What happens when Roberto Cavalli, Burberry, Missoni and Christian Louboutin get ahold of India’s textiles? Fashion magic happens! Vogue’s Project Renaissance paired the world’s most famous fashion designers with fabrics like Benarasi brocades and Kanchipuram silk sarees. Although we know the famous fashion brands, we don’t know the names of the weavers of these fabrics unfortunately, as they are just as much artisans and geniuses of design. Here are the results of this celebration of India’s textiles …
My personal favorite is what Christian Louboutin did with Kanchipuram silk, the “wedding saree” fabric from South India:
I don’t know if this is what was intended, but what I see here in the gold spikes is an edgy homage to the real gold threads that are often woven through Kanchipuram sarees. Yes, real gold woven in fabric!
Although the iconic zig-zags of Missoni are a pattern you will find in India, Missoni broke from that tradition and used Chikankari to create a dress that could fit in at a New York City evening event:
Chikankari means “embroidery” and is from the artistic city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, India. It’s a delicate embroidery usually done on lightweight fabrics. Usually I see it on beige fabrics where it feels cool and summery. Here on this red dress, it looks so lush and rich.
From Nazrana Chikan, here’s a detailed view of the complexity of this embroidery:
Of course Burberry made a trench coat, of Maheshwari silk:
You can see how the silk was layered to build it up into a substantive fabric.
I love this little ETRO jacket. If you have a small piece of a treasured textile found while traveling, sewing a little jacket is a great way to use it:
And Roberto Cavalli. Who would guess it’s a Rajasthani bandhini (also called bandhani) fabric?
I’ve always believed textiles from India can be used in Western fashion silhouettes.
One of my favorite fabrics of India is Benarasi brocades, and here’s how Jimmy Choo turns it into a shoe:
From Prabal Gurung, another creation from Benarasi brocade and an example of shaping these fabrics into a very different silhouette than you usually see for this fabric, but it works:
Have you ever dreamed of making your own patterned fabrics? You can! You can unleash your inner textile designer, very easily. How? With paint and stencils! Most tutorials that show how to design textiles talk about using Illustrator or Photoshop to design patterns. Then you print patterns on fabric digitally with services like Spoonflower. And that sounds fun! But for me, there’s a problem. It’s creating the pattern. I have a hard time creating a nice pattern from ground zero, starting with nothing, like a blank piece of paper or a blank laptop screen. But I can take existing patterns and mix them together!
With stencils, the pattern is already made for you. You just choose a stencil you like, or mix several stencil patterns together. Then, paint the pattern on fabric:
Now, you may not wind up creating a textile collection sold wholesale at a design center. But we’re not all looking to do that. You can design fabrics for your own use, using your favorite patterns and colors. And who knows, maybe you’ll branch out to sell to friends and family, and maybe even launch an Etsy shop. So, what can you design if you want to be a textile designer? Lots of things! To get your ideas going, here’s a few DIYs I’ve done, with links to tutorials. After these inspiration ideas, I share tips on paints to use with fabric.
Pillows are easy projects for the budding textile designer. They’re small, so if you make a mistake or don’t like the final result, it’s not a huge commitment of fabric. You can always start over with a new piece of fabric.
I started with a plain teal shawl dug out of the back of a closet. I painted the Moroccan stencil on the teal shawl, then sewed patterned teal silk fabric to the sides to make a multi-patterned pillow. I painted with Stencil Creme paint from Royal Design Studio. Below, I share more information about various paints for fabric, including Stencil Creme.
In the Moroccan pillow photo above, you may notice more patterns on the big cushion. I designed a huge seat cushion for an Indian-Moroccan closet nook. That was the project when my inner textile designer started bursting to be let loose! I paired two stencils — one for the top and a different border for the sides — and painted them on a silk fabric with shimmery Stencil Creme:
Again, I used the Royal Design Studio Stencil Cremes to paint this. I must really love those paints!
For this project, I used Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan to stencil on an Ikea rug. I used only three colors of paint, but I mixed them to make five colors in this rug. This took a rug from plain Jane, to exotic Ikat:
Here I stenciled Japanese style stencils on a silk fabric to make an obi-style table runner. But you can stencil on many different types of fabrics to make a table runner that fits your decor. For a farmhouse look, you can stencil on burlap. You can stencil on a plain store-bought table runner. Let your imagination go!
