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July 13, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2013 issue

A tribal trend

Words: Caroline Ciantar-Barbara

On a recent search for fabrics, I realised I found myself walking along rows of brightly coloured, tribal-like patterns which inspired me to do some research in order to discover their story.

It seems that history does repeat itself and it’s very difficult to miss out on this recent burst of ancient patterns which made their way through art and clothing and now became the latest interior trend too! Naturally, designs we find in the market today are inspired by some old patterns or tapestries which would have had a particular meaning in their time.

Kilim-influenced textiles and rugs are among the most popular on the market. Mostly characterised by geometrical patterns and bold interlaced colours, having a Kilim is like taking a page out of an Anatolian native’s life. These rugs were a form of communication through elaborate art – and although they were made by what would be ‘illiterate’ people in our world, they had an extraordinary education in the language of weaving. Girls would weave Kilim rugs before marriage to express their hopes for fortune, a handsome husband or children – married wives on the other hand would express their dislike towards their mother-in-law or their desire for a friend. So the composition of each geometrical shape and their formation as a whole would have had a very particular story to tell.

Although it is possible to find the proper woven Kilim, nowadays many companies have made it even easier to include these kinds of patterns, not just through rugs, but also through other aspects of interiors – however, these motifs are usually copied versions of old ones with colours changed by producers in order to suit modern interiors. What is impressive is how something so rich in pattern, colour and history can blend in so smoothly into almost any décor – even the most modern or minimalist.

You may have noticed other tribal patterns in the market, such as the Suzani, which has also inspired the creation of many modern fabrics. Coming from central Asia, these rugs were embroidered by nomadic tribes in what is now Uzbekistan; however this didn’t stop the inhabitants of the city from commissioning the nomadic women to make rugs for them.

Different to Kilim, Suzani motifs were not created by the women, but by an elder who would draw the design on fabric. These designs are very unique with medallion and floral patterns.

Apart from brightening the empty interiors of their tepees, Suzani rugs also were of cultural significance. Girls in the tribes would learn the art of embroidering and weaving from a young age and create a dowry of examples to exhibit their capabilities. A girl who was very skilful was highly valued as a wife.

Suzani are still produced nowadays. Some are hand embroidered and others are machine-made, possibly in slightly toned down colours than were used in the past. Each Suzani design has its own wild and colourful graphic and would make delightful wall hangings, bedspreads, furniture throws, pillows or even tablecloths.

Finally, the trend-setter to all this tribal hype is what is known as the Ikat, which spread everywhere and quickly in small and large scale – from furniture to rugs to accessories. What makes it so unique is its method of weaving. This requires tying off threads in bundles before they are woven to prevent the dye from reaching all the threads. Therefore, different patterns are created by alternating these bindings. The end result is a fiery effect with a flash of colours that seem to blur while retaining a pattern.

Traditionally, Ikat was a symbol of wealth and power and some actually believed that the fabric came with divine power because they required great ability and a lot of time to create.

Today Ikat is used to boost and energize interior design as well as add to an ethnic feeling. Apart from the traditional patterns and colour schemes, modern designers have adapted some patterns by designing them in unconventional colours and shades, again, to fit today’s interiors.

It may feel slightly overwhelming to mix patterns, but starting with a foundation and mixing a few more solids to break them up should help you start off better. Keeping the patterns in a similar style will create more of a unified assortment; however if you feel more adventurous, getting different designs to work together is also possible. This can happen if scales are varied in the same composition – so big medallions for example, can be paired up with smaller lattice. Prints and patterns are not necessarily made to match – and sometimes the bigger the clash, the better. It can be a fun way of combining patterns, but it also does take a good eye. Otherwise if you like it and you think it looks good, just go for it.

The same can be said about combining colour. Black and white, neutral shades and dark colours have the ability to blend in with a multitude of rich and lively colour tones, adding an unexpected fusion of shades to modern interior decorating. Tasteful blends of decorating colours add interest to the home, breaking rules and creating unusual and individual rooms. Both contemporary and classic sleek furniture frames decorated with colourful upholstery fabrics create fresh designs that make these pieces look amazing.

I find it remarkable to think how these lively decorative patterns with unique ethnic motifs and rich colours inspired by traditional, cultural practices from many years ago have ended up in some of the most modern designs, looking nothing short of beautiful. The simple yet complex geometric and floral designs of the Kilim, Suzani and Ikat have become very strong and popular, even though they have already been around for a while now. But what better time to introduce them into your homes than in the summer season? Just add these spicy, decorative patterns to bring a fresher and more dynamic look into modern interiors!

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