A Quick Guide to Ethnic Textiles

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Textiles have always had a special place in my heart whether new or old, from near or far. I can’t help but notice the impact an ethnic textile has on the design and aesthetic of an interior. It’s as though, all of the sudden, the room is well traveled and more interesting. I’m slowly getting my bearings when it comes to knowing the country of origin for various textiles so I thought it’d be helpful for myself, and hopefully all our readers as well, if I put together a little visual crash course in ethnic textiles.

Indonesian Textiles

Indonesian Textiles
Images: Sara Gilbane Interiors (Left), 1stdibs (Right)

Indonesian textiles have been around for centuries and their techniques and styles are still widely used, re-used, and re-interpreted today. We can largely thank Indonesian culture for the long lasting ikat trend. Ikat is a dyeing technique similar to tie-dye that creates interesting and beautiful patterns and shapes. I love the imperfections of Indonesian textiles and the modern interpretations that are currently available.

Central Asia

Central Asian Textiles
Images: 1stdibs (Left), Country Living (Right)

Just as ubiquitous as the ikat pattern, is the suzani textile hailing from central Asia. Every time I come across an antique suzani I am always amazed at how well it has held up over so many years. I’m equally in awe of how something so old can look so contemporary; that is part of the charm of historical styles I suppose. Suzanis are tribal textiles that employ highly decorative embroidery on cotton (and sometimes silk) fabric. Most of the design motifs found on suzani textiles are derived from nature. Moon disks, suns, flowers, leaves, and vines are very popular and embroidered in a beautifully stylized way.

Indian Textiles

Indian Textiles
Images: Dream Design Live (Left), Textile Arts (Right)

If you’ve been to India or seen any movie that takes place there, you can’t help but fall in love with the way this culture embraces every color and pattern so effortlessly. It’s a way of life for them, and lucky for me, textiles from India are plentiful on bargain sites like eBay! Indian textiles are characterized by richly painted and dyed cottons. India is also known for using the ikat technique in their textiles. Along with cotton, many Indian textiles are made of fine silk, standing out amongst the crowd for their sheen and iridescent quality.

African Textiles

African Textiles
Images: Kelly Behun Studio (Top), Textile Arts (Bottom)

African textiles are some of my favorite because they frequently contrast black with more neutral tones, Don’t get me wrong, they use their fair share of color too, but as a whole, you will find a lot more black and neutral tones in African textiles. Another key characteristic of African textiles is their strong graphic quality. They’re what I like to call perfectly imperfect, never perfectly symmetrical and always seeming to exude an interesting story.

South & Central America

South and Central American Textiles
Images: Elle Décor (Top), Indigenous (Bottom)

While ethnic textiles definitely use a lot of color, I believe that those from South and Central America take the cake. On past trips to Mexico and Costa Rica, I couldn’t help but fall in love with houses painted in bright pinks, greens, and yellows. Their textiles aren’t any different. South and Central American textiles also have high sensitivity to texture and often have a heavier, slightly coarser hand, making them great for floor coverings or on anything else that might get a lot of ware or need more insulation.

Which ethnic textile are you most likely to use in your interior? Comment below and let us know!

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Brittany is an interior designer and stylist constantly searching for creativity and inspiration in the world around her. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California where she finds plenty of both. Her interior design studio services a variety of clients throughout California seeking her simple and collected aesthetic. Brittany believes that a house becomes a home when it is beautiful, comfortable and, most importantly, reflects the personality of the people who live inside.