I bought plain absorbent kitchen towels, and painted them with an olive and vine pattern, and colors inspired by the French countryside. This makes a great gift! I stenciled with Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan. This is mostly a decorative towel, so it hasn’t been washed many times. I know Chalk Paint can be durable, but I can’t speak to whether it would hold up on dozens of washings. If anyone has experience with that, please share in the comments! I would think even if the pattern fades, it’s fine, it’s part of the patina of use.
Nearly anything you can think of, you can paint stencils on. That is how you can easily design textiles, without having to create patterns from scratch!
WHAT PAINT TO USE?
You might have questions about what kind of paint to use. The paint you use depends on:
What you’re making
How much wear it will get
Whether you will be washing it.
Fabric Paints — If you’re making something that will go through a washing machine a lot, I suggest using paints specifically designed for fabrics. You may need to heat set the paint with an iron, or mix an additive into the paint that “fixes” it permanently. This means the fabric can be washed and the paint won’t wash out. Dharma Trading sells a huge selection of fabric paint colors. Dharma Trading even organizes fabric paint by light fabrics and dark fabrics, because you want more opaque paints for dark fabrics. I like the Jacquard and Lumiere brand textile paints for stenciling. I’ve found Jacquard and Lumiere fabric paints at my local Dick Blick art store, although Dharma Trading has a far bigger selection, and I found Dharma’s online colors to be accurate so I’m comfortable ordering online. You can also find fabric paints in craft stores like Michaels and JoAnn.
When buying fabric paints to use for stenciling, buy thicker paints, not the really runny paints. It is easier to paint a stencil pattern with a thicker paint. Thinner runny paints may seep under the stencil.
Acrylic Paint + Textile Medium — Another option for a durable paint finish for washables is to use acrylic paint and mix a “textile medium” into it. Acrylic paint comes in smaller tubes so if you want to experiment with different colors, the price is low, like $1.50-2.50 for a tube of paint from brands like DecoArt, FolkArt, Delta CeramCoat or Martha Stewart. Look for the textile mediums in the same sections as the acrylic paint in craft stores. Here’s what you will be looking for:
Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan — Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan can be quite durable. However I have not yet made anything with Chalk Paint that I washed frequently, so I can’t personally speak to its ability to withstand frequent washing. I think it would be fine for items that aren’t washed much. As mentioned above, I’ve painted lamp shades, rugs, and tote bags with Chalk Paint.
Stencil Creme from Royal Design Studio— I love stenciling with this Stencil Creme paint because it was specially formulated to use while stenciling. It’s thick and heavily pigmented, so it’s less likely to run under a stencil. It also has a metallic sheen that I like. I have limited experience with washing fabrics with this paint, but I did accidentally get some Antique Gold Stencil Creme on jeans. I’ve washed those jeans many dozens of times and the paint hasn’t come out. I know you can get paint off fabric with rubbing alcohol, but it’s not noticeable on the jeans so I just left it alone. I’ve mostly used Stencil Cremes on fabrics that I won’t wash much, like the big teal blue cushion in the closet nook, and table runners.
A Final Word about value
Because I’m saying this last doesn’t mean it’s least important. This DIY idea should not at all diminish the importance and value of bona fide talented textile designers. Their creations astonish me. I know I don’t have the ability to do that myself. (At least I think I don’t.) Not all of us can create designs from nothing, and not all of us have the time or resources to do that. If you feel that describes you, and you want to try your hand at this, this is an option for making beautiful textile designs yourself.
If you have any questions, please comment and I will try to answer them!
This framed saree fabric, also available from Firozi, is perfect for boho decor:
If you’ve seen global textiles on Pinterest, no doubt you’ve come across framed Mali mudcloth and framed kuba cloth from Congo. There’s framed Thai hilltribe fabric. I have framed Fortuny fabrics. So why not hang framed saree fabric as well, and celebrate it?
Sarees often have enough different designs on one saree, that you can mix and match coordinating colors and designs, similar to this from BHG. Though I am not sure this is saree fabric:
Look on eBay and Etsy for vintage sarees, and look for sarees that have a lot of different designs on one saree. You can easily create this look.
