In the U.S., we don’t usually wear our hopes, dreams and wishes on our clothes. Well, except for when you want your sports team to win! We don’t weave talismans and protections into our fabric, even when we feel vulnerable to things that affect us. Should we? There is a way to do it without being obvious. Like, you don’t have to print “I want the winning lottery ticket” on a T-shirt. You can use symbols to tell your story. And the combination of symbols can be beautiful. We can learn from how other cultures weave meaningful stories into their fabrics, like the Adinkra cloth of Ghana.
The black patterns are printed, and the colorful areas are made with embroidered threads. Here’s a close-up of the cloth from Hamill Gallery, so you can see the print and embroidery:
Adinkra cloths have caught my eye for awhile — the lively mixes of patterns! — and I got curious to learn more and do a post about them.
These symbols are from the Akan culture in Ghana. They use these Adinkra symbols to decorate things like wood objects, pottery, jewelry and fabric. Traditionally these designs were reserved for the Asante kings, but now more people in Akan culture wear the cloth for important occasions.
Here you see that drawing a comb over the fabric creates lines:
Just like with the more popular mud cloth and kuba cloth, the symbols in Adinkra cloth have meanings, Some symbols represent more complex ideas like proverbs and folk tales, others show simple images like plants. Master artisans and elders know how to match the symbols into combinations that tell stories. From Aaron Mobley Heart of Afrika Designs, here is a chart showing the meanings of many symbols – click here or click on the image to open a bigger picture where you can read the words:
The symbols are pressed into cloth with ink and stamps. The stamps are carved from gourds:
Oh my! If I spotted these on the roadside while traveling through Ghana! From Flickr:
If you’d like to use these symbols, the graphics at Adinkra.org were made for you to use for personal, non-profit and educational purposes. Save them and open them in a graphics program. Create art and digital fabric designs. Print them and transfer the images onto fabric or wood. You can carve your own printing blocks in foam.
If you were to choose Adinkra symbols to tell the story of your life, or your hopes and wishes, which would you choose?
Right now, I would choose:
These symbolize things I’m dealing with right now:
Hardiness, Toughness, Perseverance
Unity, Human Relations
Yeah, heavy stuff. But I have some work to do to change some things in my life. I wonder what these symbols would look like if they were made into a cloth! Maybe we will see …
Two things I suggest at the tutorial post to get the rich Fortuny look:
Use real silk fabric. I found that a heavier silk taffeta looks nice. I think silk dupioni is too slubby-looking for the fine Fortuny look, and thinner silks like crepe de chine are too flimsy. Taffeta is just right.
Here you can see a close-up of the Stencil Cremes on my silk taffeta and silk velvet:
Real Fortuny Pattern Inspiration
Now here are examples of real Fortuny fabrics, to give you some inspiration:
I think Fortuny’s damask patterns, like those shown above, give the classic antique and vintage Fortuny look. They also have tribal and Moroccan-inspired patterns, so there is variety to the Fortuny style.
Stencils to get the Fortuny look
It’s not a surprise that stencils can give you the Fortuny look, because Fortuny uses stencils. Here are a bunch of recommended stencils, all from Royal Design Studio, that can give you the classic Fortuny style.
I think all of these would give you a Fortuny look! Now, some stencils cost more than others so you may also want to choose a stencil based on your project and whether you would re-use the stencil for other projects. I made three pillows for my living room sofas, and I’m sure I’ll be using these stencils again in the future. You can also stencil on bigger pieces of fabric to make bigger things:
Recover chair cushions
Make a long bench cushion
Stencil on a duvet
Make a wall hanging
Stencil on curtains
Royal Design Studio often runs sales. Sign up for their email list to get notices!
When stenciling on fabric, I recommend that you use a textile medium. It’s a liquid that you mix with paint so that the paint will stay softer and pliable after it dries, instead of crunchy feeling. You can find textile medium near the acrylic paints in a craft store. I also give more tips for using textile medium in the “faux Fortuny” tutorial post at Paint+Pattern — check it out!
