Hands pulling a scarf away from a wall display


Textile Traditions



The Artisans Gallery features rotating displays and textiles that relate to the museum collections. We currently feature the following textile traditions:


Outline of a map of the Democratic Republic of the Congo filled with a raffia textile pattern



Kuba Cloth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

From the 17th to the 20th century, neighboring tribes in central Africa united as the Kuba Kingdom. Traditional Kuba textiles are woven from raffia palm tree fiber. Historically, men cultivated the palms and wove strips of cloth, and women stitched the pieces together, dyed them and embellished them with bold geometric patterns. Hundreds of patterns exist to describe events, objects or places, as well as to honor the maker or the recipient.


Outline of a map of Guatemala filled with an embroidered textile pattern



Embroidery in Guatemala

In Guatemala, distinctive and colorful embroidery patterns adorn traditional clothing and accessories. An iconic example is the huipil (pronounced wee-peel), a loose-fitting blouse worn by many Indigenous women in Guatemala and around Central America. Traditionally, these garments were woven by hand on a backstrap loom and heavily decorated with embroidery, ribbons or other embellishments. The designs vary by region and according to the occasion.


Outline of a map of India filled with a block-printed textile pattern



Block Printing in India

Block printing has been used in India for thousands of years as a way to add pattern to textiles. To create designs, artisans dip carved wooden blocks into a dye or mordant and then press them directly onto fabric. Sometimes artisans use these blocks to apply a resist so that the inverse pattern will emerge after dyeing. Multiple blocks may be used to introduce additional colors, layer by layer.


Outline of a map of Indonesia filled with a wax resist-dyed textile pattern



Batik in Indonesia

Batik is a wax-resist dyeing technique that originated on the island of Java in Indonesia. An artist creates patterns by applying liquid wax, which repels dye, to fabric with a stamp or canting tool. Next, the fabric is dyed, and then the wax is removed. The process is repeated for each color. In Indonesia, batiks are often symbolic and meant to be worn by particular groups of people for specific occasions.


Outline of a map of Japan filled with a tie-dyed textile pattern



Indigo Dyeing in Japan

In Japan, hand-dyeing fabric with natural indigo is known as “aizome.” The deep color that results is sometimes called “Japan blue.” Unlike using synthetic indigo dyes, the aizome process requires significant skill and experience. After the laborious process of cultivating and processing indigo plants for a dye vat, an artist needs to soak cloth in the dye bath and then expose it to the air many times, until the desired shade of blue is finally obtained.


Outline of a map of Peru filled with an alpaca wool textile pattern



Alpaca Fiber in Peru

Alpacas are indigenous to the Peruvian Andes, and their soft fleece is central to the region’s rich textile history. Women and children in rural mountain villages spend much of their time tending alpacas, llamas and sheep — shearing their fleece once a year to weave at home or sell in bulk at the market. Alpaca fiber is prized around the world for its warmth and softness.


Outline of a map of Uzbekistan filled with an ikat textile pattern



Ikat in Uzbekistan

Ikat (pronounced EE-kaht) is the process of decorating textiles by tying and dyeing yarns before weaving them into cloth. Uzbekistan’s rich ikat tradition — characterized by its bold colors and abstract designs — has come to embody this iconic technique. Today, the ikat aesthetic inspires designers worldwide in creating everything from couture gowns to home goods.



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