Here are vintage saree borders in embroidery hoops, used as frames, from Etsy shop FoundVintageObjects:
Using embroidery hoops is an interesting idea when the saree is embroidered. You can even use very large embroidery hoops to show off a large piece of fabric.
For my own creative combo, I decided to reupholster an old mid century modern chair with the mud cloth souvenir from Marrakech. Here’s the old, sad, sorry, peeling chair:
The chair had been buried in the back of our garage for a decade. But no more! Here’s a peek at the finished result, seen in a recent post about how I painted that metallic copper wall in the background:
This chair is super comfortable for sitting. I’ve always loved it. I got it for $25 (maybe $50? forget now) about 25 years ago at a big garage sale in Royal Oak, Michigan. I’ve always wondered about the chair’s background. Who made it? The style seems inspired by very famous names in MCM style. When I took the chair apart to reupholster it, the clues were hand-written on the foam:
Written on the foam pieces: “Overman Apollo ABS” and “Apella ABS”
Vinyl cushion cover tags say “Made by Overman U.S.A., Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee”
When you Google “Overman USA,” many mid century modern chairs show up in Google Images, but none quite like mine. I did find that “Overman International” in Tennessee is the same company as “Overman USA.” Their furniture was produced in Sweden and Germany before moving to Tennessee. At the Overman International web site, they share their original lines of chairs with names like Astro, Comet, Jupiter and Mercury. Apollo would fit right in there, right? So we found the maker. It’s not Saarinen provenance, but I’m glad to know where it was made. I wanted to be assured that I wasn’t wrecking value by disassembling the chair.
Reupholstering Pattern Tips
The chair’s original upholstery was fake leather — “pleather” — that was sticky and squeaky. I thought the mud cloth fabric would look great on the chair, make it more comfortable and less squeaky.
Before removing the old upholstery, here’s some tips that will help you reassemble the pieces later:
Mark the pieces with numbers
Photograph the chair with the numbers, to make a visual map for later reference
After carefully documenting the pattern pieces in photos, I cut the upholstery off the foam. I cut along all the stitching lines, and later when I cut new pattern pieces, I added 1/2″ around all stitching lines for a seam allowance.
There were some strange shapes and pretzel-like configurations, which revealed themselves as I removed the upholstery and the foam. So, marking the pieces with numbers was a smart idea. Don’t ever assume that reassembling the pieces will be intuitive and easy!
You may want to replace old foam with new foam, instead of reinstalling half-century old foam. I re-used the old foam because I wanted to avoid the expense of custom cut foam. My chair is not made of simple rectangle or oval shapes, so all the foam would need to be custom cut.
I took a break to play with pattern mixes – here’s the Mali mud cloth, a Fortuny fabric and Jim Thompson silk from Thailand:
If you are using a fabric with lines or a non-random pattern (as I am using with the mud cloth), when you lay out the pattern pieces, be mindful of how the pattern will look on the chair. For example, you want the lines to continue from the back of the chair to the seat cushion. So be careful about how you lay out your pattern pieces on the fabric. Here you can see I laid out the crescent-shaped back pattern piece so it is aligned with the seat piece, so the lines would continue from the back to the seat. Uh, the cat is sitting on the seat. (Of course!)
Here’s a better view of how to lay out patterns so the stripes continue from the back to the seat:
The same pattern of lines also needs to continue on the front edge of the chair cushion that will be visible, around to the bottom of the cushion. Here’s the pieces cut out, so you see how the pattern flows across parts of the chair:
Here’s how the pieces will fit together when sewn. The mud cloth pattern is perfectly matched:
For the unseen upholstery on the bottom, I used a plain heavy beige fabric. Yes, you should iron fabric before cutting pattern pieces, but I didn’t, I figured measurements didn’t need to be super precise for this project:
Here’s all the fabric and foam pieces. I had buttons but decided to not use them:
Also, years ago I sprayed faux stone spray paint all over the chair, to cover up scratches. Now I had to scrape off all this fake stone paint, making a huge mess:
I tell ya, that faux stone spray paint is powerful. It was sprayed on about 20 years ago and was a bear to scrape off! After all this scraping, the plastic chair base was in bad shape. So I spray painted it again. This time, with a simple plain beige spray paint. No more fake stone!
After the reupholstery with mud cloth and a fresh coat of simple beige spray paint, here’s the final result:
It’s a bold blend of style from around the world, mixed together: