10 Ways to Display Vintage Textiles

How to Decorate With Vintage and Antique Textiles

Vintage swimsuit framed and hanging on a wall.
CC BY 2.0, "Tybee Island Georgia Vacation (78 of 207)" by Unskinny Boppy

A beautiful handmade textile is a work of art worthy of display, especially if acquire a surviving antique or vintage example. Though the list is by no means comprehensive, the textile types you might want to display include:

  • rugs and carpets
  • quilts and blankets
  • Uzbek embroidered suzanis
  • Ottoman tray covers and bohças (wrapping cloths)
  • Indian saris, and the Kantha quilts made from them
  • tapestries and other wall hangings
  • shawls, sarongs, sarapes, scarves, mud cloths, and molas
  • hand-dyed wax-resist batik and interwoven ikat

The best way to display a piece of textile art isn't as obvious as it is with paintings or sculpture, but you actually have more options. To get you started, here are 10 ways to display vintage textiles:

Dress a Window

You can turn a vintage textile into a custom curtain or valance for your window if you can add a casing, sew- or clip-on rings, or drape it over a rod. Lightweight textiles such as saris, sarongs, and scarves work best as hung window treatments. Using hand-dyed batik or ikat fabric works well too. If you opt for scarves, which tend to be smaller than the other options, you can use them as valances or stitch a bunch together patchwork style to create floor-length curtain panels.

Direct sunlight does fade textile colors, especially if they're woven from natural fibers, so make your curtain or valance from pieces that don't have a lot of monetary value.

To minimize fading, hang your vintage textile on a window that doesn't let in a lot of natural light. Or, install a minimally intrusive roller shade you can lower during the hottest, brightest parts of the day.

Adorn a Wall

Most antique and vintage textiles are suitable for hanging on the wall.

After all, they are artwork, and sometimes the obvious is the right way to go. You can hang textiles on the wall using rings or casings that slip onto a rod, or by affixing strips of hook-and-loop tape to both the textile and the wall. The right hanging method depends on the type, weight, and condition of your vintage textile. Whichever method you choose, hang yours so the center -- or the most exciting part, if yours has an elaborate design -- hits the wall at eye level for an average human height.

Top a Table

For an easy way to display an antique or vintage textile of any type or weight without altering it, use it to top a table. Just spread it over the tabletop as you would with a tablecloth. But, unlike a tablecloth, the textile doesn't have to cover the entire tabletop surface, and it doesn't have to hang down evenly all around. If your piece has a directional design, place the textile so the top of the design faces away from the center of the room. To complete the look, accessorize the table as you normally would, with decorative objects, a lamp, or both.

To keep your vintage textile in top condition, choose a table -- occasional or other -- where you don't eat.

A foyer or living room table fits the bill beautifully. A seldom-used dining table is fine, as long as you remove the textile before you dine. A kitchen table that gets used daily for family meals, homework and art projects invites disaster.

Cover a Couch

Drape a textile of any type and weight -- from sarongs to quilts to carpets -- over the back of your sofa to display it and add style to your space. When it's in place, the textile width should be at least two-thirds of the sofa's width. If yours is larger, you can always fold it to fit -- as long as it's not too thick and its beauty isn't because of a decorative border. Opt for an opaque textile so the sofa fabric doesn't show through, and make sure it's not too fragile or valuable for daily contact. If the textile is large and long enough to reach the sofa's seat, tuck the bottom edge of the seat cushions so it looks stylish instead of sloppy.

If your favorite textile isn't large enough to drape over the back of a sofa, you can use the same technique with a smaller settee, loveseat, or club chair.

Beautify a Bed

Except for rugs and heavy tapestries, if your vintage textile is large enough, you can lay it at the foot of your bed. When folded or spread out, the textile width should be at least three-fourths the width of the bed. It's perfectly fine if it's larger, so long as the ends that hang off the sides of the bed don't puddle on the floor. If your textile is especially large, fold it so it doesn't cover more than the bottom half of the top of the bed; covering just the bottom third or fourth looks even better.

Good textile options for covering the foot of the bed include blankets, quilts, saris, suzanis, and sarapes.

Fake a Headboard

If your lack of headboard is of more concern than decorative coverings for your bed, you can use a lovely old textile to fake a headboard look. You'll need a textile that's roughly the same width of the bed; a few inches larger or smaller is just fine.

Hang your textile at the head of the bed using one of the methods mentioned above in number two, letting the textile's bottom edge fall just behind the top edge of the mattress. Choose a textile that's not so sheer that the wall shows through. Rugs, quilts, blankets, suzanis, and tapestries are all good textile options for faking a headboard. As a bonus, medium and heavyweight textiles provide a bit of extra soundproofing for the headboard wall.

If you have a headboard, you can still hang a textile behind the bed to enhance your bed's look. But, instead of hanging the textile so the bottom edge falls behind the mattress, hang it so at least an inch or so falls behind the top edge of the headboard. If you have a poster bed with a canopy frame, you can also hang your textile from the canopy rail at the head of the bed using rings or ties.

Lean a Ladder

For smaller textiles and those that aren't too heavy to fold, you can turn an old ladder into a display piece.

Just lean the ladder against a wall, with the bottom inclined outward enough to steady it, and fold your textiles to the right size to fit between the rails. Then, slip your textile over the rug and let it hang there.

With a ladder, you're not limited to displaying a single textile. Fill as many rungs as you like, letting the textiles overlap. Just don't hang so many that you can no longer see the individual designs.

Drape a Dummy

For lightweight textiles, consider draping them over a dressmaker's dummy or mannequin. The look is especially charming for textiles originally crafted as apparel, such as saris, sarongs, and mud cloths. For the most authentic look, drape and knot the textile as it was meant to be worn. When you use a textile according to its maker's intent, it ensures that you're showing it at its best.

Fold a Stack

If you have a collection of light- to medium-weight textiles, you can fold and display them in a stack. Stacking the collection keeps it together and lets you view it in a single glance, which makes for a striking effect. Folding and stacking are also good ways to disguise minor damage, such as small tears and holes.

For a charming look, display your textile stack on a chair seat, a short chest, a sofa table, a credenza, or an old trunk.

10. Frame a Fragment

Antique textile fragments are typically too small and frame to display using the ideas in numbers one through nine. But, you can still use them as home decorations if you frame them. Opt for a simple frame style that lets your fragment steal the show, and consider using museum-quality acid-free framing materials, especially if your fragment is valuable.

Framing also works well for small, intact textiles, such as tray covers, bohças, pillow covers, and scarves. If yours is merely lovely rather than monetarily valuable, you can cut foam core board to fit your chosen frame and cover the foam board with fabric. Then, mount the textile to your fabric-covered foam board.

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