Keep In Touch With Textiles

28th February 2014

There’s something about a rug or a carpet that brings an interior to life, says Grace Fuller. Texture adds interest, warmth, style, and, when you buy an antique piece, individuality. And if they’re too precious to walk on they can make great pieces of wall art…

Much of the story with rugs and carpets lies in the history and habits of the tribes who produced them: their association with certain patterns, say, or with specific colours because the plants from which the dyes originated were indigenous to their region. In many cases they were nomadic herders, so sheep, wool, dyeing and weaving, were extremely important to them. Many of these tribes were illiterate, and all their artistic expression went in to making carpets which were at once artworks, decorative objects for their tents, and heirlooms.

Early (pre-1875) pieces were almost invariably woven for domestic use, before demand from the 'west' came to influence and open up a commercial market. These pieces are highly prized by collectors as being the most 'honest' and having the stronger cultural significance.

Later pieces (late 19th to mid-20th century) of which there are many more, made for commercial purposes rather than purely for domestic use, are less expensive, but they do still express cultural and tribal individuality through pattern and colour, and make wonderful furnishing rugs for the home.

One of the best ways to explore the possibilities of textiles for the home (especially if you’re daunted by the thought of heading into a dealer’s emporium and asking to see their finest antique pieces) is to head to one of the specialist fairs coming up shortly.

The London Antique Rug & Textile Art Fair (LARTA) at the start of April welcomes collectors, interior designers and the general buying public. You won’t find a more varied choice of ‘oriental’ rugs and carpets anywhere and it’s a great way to get an idea about the wealth of pieces available. The fair is not just about rugs however, but all types of historic and decorative textiles – as is the foyer display at the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair later in the month. ‘Using Textiles As Art’ will be curated by exhibitor Molly Hogg, who has 30 years’ experience of dealing in antique textiles from all across the world, and who promises a truly inspiring selection.

There will be formal tapestries and rugs, woven originally as art but which combined beauty and practicality (ie warmth!); needlework pictures and objects that demonstrate the skills of women with leisured hours, and commercial decorative textiles, such as embroidered silk panels created in response to the European demand for the exoticism of the Orient from the 17th to early 20th centuries.

A roomset from Lee Wright, an exhibitor at the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in April, showing a painted oriental textile panel used to great effect in this light, warm interior

Many antique textiles have now become too precious to use for their original purpose, but can be repurposed with ease. Dowry textiles such as needlepoint for upholstery, rich tribal weavings and embroidered silk clothes are today preserved and mounted for display as wall art, and, in their unique way, demonstrate skill, beauty and cultural traditions. Dresses and kimonos in particular make interesting wall hangings, and are easy to display; less valuable items might simply be suspended on special hangers (textile dealers can help source these, or often sell clothing already arranged on one); more precious and delicate items can be framed behind glass or perspex to keep them well preserved. Lengths of woven fabric can be carefully mounted on a frame and hung like a painting; the turban cover on page 16, for example (a remarkable survivor, considering that it was only made to cover up something else!) could be shown in that way. And, here’s a useful buying tip: textiles can provide a large volume of art at a far better price than a painting.

Domestic textiles celebrate female artistry of past centuries: many would have been created by women for their own or their family’s use. Their practical yet beautiful pieces are perfect for a domestic interior of any style.

See and for more information about the London Antique Rug & Textile Art Fair and the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair

Buying Tips

For furnishing purposes, bear these points in mind: the floor makes up one sixth of a room's surface area, so if you have a desire for a statement carpet/rug, it can be best to choose one before you decorate a room – it is generally easier to find paint to match a carpet than the other way round! When shopping for rugs, be sure to have a good idea of measurements: imagine the smallest or largest size you might want in the room – and think about whether you want furniture on the rug or around it, which will dictate an appropriate size. Older rugs and carpets come in many shapes and sizes, so if you have an idea of the size you want, let the dealer know so they can show you a selection of rugs of the right dimensions. If you look for colours/patterns first, you may be disappointed when you find it is too small (or too large) for purpose.

Find Your Local