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African Textiles

Discover Pinterest’s 10 best ideas and inspiration for African Textiles. Get inspired and try out new things.

History and Glossary of African Fabrics

The History of African Textiles and Fabrics Many centuries ago, hair from animals was woven to insulate and protect homes. Hair, along with fibers from various plants and trees, were used to create bedding, blankets, clothing, and wall, window and door hangings. As textiles became more sophisticated, they were also used as currency for trading. Many of the ancient designs and weaving methods are used today and remain an important part of African lifestyles. Weaving methods and fibers used today varies within the African continent. For instance, narrow strip weaving is used in West Africa and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly called Zaire). However, the weaving is slightly different in the Democratic of Republic in that they incorporate raffia palm leaf to create their Kuba cloth. Handmade looms are still used today to weave various textiles. The looms are usually handed down from generation to generation. During the weaving process, they are placed in horizontal, vertical, or angular positions. Textiles are often enhanced through hand-stamping, stenciling, dyeing, painting, or embroidery. Sometimes soil is used to make paint, and dyes can originate from herbs, leaves, bark, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and grasses; these are mixed with water or other chemicals such as zinc, sulfur, or iron to obtain the desired thickness and hue. Colors hold different cultural meanings based on village or family affiliations. In some parts of Nigeria, red is a threatening color worn by chiefs to protect them from evil, but it is a sign of accomplishment in other areas, while red is used for mourning robes by the Akan in Ghana and for burial cloths in Madagascar. Traditionally, many African textiles were not cut or tailored. Instead, they were draped and tied to suit various occasions. But with the current interest in textiles outside of Africa, textiles and handmade fabrics are being cut and fashioned into contemporary clothing and home furnishings, including pillows, upholstered furniture, wall hangings, blankets, and throws. When authentic African textiles are fragile or rare, we recommend having them professionally mounted or framed for use as wall hangings. Glossary of African Textiles and Fabrics Asoke cloth is very sturdy and practical. The Yoruba in Nigeria reserved this cloth for funerals, religious rituals, and other formal occasions. This cloth is woven in 4-inch wide strips that vary in length. Some older Asoke cloths are characterized by their openwork or holes. It is known for supplementary inlays, which are generally made of rayon threads on a background of silk cotton. Adinkra cloth is made by embroidering wide panels of dyed cotton and stamping them with carved calabash symbols. Adinkra patterns are numerous, ranging from crescents to abstracts forms; each of the symbols carries it own significance and represents events of daily life activities. As stated in “The Spirit of African Design”, Adinkra means “farewell” and was used for funerals and to bid a formal farewell to guests. Dark colors, like brick red, brown, or black, were associated with death while white, yellow, and light blue were worn for festive occasions. The cloth is still produced in Ghana today. Adire cloth comes from Nigeria. There are two types of Adire. One is made by tie dying or by stitching a design with raffia. The second method is painted freehand or stenciled using a starchy paste made from cassava or yams. Both styles of Adire can be found today. Batik cloth includes patterns by applying melted wax on the fabric. A design is drawn onto the fabric. To produce a multicolor effect, colors are applied one top of the other, beginning with the lightest color. For instance, a cloth is dyed yellow, and then melted wax is applied to areas that are yellow. The cloth is dried after each stage of the dyeing process, and then the wax is removed by scraping or boiling it off the cloth. Ewe cloth is similar to the Asantes’ kente cloth. This cloth is named after the Ewe people who originated from the southeastern region of Ghana. There are two types of Ewe cloth. Wealthy people wear a type of Ewe cloth that is elaborately decorated. It’s made of silk, rayon, or cotton, and typically contains inlays of symbols representing knowledge, ethnics, and morals as applied in one’s daily life. The other type is made from simple cotton fibers and display modest patterns. It also contains smaller and simpler versions of the more elaborate designs, but they always have a beauty of their own. Khasa consists of heavy woolen striped blankets that are woven by the Fulani of Mali. The textile is typically 6 to 8 feet long and woven in 8-inch wide strips. Although the traditional blanket is white, it is also common to have yellow, black, or red strips. Khasa is usually ordered for the cold season. Kente cloth originated from the Fante people of Ghana, who sold this fabric in baskets. The Fante word for basket is “kenten”. Authentic Kente cloth is typically woven in 4-inch wide strips. Kente patterns have religious, political, and even financial significance. Today, there’s a pattern to indicate the importance of almost any special occasion, and colors are chosen to reflect customs and beliefs. Red represents death or bloodshed, and is often worn during political rallies; green stands for fertility and vitality, and is worn by girls during puberty rites; white means purity or victory; yellow represents glory and maturity and is worn by chiefs; gold is for continuous life, is also worn by chiefs; blue represents love and is often worn by the queen mother; and black meaning aging and maturity and used to signify spirituality. Because of its vibrant beauty and regal legacy as a cloth fit for kings and queens, authentic Kente remains one of the most popular fabrics on the market today. Korhogo cloth is made by the Senufo people of the Ivory Coast. Approximately 5-inch strips are hand-woven. Mud is painted on the cloth to create patterns of animals, men in ceremonial dress, buildings, or geometric designs. The soil used to make this mud is usually black, brown, or rust and is collected throughout West Africa. This textile, which comes in various lengths and widths, is used for clothing as well as for pillows, wall hangings, and folding screens. Kuba cloth originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (also known as Zaire). This textile is tightly woven using strands from raffia palm leaves. Raffia strands are also interwoven between the warp and weft to create intricate geometric patterns. Kuba cloth comes in two styles. One has a rich and velvety pile; the other has a flat weave will little or no pile. To create Kuba cloth, vegetable dyes are used on raffia threads that are then embroidered onto finished cloth to create patterns such as rectangles, lines, creative curvatures, and circles. Kuba cloth is used for ceremonial skirts, wall hangings, or mats for sitting and sleeping. Manjaka cloth is woven in 7-inch wide strips that are sewn together; this textile is distinguished by its intricate geometric patterns. Manjaka originated from Guinea-Bissau and has complex designs. For example, if a section of Manjaka cloth has triangles, the background area will feature a different pattern. Mud cloth originated from Mali and once worn by hunters. Mud cloth is made from narrow strips of hand-spun and hand-woven cotton, which are sewn together in various widths and lengths. The cloth is first dyed with a yellow solution extracted from the bark of the M’Peku tree and the leaves and stems of the Wolo tree; the solution acts as a fixative. Then, using carved bamboo or wooden sticks, symbolic designs are applied in mud that has been collected from riverbanks and allowed to ferment over time. After the mud is applied to the cloth, it is dried in the sun. The process is repeated several times to obtain a rich color that is deeply imbued in the cloth. When it reaches the desired hue, the cloth is washed with a caustic solution to remove debris and to brighten the background. Today, mud cloth comes in background shades of white, yellow, purple, beige, rich brown, and rust. African Brocade fabric is made from 100% cotton. Unique designs are intricately woven into shiny and starchy fabric. This cloth is also called Basin fabric. Brocade or Basin fabric is very popular in West Africa. African Tie Dye Fabric is popular in Africa. A common method of tie dyeing is the formation of patterns of large and small circles in various combinations. This is found particularly among people from Senegal, Gambia, and the Yoruba of Nigeria. There are several techniques used for resist-dyeing. For instance, a cloth is tied or stitched tightly so that the tying or stitching prevents the dye from penetrating the fabric, and sometimes-starchy substance is applied to the textile. This will resist the dye giving pale areas on a dark background when it’s washed at the end of the dyeing process. Another method of tie dyeing consists of folding a strip of cloth into several narrow pleats and binding them together. The folds and the binding resist the dye to produce a cross-hatched effect. A very popular tie-dyeing technique in Nigeria is to paint freehand with starch before dyeing in indigo in order to resist the dye. These are only a few examples of tie-dyeing methods used in Africa today. African Print fabrics are reproductions and machine made. This fabric can endure heavy wear and tear. References: African Textiles and Dyeing Techniques by Claire Polakoff The Spirit of African Design by Sharne Algotsson and Denys Davis African Textiles by John Picton and John Mack © Textiles and Fabric of Africa, 2009.Written by Victoria Saho via www.da-viva.com

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How to Care for African Print Fabrics

The rise in popularity of using African fabric in the production of clothes, bags, shoes and accessories is truly making a wave in the fashion industry. It is without a doubt a phenomenal breakthrough which showcases how vibrant and exhilarating these type of fabrics are. One thing that would make or break the continuity of such enthusiasm though is how one should take care of these fabrics. African clothing and attires are, in general, made from fine fabrics. Popular fabrics range from 100% plain cotton, printed cotton (wax print), cotton-kente, and cotton brocade with elaborate designs woven into the fabrics. Many African outfits come with heavy embroideries, often hand crafted, which require careful handling and care. First, Test for Colour Fastness Dampen a piece of white cloth, place it on top of your African fabric garment and iron both until dry. If there is a bleed on the white cloth, it means you need to wash your African fabric garment separately as the colour in the wax print fabric may run. How to African Wash Wax Print Fabrics Most of the African clothing on our website are made from 100% cotton. Outfits made from such fabrics have a tendency to shrink depending on how it is cared for. We advise that you follow the recommended care instructions in order to get the best out of your unique African clothes. Its always best to dryclean your ankara wax garments, but if you don't have access to a drycleaner, you can wash your garments using the following steps: Hand wash with cold water and mild soap. Avoid the spin cycle Hang to dry Iron on the wrong side using the setting for cotton, or use cooler settings. Or better still, dryclean. Want to purchase some African inspired clothing online? Click here to see African clothing for sale. Want to purchase some ankara fabric online for a special project? Click here to see African fabric for sale. We hope this was helpful. We'd love to know what you think. Have you ever done the colour fastness test? How have you previously washed your African fabric garments? Let us know in the comments below. Love, L'AVIYE.

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Kudhinda Zimbabwe Screen Prints Zig Zag Natural

Hand-screened by Kudhinda in Harare, Zimbabwe. Designed by Ros Byrne. 100% sheeting weight cotton, suitable for craft or upholstery: 260 grams per metre, approximately. Fabrics are 145 cm / 57 in wide, approximately. Fat Quarters are 50 x 71 cm / 20 x 28 in, approximately.

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That African Fabric You're Wearing Isn’t African

African print fabrics represent African culture visually. People connect with heritage fabric as a representation of African identity, ...

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West African Ankara Fabric (sold by the yard) — Make Manifest BK

Cotton Fabric Sold by the Yard. Printed in West Africa

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Inside The Yoruba Textile Art Of Adire With Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye

Okayafrica speaks with renowned Nigerian visual artist and cultural icon Nike Davies-Okundaye about the Yoruba textile art of adire.

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(#87) Carré d'étoffe, Kuba (Shoowa) , République démocratique du Congo

www.cewax.fr aime les tissus africains!!! Visitez la boutique de CéWax, sacs et…

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African Textiles Fabrics Real Wax Blue Yellow Black Triangle Designs rw171102

Find best value and selection for your African Textiles Fabrics Real Wax Blue Yellow Black Triangle Designs rw171102 search on eBay. World's leading marketplace.

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African Wax Prints and the Story behind their names

