Fabulous Fabrics

Two favorite animal print fabrics that I've found while shopping now have a place in my home as an upholstered chair and a pair of pillows!

Two favorite animal print fabrics that I’ve found while shopping now have a place in my home as an upholstered chair and a pair of pillows!

Long before my scholarship to New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology and my first Textile Science course, where I got into the nitty-gritty of fiber and thread, I have been in love with fabrics.  I can’t get enough of the way different materials feel—the roughness of coarse linen, the softness of raw silk, the silkiness of fine cotton, the variety of textures in a velvet brocade—or the way patterns, colors and textures can be coordinated and combined to “tell a story,” and change the mood and feel of a space.  I love putting together a room because of the way fabrics can play off each other—a textured neutral such as a taupe chenille on a sofa, for instance, paired with a vividly patterned upholstered chair, and an animal print ottoman, or the way you can “dress” a bed by mixing all different patterns—stripes, florals, prints, chenilles, embroidered or a jacquard but with a common color theme.

I search for fabrics wherever I go, from the flea markets of Connecticut and Florida, to the sprawling fabric shops of New York.  One of my favorite memories is being with my sister in France and digging through the bins of fabrics at a Paris flea market on the Rue Andre del Sarte.  My souvenirs from that trip included a bag full of found fabrics that have since been made into pillows, curtains and even a pieced quilt.

Following is a list of some of my favorites—fabric patterns that I find myself drawn to again and again—and even though the colors change as trends dictate, there is a consistency to what I find appealing and what I feel will never go out of style.

  • Toile du Jouy, or toile.  This is the now generic name for fabric that originated in Jouy, France, and is identified by the printing of scenes—domestic, exotic, historic or fantastical—in a one-color process on linen and cotton.  Today’s toiles explore many themes—architectural styles to whimsically personified animals—and are printed in multiple colors instead of the traditional chocolate brown, cherry red, amethyst or indigo on a creamy background.  Toiles excite my imagination and it seems I can always find a place for a toile pattern in any of my rooms – whether a red toile wallpaper in my personal space, or green & cream toile pillows on our New York City apartment couch.
  • Paisleys.  Another fabric named for the town from which it originated, a factory in Paisley, Scotland began weaving the intricately patterned wool fabric based on Indian Kashmiri designs in the eighteenth century to satisfy the demands of a populace desirous of the exotic, global look of the shawls worn by those lucky few tourists who had actually purchased the originals in India.  My favorite paisleys are woven in deep rust, burgundy, greens and browns—earth tones—that seem to compliment my other favorite fabric choices.  My friend and designer, Lynn von Kersting, collects vintage paisley shawls as I do, and uses them liberally as curtain valances, to upholster and drape over tables and the backs of furniture.
  • Ethnic fabrics and prints.  Kilims, those brilliantly colored and patterned ”flat” or pileless rugs woven through western Asia, make a great upholstery fabric for ottomans, stools and accent throw pillows.  African fabrics such as Asante, Kuba, ikats and Kente cloth reflect different tribal traditions and though based on ancient patterns and techniques, can have the effect of adding a modern, geometric design element to a room and are wonderful to coordinate with those more traditional European fabrics that I love such as damasks, chintz, and cambrics for a timeless, eclectic, and adventurous look.  Ikats, a fabric that uses a resist dye technique similar to batik, tends to look fresh and modern when executed in brilliant color combinations such as blue and white while Kuba cloth, an appliqué on a coarsely woven natural fiber such as linen or hemp, is a rustic, geometric foil to smoother cottons and silks.

Seeing stacks and bolts and yard-upon-yard of colorful fabrics does make me feel just like a kid in a candy store and my eyes are always bigger than my ability to find uses for all of my favorites, hence my fabric “stash”.  So, on your next visit to your favorite store, take note of what fabrics your drawn to. Consider a visit to a fabric store for design inspiration, color choices, and as a general starting point for decorating any room in your house.  Collect swatches, mix-and-match colors and patterns, ask others for their opinions if too many choices make you feel uncertain, enjoy and experiment!

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