Why All the Patterns?

Silk Scarves and the Stories They Tell

Aboriginal silk scarves have become popularised over the last few years. These scarves come in two distinct styles: the most well-known being bright and colourful with intricate designs. The patterns usually demonstrate the dot paint style historically linked with Aboriginal art throughout the millennia. What many patrons don’t realise is that these scarves are mimicking a story-telling art. Dot painting was used by Aboriginal peoples to communicate stories while disguising the meaning to outsiders. See here to purchase an Aboriginal scarf online.

Historical Context

Traditionally, patterns denoting sacred meaning were used in rituals and ceremonies within Aboriginal cultures and were kept secret from outsiders. They were drawn into the soil and painted on bodies. The soil would be swept clean and bodies washed after the ceremonies: patterns were kept sacred. In the 1970s a Western instructor of Aboriginal children noticed that when stories were told, designs were also drawn in the sand by the storyteller. The instructor encouraged these patterns to be painted onto a mural, and the movement escalated from there.

Aboriginal artists began painting to create. They developed the dot painting style seen printed on many scarves today to disguise the meaning of sacred patterns they included in their work. Other artists drew inspiration from their ancestors’ cave drawings and story-telling art: using dyed silks and brushes they hand-paint these designs onto the scarves.

Patterns and Colours Found Today

Aboriginal scarves are traditionally made of silk. They are usually hand-dyed and for the most part, are found in the two distinct styles mentioned above.

The first, representative of dot painting, is traditionally very bright. These scarves are dyed a vibrant solid colour which is used as a base to anchor the bolder patterns painted or printed on top. In this genre, minutely detailed patterns are painted onto the silk primarily using different sized dots in a multitude of colours. These are then defined and organised with long brush strokes in lines and circles.

In contrast, the second primary style found in Aboriginal scarves today utilizes a more neutral and muted palette. These scarves are dyed in earth tones, artists typically hand-dye them with a variety of lighter and darker tones in the same colour family. Muted browns, tans, and darker greens are commonly found. Artists then take traditional Aboriginal drawing styles and paint or print them, typically in black, on top of the fabric. Typical patterns include animals, stick drawings with exaggerated endpoints, and detailed line drawings.

Scarves and the Retail Industry

Aboriginal artists today create unique designs derived from and inspired by ancient Aboriginal ceremonial patterns and drawings used in storytelling. Artist collectives have formed all over the country where artists live, work, and sell their creations. The patterns from the original artistic movement are being replicated and recreated in popular culture also: sold by online retailers and found in many storefronts worldwide.



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