Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,


Copyright 2014 by the authors.


Missionaries, teachers and art advisers during the 1970s introduced the process of fabric printing to Aboriginal people, particularly in remote areas. Printing was a means to encourage productive work and income generation. Early forms included lino block and stencil prints, followed by screen printing. Bima Wear, was the earliest cooperative to established a business initially producing fabrics for their own clothing and then to sell to others. Historically men were the primary producers of artistic works dominating the production of carvings, sculpture and painting. Designing for fabric printing opened up a new space for men and women to work freely with their own designs and without the same amount of cultural restraints. This democratic approach allows for drawing on traditions as well as inventing new motifs from the environment, narratives and abstract interpretations. Since the 1980s fabrics have been sought after by local communities, gallery and museum shops, fashion/interior and product designers, but there has always been a limited supply. Because of the slow methods and limited printing facilities combined with increased demand for these fabrics, outsourcing of the screen printing has become part of the business development of both remote and urban artists. At the same time, there is growing interest in digital printing, with one community purchasing a printer and others working with print bureaus. The hand produced, digital and hybrid fabrics are establishing their own market niches but not without controversy over decreasing work in communities, authenticity and copyright issues. Working digitally creates a niche for younger artists engaged with new technology and helps to maintain their cultural identity and still live in their community. Aboriginal fabric printing provides new ways for artists to draw on their traditional culture, engage with wider communities and present a cultural and economic path to the future.