Patterning life

Teeming with colors, pattern and textures, the forthcoming “The Indian Textile Sourcebook” illustrates how design and technique can influence each other.

Few places say “design” quite like India. From the 5th-century Ajanta cave paintings – in which time cannot obscure graceful figures revealed and concealed by colorful clothing amid Hellenistic structures – to the most utilitarian contemporary objects, India oozes color, pattern, texture, and life. 

Avalon Fotheringham’s “The Indian Textile Sourcebook:  Patterns and Techniques” (April 9, Thames & Hudson, $55, 400 pages) helps explain why.

A curator in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Fotheringham has drawn on more than 10,000 pieces in the museum’s Indian textile collection of “ancient fragments, sacred temple cloths, luxurious court dress, trade textiles designed for markets all over the world and a variety of everyday fabrics and clothing from across the subcontinent.” That collection and the book are no small feats, as the climate on the subcontinent has wreaked havoc with textiles dating as far back as 6,000 B.C. Thus the oldest that survive are from some 2,000 years ago. They, along with works in the more durable media of painting and sculpture, suggest that the first patterns were abstract and geometric, followed by floral and figurative works, though there is some overlap. Whatever the subject, Indian works teem with colors, particularly red and green – which Vincent van Gogh called the “colors of passion.”

The book is organized into three sections – Floral, Figurative, and Abstract and Geometric. Each section begins with text that introduces plates that are in turn divided into three categories – Structure, textiles in which the pattern is woven, knotted or crocheted; Surface, featuring dyed, painted or printed textiles; and Embellishment, finished textiles whose patterns are created by the addition of material.

What this organization shows, Fotheringham writes, is that “the motifs that flourished over this long textile history are partly the result of the intertwined relationship between design and practice, the designs of textiles both driving, and developing out of, evolutions in techniques.”

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