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Indian textiles

In the Design area of study you will investigate the influence the cultural factors that influence contemporary design and analyse the influence of historical, cultural and contemporary developments on textile design related to a culture. This tutorial focuses on Indian textiles. The activities in this tutorial will allow you to explore different aspects of Indian textiles and complete an analysis of its influences on contemporary design.

This material addresses aspects of the following syllabus outcomes:

H6.1 The student analyses the influence of historical, cultural and contemporary developments on textiles.

Source: Board of Studies NSW, Stage 6 Textiles and Design Syllabus, Preliminary and HSC Courses (2007)


Cotton and silk cloth, hand-woven in all the different regions of this vast and varied land and often embellished with embroidery, metal threadwork, beads and even jewels, is fundamental to everyday life in India. It is through the cut, colour, texture and brilliance of their garments that Indians establish their exact position in a society so diverse and fragmented by religion, ethnicity, and the myriad divisions of caste . . .
Cooper and Gillow, 1996

Textile production and design in India is unique. The predominant fibres are cotton and silk but it is the decoration of these fabrics that creates truly beautiful end products. This tutorial is not designed to lead you through a comprehensive examination of all textile art forms in India. Rather it highlights some key features of Indian textiles and allows you to explore them in a variety of ways. You will look at a classic Indian motif, and two forms of embroidery.



The paisley motif originated in Kashmir in India. It is a fertility symbol based on the new shoot of a date palm. The motif is most well known for its use on Kashmiri shawls. The design found its way to England in the 1760s where copies of the original Kashmiri shawls were made in the Scottish weaving centre of Paisley. Hence the use of the Anglo-Saxon term paisley. In India the motif is known as kairy (mango) and buta (floral form) and in Kashmir it is kalanga or kalga.


Genuine Kashimiri shawls took 18 months to make and were made from the soft wool on the underbelly of goats. The Paisley shawls were made from wool and could be woven on hand looms in just two weeks. This made them much more affordable. The Industrial Revolution had a huge impact on production. From 1820 to 1860 thousands of shawls were produced. The last Paisley shawl was made in 1876.

The use of the paisley motif in furnishings is attributed to Napoleon's wife Josephine who had gowns, bedcovers and cushions made from the shawls. The French began making copies of the shawls and modified the design, adding long curling tips to the basic cone shape.

Arthur Liberty, an Englishman revived the popularity of the paisley design. It became recognised as the Liberty print and was used for home accessories. The paisley pattern is still popular today.


Paisley motif
paisley motif
Paisley printed fabric
paisley printed fabric


The paisley motif was often used in Indian block printing. Draw your own version of the paisley motif and transfer the design to a potato to do your own block printing. You will need printing paste or you can try mixing 1 teaspoon of tumeric with 1 teaspoon of PVA glue for a real Indian flavour. You will need to iron the fabric to fix the paste to the fabric.

Adapted from Fritz, A. (1980) The Fibre of Clothing, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Textile techniques in focus

Particular techniques have been widely used in contemporary textiles. Two are explored in this tutorial. You may like to investigate others in a similar way if they relate to your Major Textiles Project.

Shisha embroidery

Shisha or embroidery with mirrors is a classic Indian textile art form.

Read the excerpts from the article Mirror mirror then answer the questions.

Mirror mirror questions

  1. Discuss the "ancient art of Shisha or embroidery with mirrors", consider the historical and cultural aspects as well as the contemporary developments of this textile technique.
  2. Using a flow chart, outline the construction method of this ancient technique. Include detailed drawings where possible.


Construct a Shisha embroidery sample.

Metal threadwork

The textile arts of Gabriella Verstraeten show influence from Indian metal threadwork.


Comment on the influence of Indian textile arts in the following pieces by Gabriella Verstraeten.

Two silk shawls Silk shawl and matching purse
Detail of two silk shawls (Verstraeten, 2001) Detail of shawl and matching silk envelope purse (Verstraeten, 2001)
embroidered mules
Four embroidered mules (Verstraeten, 2001)

Verstraeten , G. (2001) Wrapture, Gabriella Verstraeten, Textile Fibre Forum, Vol 20, Issue 1, No 61, inside cover.

Contemporary design

Contemporary design is clearly influenced by Indian textiles. One only has to walk into a homewares store to see the colourful array of cushions embroidered with metal thread and highlighted with beads and mirrors. Clothing has also been touched with features from Indian textiles, the use of sari silks, embroidered cloths and even the draping characteristic of saris.


Identify specific examples of how Indian textiles have influenced the focus area you are studying.

Contemporary Indian fashion

The following videos provide a great overview of Indian fashion design in the 21st century:

Indian traditions and French House, The Videofashion News Service.

The Best of India and Urban Buzz, The Videofashion News Service.

Available from:

International Fashion Video Pty Ltd
1 Gumtree Lane
Double Bay NSW 2028
Fax: 02 9363 1822

Moulin rouge: the Indian connection

Much of the embroidery and beading for costumes in the movie Moulin Rouge were done by Indian textile artists coordinated by Chetan Desai who works for several international designers.

One of the costumes inspired by India was the Hindu wedding dress worn by Nicole Kidman. It featured gold embroidery on the sari.

Studying Indian textiles in some depth?

Other aspects of Indian textiles that you may like to investigate are:

These references and web sites may be of use for a study of Indian textiles.

Cooper, I. and Gillow, J. (1996) Arts and crafts of India. Thames & Hudson Ltd. London.
Gaunt, P. (1993) From Delhi to desert, Pt 1. Textile Fibre Forum, Vol 12, Issue 2, No 37, pp. 25­26.
Gaunt, P. (1993) From Delhi to desert, Pt 2. Textile Fibre Forum, Vol 12, Issue 3, No 38, pp. 34­35.
Gillow, J. and Barnard, N. (1993) Traditional Indian Textiles. Thames & Hudson Ltd. London.
Nath, A. and Waeziarg, F. (1987) Arts and crafts of Rajasthan, Mapin International, New York.

Web sites

Handlooms and texcrafts
http://www.designdiary.nic.in/index.asp (external website)

Indian textiles: a historical perspective
http://www.academia.edu/840611/History_of_indian_Textiles (external website)

http://char.txa.cornell.edu/IndianTex.htm (external website)

http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/market-research-industry-reports/indian-textile-industry/indian-textile-industry1.asp (external website)

The Cotton Textiles Export Promotion Council
http://www.texprocil.com (external website)

Textiles of Andhra Pradesh
http://www.4to40.com/art/index.asp?id=53&category= (external website)

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