Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. Copyright 2010 Textile Society of America.


Textiles and traditional textile techniques have been part of economic crafts development in many countries for a long time. Many of the schemes for helping the poorest of the world’s poor involve using or adapting textiles and creating products to appeal to the tourist and export markets. Individual styles become marketing tools because they are unique to a particular culture. In coming up with items that will sell, rarely does the product honor the culture that it came from.

While any TSA member would realize the value of traditional textiles, most customers prefer that the fabric be used to make some functional item. Problems arise in going from a tradition to a product. Sometimes this can be done with minimal adaptations, such as adding new surface designs or colors to the unique shape and style of a Rwandan basket. More often the end use does not understand the cultural status of the textiles, as in using the cloth of the Philippine Tboli Dreamweavers to make keychains that are sold at the Manila airport. While Fair Trade projects are mindful of workers welfare and are conducted in an environmentally conscious way, they also exhibit more design sensitivity.

Is it possible to respect a tradition in a commercial venture? Is it possible to design items that use traditional hand techniques that will fall in affordable price ranges? Is it possible for unusual textile techniques to be utilized in contemporary products? Will beautiful textiles possessing high levels of technical hand-skills only survive in museums?