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Despite the ease of mass production, traditional textiles are still crafted around the world, each showcasing a country or culture’s authentic style and art history. Artisans uphold their heritage by staying true to the original processes created by their ancestors, creating woven fabrics that are not only functional, but socially significant.
Purchasing a locally-made product supports the local economy and ensures you come home with a genuine souvenir. If you ever find yourself in these destinations, make sure to check out these seven unique, handmade textiles.
Batik is a centuries-old technique used to adorn simple material with carefully-crafted patterns. It’s a laborious process, but the resulting web of intricate designs is an iconic part of Indonesian artistry.
To start, the artist draws a traditional design on cotton or silk using a canting, a spouted copper pen with a bamboo handle. Once the sketch is complete, wax is applied on top of the drawing, allowing the design to retain the fabric’s original color. The fabric is then dipped into a large vat of dye. Many fabrics undergo multiple dyeing sessions while wax is added and removed to expose different colors throughout various sections of the design. Two to three months of arduous work produces one vibrantly colored textile, which is typically sold in local markets.
The art of marash embroidery is a distinctive part of Armenian culture, and many young girls are taught the delicate needlework and lacework. Although marash textiles are commonly used in the home and for religious purposes, they are also a valued economic export. For this reason, men and women frequently work together to harvest, clean, prepare, and produce the final pieces.
Inspiration for marash designs stems from Armenian architecture and nature — often incorporating crosses and knotted engravings found on local buildings. Gold and silver threads sometimes appear throughout a weaving, while stones and pearls are integrated around particularly special symbols.
Commonly used to make kimono fabric, yuzen is a dye-resisting method characterized by graceful sketches of flowers, birds, and human forms. Dating back to the 14th century, yuzen evolved from single-color dyes with simplistic designs to multicolored, elaborately patterned motifs that are now a ubiquitous symbol of Japan.
To create the traditional clothing, the fabric is first cut into the shape of a kimono. Rice paste is used to outline the design before the material is dip-dyed. The remaining white lines are the beginning of the masterpiece. Other colors are then hand-painted onto the drawing with a brush, with the paste helping to protect the areas the artist does not wish to color. The dried paint is smoothed, while the paste is removed by a steaming process, which provides the crucial finishing touches.
Kantha (India and Bangladesh)
Bengali for “patched cloth,” kantha is a befitting name for the ancient art of recycling saris (traditional female clothing) and pieces of old fabric by sewing them together to make a patchwork quilt. Women in the West Bengal region of India, and Bangladesh have been practicing this craft for hundreds of years out of the necessity to reuse discarded clothing and keep warm. While launching a new trend wasn’t intended, kantha quilts have become popular in the west and have helped support the impoverished communities from which they hail.
Hecho a Mano (Guatemala)
Meaning “handmade” in Spanish, Guatemalan hecho a mano textiles leave even rare textile collectors in awe. Produced in weaving co-ops located in rural villages surrounding Lake Atitlan, these brightly colored, beautifully crafted household textiles are not only handmade, they’re also 100% eco-friendly.
First, the local women weavers harvest and hand-spin the cotton before using natural dyes derived from plants, tree bark, insects, fruit, and vegetables to produce vibrantly colored threads. The women then use a traditional backstrap loom to weave stunning patterns into sustainable fabrics used to make traditional clothing, bags, baby wraps, blankets, and other necessary items.
Kuba Cloth (Democratic Republic of Congo)
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, men and women each play a specific role in creating kuba cloth. The men are responsible for making the foundation, also known as raffia cloth. Using the namesake tree, raffia leaves are cut, dyed with natural-occurring substances (mud, indigo, or heartwood), and woven together to create a base. The men supply these blank pallets to the women who use fibers of the raffia leaf to stitch linear patterns onto the swath, using the “cut-pile” technique. This method involves inserting multiple fibers into the fabric with a needle and then cutting the top of the fibers with a knife, creating slightly raised, plush detailing. The textiles are ultimately used for clothing, sleeping mats, and other household fabrics.
Steeped in heritage, frazadas are blankets made by Aymaran women weavers in rural Peruvian villages to protect against the harsh weather often found in the Andes Mountains. A centuries-old tradition, girls start learning how to spin sheep’s wool, hand-dye the thread with naturally occurring plants and insects, and weave these heavy-duty blankets — all at the age of 10.
The woven material is produced in two parts before being bound together to form the final frazada. One telltale sign of the merge is a contrasting seam that binds the strips together, also lending a decorative flair. Another characteristic of an authentic frazada is its vibrant pink hue, a color derived from the dried body and eggs of the cochineal, an insect native to Peru. Designs and color combinations are spontaneous and come solely from the individual artisan’s mood and preference. Therefore, each blanket is unique to its creator. The entire process is not an easy one, as the completion of one blanket can take weeks.