You can barely get through Instagram without scrolling past a footsie on patterned tiles. Follow a number of design and travel grammers, and these footsies will happen to you. Boldly patterned tiles are trending. People are noticing them enough to photograph them. People are making even bigger commitments to these tiles. They’re putting bold patterns on their bathroom floors:
And on kitchen backsplashes:
I’m in the camp of people who worry about resale value, to be honest. Lately I’ve been “beige-ing” my house, so there won’t be anything offensive to future open house visitors. But I still love a good strong bold pattern (just like I like my coffee). Moroccan tile. Turkish tile. Tile in Iran. So patterned, so colorful, so beautiful! Last year my flights to and from Marrakech were routed through Lisbon, Portugal. I had an overnight in Lisbon. (I recommend scheduling an overnight in a city while traveling — your flight could be cheaper and you get a taste of an additional place, if only for a day!) Lisbon is famous for its tiled facades. While searching for something to do in Lisbon, I discovered Portugal’s National Tile Museum (aka the Museu Nacional do Azulejo). Here are Portuguese mosaics you will see there:
Tile is not as easy to make as you might think it is. You may think you take a slab of clay and just cut it in squares and just put some color on it, right? Oh no. Many years ago I took a tile-making class at the Ann Arbor Art Center, taught by Nawal Motawi of the famed Motawi Tileworks. (And, crap, I really miss living in Ann Arbor with easy access to things like that!) We learned the factors can make a tile go very wrong, very warped. And how to make things go right. You might have an idea in your mind of the color you want, but the tile can have a mind of its own when fired in the kiln. The glaze — the stuff that colors the tile — can do predictable things or weird things. Knowing the skill from start to finish of making tile made me appreciate Portugal’s National Tile Museum.
First, the setting of the museum. It makes your jaw drop in awe! It’s in an old crumbling convent attached to a church. The slight crumbliness meshes beautifully with the old tiles, as some tiles are chipped and marred just like the building:
Here are photos snapped as I strolled through the museum …
You get glimpses of the tile mosaics across courtyards and through columns:
Not all tiles are only geometric. Some showed interesting scenes. This is a tile mural called The Leopard Hunt, made in the 1660s:
The leopards look really worried, as they should. It’s just tile, but the feeling feels real:
Ugh. It’s like they’re saying, go vegetarian, people! And light a fire for warmth, don’t steal my fur pelt!
This next mural was my favorite, also from the 1660s. “The Chicken’s Wedding.” Whaaat? I know. I don’t know!
Okay, what is happening here?!? I had fun checking out every detail of this chicken wedding mural:
The chicken looks not too sure. Everyone else is having a good time. The only thing I know for certain about this story is, that mural was huge and it didn’t fit in one photo.
This gives you an idea of scale of some murals:
And here’s an idea of the realistic detail:
I loved the designs on these modern day tiles by ceramics artist Cristina Bolborea. The description really resonated with me — they’re evocative of a journey of a traveler and his impressions of far off fairs and their products, with layers of carpets and fabrics, and Islamic influences. Perhaps elements that are the only survivors of a temple forgotten today:
I had just left Marrakech, so these tiles reminded me of the shapes, patterns, cabinets, and carpets I had just seen there.
Here are some contemporary tiles made in the 1980s, still working with blue:
Look right or look left, and you see this setting around the tile galleries. I loved this old/new contrast:
How do I remember details more than a year after taking these photos?
a traveler’s photography tip:
When there are signs, first take a picture of the sign, then a picture of the art or tourist attraction. This way, you will always have all the information. It may be too small to read on your phone or camera, but you’ll be able to read it on a computer screen.
After enjoying the tiles, stop in the museum’s cafe for a jolt of Portuguese coffee. The best! I’m Googling today for more Portuguese coffee — we happened to buy Nicola coffee at HomeGoods of all places and we need more, more, more. So strong, so good. This coffee from a Lisbon cafe is what made me remember the Lisbon tiles, and that I hadn’t shared them here yet. Also enjoy museum cafe specialties like Codfish au Gratin with Pine Seeds and Raisins, maybe with a glass of Rioja, while viewing tiles that were once in a palace kitchen. So there, maybe putting these tiles in a kitchen is timeless despite our trends!
I walked there from the Baixa tourist area of Lisbon, but it was a long walk and I got off track and lost numerous times despite having a map that seemed clear. Usually I’m very good with directions; seriously this was the first time in life I got lost so much and I’m … uh, I’m not going to say how old I am but it’s a lot more years than you think because my profile photo is 10 years old. The older that photo gets, the more reluctant I am to change it! I was even able to navigate the Marrakech medina alone. But a seeming straight road in Lisbon really threw me. I was walking by myself and wondered a few times if I was making a big mistake that I’d be sorry for. And I’d call myself an “aware traveler” not a “worrying traveler.” It was a relief to finally see “azulejo” on a sign. You will be looking for this:
On the way back, I stopped at the nearby train station (I think it’s the Santa Apolonia stop) and took the train back to the big square near the Baixa area. People will tell you that you can walk, but take a taxi or the train.