Quick and Dirty Ethnoplunder Solution

No, this post is not about looting foreign museums. It’s about walls. Specifically, walls in government housing, which are ALWAYS covered in flat, white paint.

Decorators will tell you that there are dozens (if not hundreds) of shades of white. Even Home Depot sells two shades of stock white for builders: Swiss Coffee and Linen White. I know this because I bought something like 20 gallons of Swiss Coffee to paint my ugly duckling rental a couple of years ago. And you can buy different finishes in these stock colors: flat, eggshell, semi-gloss, high gloss, etc. I always use eggshell finish because you can wipe fingerprints off walls that way. Duh.

But, the US Government uses only the flattest and whitest of flat, white paints. It’s so glaringly white that I could not even take a photo of it for this blog. The camera freaked out and refused to focus. Every post we have been at, the walls are exactly the same. I don’t know how GSOs manage to find the same paint in 200 different posts worldwide, but they do.

So, my apartment is basically a white box. Since I have utterly failed in my duty to buy sufficient artwork to cover it all, even after 20+ years as an FS spouse,  I have been looking for ways to cover up the white. Because, you see, I hate it. Really, really hate it.

I do actually have some “ethnoplunder,” as I call it. I have a small addiction to textiles and fabric. We’ve been in a couple of good fabric-buying countries. And, my husband enables me by buying fabric whenever he is on TDY in fabric-friendly places like Indonesia. Yes, he is a very good husband in this way. So, I have ikats, batiks, tie dyes, etc., and am currently working on a collection of hand-embroidered linens from Central Europe, picked up in thrift shops.

I had this really nice piece of hand-embroidered Guatemalan fabric in my collection. My husband bought it in Santiago Atitlán about 20 years ago. It was originally a traditional blouse called a huipil. Unfortunately, it was ruined by a bad framing job many years ago. The edges were shredded and some kind of glue dumped on it. So, it’s been sitting in my project box ever since.

Beautiful hand-embroidered birds.

I saw this cool idea on Pinterest, and thought, hmmm…

From Raising Up Rubies.

I ordered some old embroidery hoops on eBay–it is easy to find bundled lots of stuff like this from estate sales, reformed crafters, etc. Then I laid out the fabric and found places the hoops would show off my favorite birds.

Placing the hoops.
Arranging the hoops.

Then, I removed the cat.

Thanks, but I can do this all by myself.

Once I got the hoops where I wanted them, I clamped the fabric into them, took a deep breath, and started cutting.

Just before cutting it out.

I really like the way it turned out. The clamp at the top even makes a nice hanger. Later, I will probably add picture wire to the backs and hang them a little more nicely.

Complete with hanger.

They are a little crooked now, but they really help jazz up our white box of a bedroom. In my next house, they will probably go in my office/studio in a more creative arrangement, maybe mixed up with some other fabrics in different size hoops. I am envisioning lots of different fabric “bubbles” all over one wall. COOL.

One small patch of white covered up.

I managed to cut around this pair of quetzals, the national bird of Guatemala.  I will either get a small hoop for them, or frame them.

Make and female quetzal birds.

And there you have it: an inexpensive way to display those textile odds and ends we collect along the way. Even the ones that have been damaged.


  1. Very cool. I have a similar fabric addiction that also includes tablecloths which I have tried to hang from walls in the past. I’m busy thinking of cool ways to cover walls for our new housing in Kathmandu this summer, which I understand is vast. Thanks for sharing!


  2. This is brilliant. I can’t wait to do this! And hey, the hoops are lighter than picture frames anyway, which everyone with an eye on 7,200 can appreciate.


  3. Beautiful textile you’ve got there! The birds! The work that went into that… gasp! I like the way it turned out. Take pictures of the next batch of them. It’ll be fun to see all of the contrasts and different lines/textures/hues on a wall together, it would be like looking into portal (cruise ship window) windows of your various experiences.
    However, I was trying not to cry as I read that all your post houses or apartments have had flat, white walls. Really… when we get out of FSI language training and onto our first post we’ll be greeted by flat white walls, but… why? What if I email our housing people and tell them I’m terribly allergic to flat/white walls? I should at least give it a try. Aren’t prisons ditching white walls for some sort of colored mood enhancing shade these days? Do they understand that white walls are like big canvases begging to be drawn or painted on (by adults as well as children)? Surely, there must be some sort of study somewhere outlining the cruel effects of living in a home with plain white walls. In the mean time, I’ll be cruising the resale shops for big embroidery hoops.


    • Yes, you will have white walls! However, some people paint them. You have to ask for approval from GSO and agree to repaint when you leave. One great idea is just painting one wall in a room. Really jazzes the place up and doesn’t take long to repaint later. I did not do that here because I already had to move twice during this tour and I drew the line at any more moving work, but I’ve done it before at other posts.

      Love the porthole analogy 🙂


  4. Got our housing assignment this morning, white walls ahoy! The place is big and square with mismatched furnishings but not shy when it comes to windows, thank goodness.


  5. Beautiful! I love the little birds. In Bogota we had not only the obligatory flat-white walls you describe, but they were also about 10 feet high and plaster that resisted all nails. We had some really pretty cloth shower curtains with replications of oil paintings and hung them as wall art with those removable 3M hooks where the shower curtain rings would’ve gone. Not quite as lovely as hand-embroidered birds, but they are colorful, light and no one believes they’re shower curtains.


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