Textiles Of The World: The Line Between Appreciation and Appropriation

When Monserratt brought up the topic of global fabrics and indigenous textiles, I was STOKED for the series. I have always loved and admired traditional styles and textiles from other cultures, but one question always scratches at the back of my brain and prevents me from buying these things: where is the line between appreciating a culture and appropriating it?

During my freshman year of college, we were all required to take a freshman seminar that taught us study skills via a topic of interest. I ended up in a class on Black people in film. The most memorable moment of that class for me was presenting a scrapbook of the semester, and there was a Halloween picture of an acquaintance who was wearing a serape poncho and sombrero. The teacher stopped me mid-presentation and said “It’s NEVER okay to dress up like a person from a different culture.” This was my first experience with cultural appropriation and it really cemented a line in my brain.

Then, my oldest son was born at the time where I really feel like more people were starting to talk about cultural appropriation. A lot of what I was seeing was criticism in response to parents’ decoration and dressing their children in clothes with Native American imagery such as tipis, arrowheads, headdresses, etc. What I got out of that was that other cultures are not for my consumption, unless it is directly supporting an artisan from that culture. This left me with a litmus test before shopping: is this item sacred to the culture it comes from and did an artisan from this culture make it? This test worked reaaaally well until I started sewing more.

I began to be surrounded by SO many beautiful textiles, and I could not help but wonder: is it okay for me to use this? After seeing so many beautiful fabrics in these prints I had even MORE questions about what is okay and what is not. Are there specific patterns that have deep meaning that I should not be using at all? Is it disrespectful to make certain types of clothing out of a certain type of fabric (like, is this a pattern you use for a funeral and I just made it into a sundress)?? So now I am left admiring these fabrics from afar because I am honestly too afraid of offending or disrespecting a culture. BUT, I do think there is a huge importance to support indigenous artists, and I want to be able to love and appreciate their fabrics in a way that makes sense for me while still being respectful.

I hope that this series can help answer some of these questions because I certainly do not have all these answers. I am SO excited to learn about different textiles from different indigenous peoples and different cultural traditions. I am hoping that by the end of this series, I will have the confidence to buy some indigenous textiles and sew myself something with them!

What are your thoughts on appropriation and appreciation? Let me know in the comments below!

Amanda is a mom of two, crafting away in North Carolina. She can be found on Instagram @mandabe4r where she posts about everyday life (and she finally finished a sewing project!).