Fabrics, Decorative

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fabrics, Decorative


handwoven or machine-woven textiles distinguished by ornamentation, beauty of color, and a high level of workmanship. Decorative fabrics are products of decorative applied art. The ornamentation of the fabrics usually consists of pattern repeats and is achieved either by weaving, printing (seeBLOCK PRINTING), or embroidering. All three methods have been used since antiquity and have been known to virtually all peoples. The artistic working of the fabric depends on the fabric’s purpose and on textile technologies. The patterns reflect the distinctive styles of the various eras in the development of art and of the various national artistic schools (see alsoCARPETS AND RUGS).

The decorative fabrics of antiquity are known from the visual arts and from literature, as well as from individual samples of fabrics found in excavations, for example, fragments of ancient Egyptian decorated linen from the second millennium B.C. and fragments of textiles from cities of the Northern Black Sea Shore.

Chinese fabrics of great artistic merit, principally of silk and gold thread, date from the end of the second millennium B.C. Fragments of ornamented textiles dating from the fifth to the third century B.C. have been discovered in excavations in Ch’ang-sha, and richly colored fabrics from the Han period (206 B.C. to AD. 220) have also survived. The silk k’o-ssu fabrics manufactured in the 16th and, particularly, the 17th century in China and various types of velvet with silk warp and weft became widely popular. Chinese textiles were ornamented with geometric patterns, stylized plant and animal motifs, symbols (such as circles, dragons, and clouds), and ideograms. Japanese textiles were similar to those of the Chinese in material, production, and ornamentation.

In the centuries since the third millennium B.C., Indian fabrics made of cotton or, more rarely, partly of silk have become famous for their printed patterns, as have patterned silk and sheer linen fabrics; the ornamentation of these fabrics consists mainly of plant motifs—often with an abundance of detail—or repeated scenes. Since antiquity Persia has produced masterful wool and silk textiles. Fragments of silk textiles from the Sassanid era (third to seventh centuries) have survived; their pattern usually consisted of circular, oval, or other medallions with depictions of the apotheosis of royal power, hunting scenes, and mythical animals. In the 15th—17th centuries, Persian silk and gold cloths were highly valued. Persian moiré, satin, and velvet with a cotton warp bore stylized motifs drawn from the plant and animal world and scenes from epics.

Many examples have survived of textiles from Coptic Egypt (fourth to the seventh century); the decorations consist of various religious scenes. The ornamentation of Byzantine decorative fabrics was significantly influenced by the late classical and Sassanid periods. Typical of the patterns of Byzantine textiles are circles with eagles, chariots, and biblical scenes. The Arab countries produced patterned and smooth fabrics of silk and gold. Unique Turkish satins and velvets with a cotton warp of the 15th—18th centuries usually had a large pattern of fans, crescents, and carnations.

Decorative weaving in Spain, which reached its height in the 16th century, was closely tied to the art of the Middle East. Spanish silks and velvets with a silk warp and weft had geometric ornamentation combined with small plant-motif patterns exhibiting a Moorish influence. Various gold fabrics were also known; particularly famous was a silk with fine silver gilt threads in the weft, known in Russia as altabas. Italian decorative fabrics were famous as early as the 14th century; their artistry reached its height in the 16th and 17th centuries. Best known were the Venetian damask with small plant patterns and various velvets with silk warp and weft, heraldic and plant ornamentation, and, more rarely, depictions of wild animals. Of the Italian gold fabrics the most highly valued was a fabric made from a difficult complex of several warps and wefts, called aksamit in Russian. French decorative fabrics came to rival their Italian counterparts in the 17th century and reached their height in the 18th century. Silk fabrics from Lyon were particularly famous—velvet with silk warp and weft, satin, and damask. The ornamentation of French fabrics consisted of realistic depictions of flowers and bouquets, architectural motifs, and genre scenes.

Textiles remarkable for their artistic merit were created by the peoples inhabiting the present territory of the USSR. The peoples of Middle Asia and Transcaucasia have ancient traditions in the artistic weaving of silk, wool, and cotton textiles and carpets. Decorative weaving was known in ancient Rus’. Its practice is attested in literature and in the surviving fragments of wool textiles of the northern Slavs of the tenth and 11th centuries, who favored large, geometric printed patterns, and the Krivichi of the 12th century, who used a woven pattern with open-space work. Printed cloth and various decorative fabrics were used for bed coverlets, towels, tablecloths, kerchiefs, and clothing by Russians, Ukranians, Byelorussians, and the Baltic peoples.

Russian silk weaving began in the 16th and 17th centuries and reached its height in the 18th century. Damasks, brocades, and grisettes were produced with both large and small patterns of realistically depicted bouquets of roses and other flowers. The early 19th century saw the increased production of shawls and decorated silk fabrics, particularly brocades.

In the 20th century, with the development of factory textile production and improvement in the techniques used to apply patterns to fabrics, the artistic quality of mass-produced domestic fabrics improved. Art specialists were employed to create textile patterns, and in the 1920’s various attempts were made in the USSR to introduce a calico that used few colors and limited patterns. In the 1930’s interest in the country’s classical and folk heritage stimulated renewed efforts to make decorative fabrics both useful and artistic in pattern and color. Floral motifs, sometimes with Soviet emblems, were used more frequently, as in the designs created by N. V. Kirsanova, V. K. Skliarov, M. V. Khvos-tenko, and E. Ia. Shumiatskaia. By the mid-1930’s, artistic workshops were established at the country’s major textile enterprises.

Since the mid-1950’s, such masters of Soviet decorative fabrics as N. M. Zhovtis, S. A. Zaslavskaia, and S. A. Kausov have been working intensely to develop new textiles and new types of ornamentation that are more diverse in rhythmic structure.


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Roginskaia, F. S. Sovetskii tekstil’. Moscow, 1930.
Sobolev, N. N. Ocherkipo istorii ukrasheniia tkanei. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Russkoe dekorativnoe iskusstvo, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1962–65.
Makarov, K. A. Sovetskoe dekorativnoe iskusstvo: [Al’bom]. Moscow, 1974.
Weibel, A. S. Two Thousand Years of Textiles. New York, 1952.
Schmidt, H. J. Alte Seidenstoffe. Braunschweig [1958].
Flemming, E. Textile Künste: Weberei, Stickerei, Spitze. Berlin [1923]. New ed. Berlin, 1960.
Pavon, M. Formee tecnichenell’arte tessile. [Treviso, 1972.]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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