The Illustrious History of the World's Most Iconic Textile Pattern

Lauren Wicks
Photo credit: Roger Davies
Photo credit: Roger Davies

From Veranda

These days, few things stay in fashion for more than a moment—much less hundreds of years. One of the most popular and widely recognized textile patterns, Tree of Life, has been able to withstand the test of time since the early 18th century and continues to be a go-to design choice for the world’s top creatives.

While the pattern can be traced back as far as the early 1700s, its symbolism essentially dates back to the beginning of recorded history. The first example of the symbol may have been as early as 7000 B.C., otherwise known as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Bible. This symbol also serves as a symbol for many other of the world’s largest religions—Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism—even appearing in Egyptian mythology and Darwin’s Origin of the Species. It’s no wonder that such a rich and historic significance has kept the Tree of Life a relevant symbol—and one of the most well-known patterns in the world.

“There’s real psychological appeal to this pattern,” says Rebecca Kim, head of business development for Marika Meyer Textiles. “Some iconic images and symbols are innately appealing to us, and this pattern has resonated with people for centuries on a global scale. Its innate appeal likely comes from the vine pattern, along with the blend of organic and geometric shapes. It hits on both structure and softness.”

The pattern’s origins have been traced back to India, where pampalores—lightweight cotton bedcoverings—and tent panels began to feature the large-scale print in vibrant colors. Due to the rise of colonization and global trade, India’s vivid, intricate textiles were introduced to Western Europe through the British East India Company, and these patterned pampalores in particular became an instant hit, inspiring new designs for wall hangings, bedcoverings, and table linens. China began to appeal to Westerners in drawing from the Indian pampalores to make wallpaper, silk wallcoverings, and decorative objects with the Tree of Life pattern.

Photo credit: The Met
Photo credit: The Met
Photo credit: The Met
Photo credit: The Met

By the 19th century, France was creating its own iterations of the pattern, most famously in Braquenié’s Le Grand Genois (a tradition continued by Pierre Frey), and the pattern began to see popularity in America as well, as shown below.

Photo credit: The Met
Photo credit: The Met

“When the British East India Company first introduced the Tree of Life pattern to the Western world, people found it both sensible and beautiful,” says Marika Meyer, founder of the eponymous textile company and interior design firm. “The English spin on the pattern predates the Arts and Crafts movement, with many lines having a reference point in William Morris’s iconic tapestry. It’s interesting to see how people continue to put their spin on this pattern, especially the modern companies of today.”

Meyer has just released her own iteration of the pattern this spring, inspired by the 19th-century English, folk art–style vernacular, infused with her own modern touches. Her latest collection is centered on botanicals, and she says this particular large-scale pattern was important to refresh, while keeping in-step with its deep historic inspirations.

Photo credit: Marika Meyer Textiles
Photo credit: Marika Meyer Textiles

“As an interior designer, I’ve always been drawn to introducing pattern to clients who may be hesitant to try them,” Meyer says. “This one is organic, restful, and soothing, and it’s also a great problem-solver, fitting in with a preppy or tribal look, it can find its place anywhere. Because it’s so versatile, you can almost use it as a neutral.”

Photo credit: Marika Meyer Textiles
Photo credit: Marika Meyer Textiles

Meyer says this pattern is relevant as we look both to the past and the future. As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, this pattern represents the beauty and life we want to preserve for the next centuries after us.

“You see a version of this on every continent, and as we all feel globally connected right now, it is a truly unifying pattern,” Meyer says. “We planned to launch with a sustainability bent, but in light of everything going on, it was amazing to think of the relevance and interconnectedness of life to bear in mind and that became our focus.”

We can't wait to see how the Tree of Life pattern inspires designers and unites us globally in the coming years, serving as a reminder to take better care of our planet and find common ground with those different than us.

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