker to transfer complex designs – using a stamping technique of sorts – on to natural fibres such as organic cotton which are then used to create apparel and home furnishings. Once the dyes are applied with the blocks, the textile is dried in the sun and then usually washed in a local river.

Indigo hand block printed throw blanket. Source: Etsy.

3. Batik

A recognised ‘UNESCO intangible cultural heritage’ batik is an ancient fabric resist-dyeing tradition from Java, Indonesia. The intricate design and patterns is drawn onto fabric – usually cotton, silk, linen or hemp – then covered in wax resin using a pen-like component, and when the wax hardens, the fabric is then soaked in natural dye. The Indonesian term batik is said to be derived from ‘ambatik’ which translates to ‘a cloth with little dots’.

Women making batik in Ketelan, Central Java. Source: Stephen Kennedy.
A woman hangs out batik cloth to dry in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Areza Taqwim.

4. Mudcloth

A handmade textile from Mali dating back to the 12th century, mudcloth also known as Bogolan in Africa, is a hand loomed cloth primarily made of narrow strips of thick cotton stitched together which is hand-dyed using fermented mud and features hand drawn designs. It is hand-dyed repeatedly and sundried to ensure designs are properly transferred. Due to the mudcloth’s earthy colours, it was traditionally worn as camouflage but is now exported across the globe and used in clothing and homewares.

5. Otomi embroidery

Otomi embroidery can be traced to the central state of Hidalgo in Mexico. Folklore suggests that the designs were patterned off of cave drawings in the region. To craft the distinctive multi-coloured motifs of Otomi, artisans must first draw designs by hand and then embroider figures into muslin fabric. The use of negative space gives Otomi embroidery the contemporary look it is known for. This textile can be purchase in most craft markets across Mexico.

Otomi embroidered table runners made in Mexico. Source: Etsy.

6. Kantha

Kantha stitching and embroidery is a centuries-old technique of patchwork stitching to turn old vibrant saris and used cloth into light throws, blankets and upholstery. The technique is distinctive as stitches can be observed all over the design. The Sanskrit word ‘Kantha’ is translated to mean ‘rags’. The origins of Kantha can be traced to rural women in the East Bengal region of India which in present day terms includes the regions of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Bangladesh.

Indian Kantha quilts made with colourful old saris with the traditional Kantha running stitch all embroidered by hand running top to bottom. Photo: Nichola Chapman.

7. Suzani

A type of large embroidered textile made in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries, Suzani is derived from the Persian word suzan which means ‘needle’. Suzani usually have a cotton or silk fabric base with hand embroidery done in silk or cotton thread. According to renowned antiques auction house Christie’s, suzani are collector’s items and are highly valued for their beautiful decoration and fine craftsmanship.

Piles of rugs and suzani-embroidered and decorative tribal textiles stacked at a Tbilisi Georgia store. Photo: Vineyard Perspective.

8. Molas

The ‘mola’ or ‘molas’ traditional textile technique originated from the Kuna people who lived in the Guna Yala region (San Blas Islands) situated between Colombia and Panama, where women painted their bodies with geometric designs. It was not until after Spanish colonisation of the region in the 1500s when the geometric patterns and abstract designs featuring flora and fauna were then handwoven and embroidered (using a reverse appliqué technique) into cotton and other fabrics brought in by European settlers.

A woman selling traditional Molas textiles in Panama. Photo: Milosz Maslanka.

9. Handira

Handira, commonly known as Moroccan wedding blankets, are hand loomed and woven out of natural fibres such as sheep’s wool, cotton and linen. This wedding gift can be traced back to Berber women in the Middle Atlas mountains of northern Morocco who would lovingly present handira to the bride-to-be to bless with good luck, ward off evil spirits and bestow fertility.

A vintage traditional handira wedding blanket made in the 1970s. Photo: Etsy.

10. Indigo

Fabrics dyed with indigo can be found all over the world, from India, China and South East Asia through to East and West Africa. Indigo dye is a natural compound found in the leaves of a variety of plant species including indigo, woad, and polygonum and was once considered a rare commodity. Usually applied on to natural fiber such as cotton or linen, the indigo dyeing methods range from batik to tie-dye.

Indigo dye on textiles creates beautiful designs and patterns. Photo: Madeline Wu.

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Cover image of IKAT display at the George Washington University Textile Museum in Washington D.C. via Flickr.

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