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Over thousands of years, people have developed a variety of ways to add pattern or decoration to textiles, as well as vocabulary to describe their creations. These specialized techniques add beauty and significance beyond the textile’s function. Depending on the type of textile, you can introduce pattern before, during, or after its construction.
There are techniques for introducing color and pattern to fibers or yarns before forming them into a textile.
Ikat (bound resist)
You can tightly wrap bundles of warp or weft yarns before dyeing them to create a pattern before weaving. The wrapping prevents color from penetrating the yarns. You can tightly wrap groups of warp yarns, weft yarns, or both sets at intervals and then immerse them in dye. To add more colors, you can repeat the process of wrapping yarns and dyeing. For example, to achieve green, first dye your yarns yellow. Next, unwrap the sections you want to become green, then dye the bundle again with blue.
Felted fabrics are made of fused fibers, usually wool. You first arrange the colored fibers into a pattern, and then subject them to moisture and extensive friction over several hours, causing the fibers to shrink and mat together. Felted fibers can be formed into three-dimensional shapes, making it useful for creating accessories, padding, or furnishings.
You can create a pattern or design during the process of constructing a textile.
Tapestry allows for freedom in the design process to build an image as you weave. In tapestry weave, the weft yarns turn back at the edges of each color area instead of extending across the entire fabric. Another feature of tapestry weave is that the warp yarns are hidden in the finished textile. You might see this technique used for flat-woven rugs or wall hangings.
Pile is the plush or shaggy surface on a fabric where trimmed tufts of yarn project above or below a foundation weave. Knotted pile textiles are made up of row after row of compact knots wrapped around the warp yarns of a foundation weave and cut to the desired length. The colored knots follow a grid to create a decorative pattern. This technique is commonly used for rugs.
Supplementary warp or weft patterning adds additional yarns to the foundation weave to create a design, add strength, or introduce texture. You can pattern one area or the whole cloth with this method.
Looped textiles are made from interlocking loops of yarn. You can build looped fabric by drawing each loop through the previous one, extending from the edge of the fabric. Crochet and knitting are two looped structures that use different techniques and tools to make looped fabrics. Adjusting the dimension of the holes or spaces in the fabric’s structure allows you to create complex patterns.
After its construction, you can embellish a textile with resist dyeing, embroidery, and other techniques. This is sometimes referred to as surface design.
Tie-dye (bound resist)
This resist-dyeing technique prevents color from penetrating cloth by tightly binding or stitching sections of it. You can knot the cloth on itself or tightly wrap thread around bunches of cloth before dyeing.
Appliqué is stitching or applying smaller pieces of cloth onto a larger background fabric to form pictures or patterns. It is important to keep the fabric flat and carefully stitch the edges to prevent fraying. The stitches that secure the top and bottom layers of fabric are called couching stitches. You might see this technique in quilts, clothing, or accessories.
Embroidery is the art of embellishing an existing fabric with needle and thread. You can use an extensive variety of stitches and materials to illustrate your desired design, including satin stitch to fill in shapes, chain stitch to make thick lines, and couching stitch to help attach decorations like beads and sequins.
This resist-dyeing technique prevents dye from penetrating by coating areas of fabric with wax before dyeing. You can draw designs by hand or apply them with a stamp. For each additional color, you will need to reapply wax and re-dye the fabric in the appropriate areas. To achieve double-sided patterning, you must apply wax to both sides of the fabric. Wax-resist is sometimes called “batik,” the Indonesian term for this technique.