When the early Portuguese adventurers made their way to India they ran into a new and humbling problem: There was nothing the Occidental traders carried that appealed to the sophisticated merchants of the ancient Eastern civilization. "Indian artisans were so far ahead of the Portuguese that they scorned their trade goods as junk," said Dr. Mattiebelle Gittinger as she showed a visitor around a new exhibit at Washington's Textile Museum. On display were examples of fabulous textiles that sent the Portuguese scurrying for something the Indians cd10did want. "Yes, they do look like tapestries," Gittinger said, stopping by an 8 x 10-foot 17th- century Indian colcha intricately embroidered in "wild" (tussah) silk with hunting and seafaring scenes. "But they were used as bedspreads, prized possessions handed on for generations. Many still are in use, and are hung out the windows on festival days." Those gleaming on the walls of the museum will never see sunlight again, and in fact may never be exhibited anywhere but the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon after this brief U.S. tour. They are so fragile they cannot be folded or photographed with floodlights. Included in the exhibit are miniature chests and other furniture lent by Portuguese Ambassador Vasco Futscher Pereira. Painstakingly inlaid with ivory and fruitwood, these Indian examples of "trade goods" echo the themes of the earliest colchas. Later examples of the fabrics show a trend toward Western themes -- and a decline in vivacity and workmanship -- as the Portuguese learned how to make their own. What did the traders finally come up with that appealed to the Indians? "Toys," Gittinger said. "Large mirrors, great big dogs, grand bloody paintings of battle scenes." PORTUGAL AND THE EAST THROUGH EMBROIDERY -- Through January 23 at the Textile Museum, 2320 S Street NW. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 to 5.