What is African Print or Ankara Fabric African Wax Print, also called Ankara Fabric, Dutch Wax Prints, or Holland Print is 100% cotton fabric with beautiful vibrant colours for clothing in Africa, especially West Africa. These Fabrics were first produced in Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). African soldiers who were serving in the region at that time started to import the fabricsinto Africa. The Fabrics suddenly caught on with many in West Africa. In the meantime, Europeans traders were hard at work replicating the fabrics using modern machinery especially the Dutch who are now the main producers of the Fabric. A key element of African culture and pride is the African fabric or Ankara Fabric. Brilliant African print fabrics are the prized possession of the African, and have been worn to grace traditional functions and special occasions throughout our history. African wax prints form a major part of our cultural identity and heritage. These African prints are all unique and authentic, each bearing a traditional richness that is befitting of proud black people. There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t secure as many of these African prints as possible for yourself and your loved ones. Each of these brightly colored African fabrics has a unique story behind its origin, and whatever you use them to make, you can be proud to be wearing an African wax print that attests to your rich black heritage. 54 ANKARA FABRICS AND THE STORY BEHIND THEIR NAMES Michelle Obama’s Bag The release of this print coincided with the arrival of Michelle Obama in Africa, who then was First Lady of the United States. The story goes that the fabric was named after the eye-catching handbag she wore as she was disembarking the plane. Leaf TrailAlso Known as Ahuodi Pankassa | Makaïva This fabric is known as “Ahuodi Pankassa Wusa Arm”, which translates to ‘empty barrels make the most noise.’ It means that if you are good at something you must be modest about it. Others may say you’re good, but to say so yourself would be a hollow claim. Sometimes one colourway of a pattern acquires a special meaning. In Ghana, for example, this pattern in blue main motifs is only worn by women who want to indicate they are pregnant. Congrès The pattern is very popular in Ivory Coast and Togo. Its two colours, red and yellow, are printed on top of each other. Each year it is worn during the meeting of the Lomé Houngni women, an order of women from Lomé, Togo. Despite the many imitations of this pattern that circulate today, the real Vlisco pattern remains the first choice for notables and upper class. The Happy FamilyAlso Known as La Famille The Happy Family design represents the archetypical African family. It is synonymous with the social identity of its wearer. At the center is the maternal figure, the chicken, surrounded by her chicks and future chicks, the eggs. The father – the rooster – is nothing but trouble and only his head is shown. This clearly indicates the pivotal role of women inside the family. The Happy Family stands for family value from which the wearer derives status. Obaapa “Obaapa” means ‘A Good Woman’ or ‘A Good Wife’. It indicates that you want to be a good woman for your husband. Village MolokaiAlso Known as Guerre de Shaba This popular fabric in DRCongo is called ‘Village Molokai’, as connecting the village of Molokai in DRCongo to the village depicted on the design. The pattern is also called “Guerre de Shaba”, ‘The War of Shaba’, on account of the struggle for independence that broke out in Shaba, a province in the southern part of DRCongo, now known as Katanga. Small StarAlso Known as Kilikili Star One of Vlisco’s most beloved heritage designs is that of the Small Star, known locally by the Igbo tribe in Nigeria as the “Kilikili Star”. This is one of the stories behind it’s name. The king of Moonland commissioned a mirror that should shine like the sun. When the only reflection the mirror gave was the moon, the king flew into a rage and cursing he smashed the mirror. Sending hundreds of fragments into the air, where they planted themselves like shining stars in the sky. Table Fan Fans were once the only way to cool down in the warm African climate, and in Nigeria, market vendors with electric fans enjoyed a certain status. In Nigeria, where it’s known as ‘Table Fan’, the design is popular in traditional Igbo colours. Today this Vlisco original has become a favourite in many countries. Awoulaba In Baoule, Awoulaba means Queen of Beauty. Women with generous curves are called Awoulaba. Its popularity in the 80s coincided with the first edition of the beauty contest “Miss Awoulaba”. Sugar This design is often referred to as Sucre, because the pattern resembles lumps of sugar. HibiscusAlso Known as Topizo The Hibiscus pattern is especially popular in Guinea and Ivory Coast. Twelve yards are regarded as essential to a bride’s dowry: ‘No Hibiscus, no Wedding.’ The pattern is known by several other names, including “Topizo” in Togo and “Tohozin” in Benin (both meaning ‘rush’), alluding to the day it first went on sale, when it was met by a rush of customers. In 1970, it was adopted by Air Zaire’s flight attendants as their uniform. Television Nigerian women call this fabric ‘Television’, possibly because of the boxed structures that seemingly depict motion pictured stories! EyesAlso Known as Lustful Eye The design is simply known as Eyes in Nigeria, a name inspired by the eye drawing. In Ivory Coast, this popular design is called “L’Oeil de Boeuf” (Bull’s Eye) but, it is also known as “Lisu ya Pité”, meaning ‘Lustful Eye’. Women wear it that want to show a man that she desires him. Cha Cha Cha Also Known as Change your life | Senchi Bridge | Aganmakpo | La Danse à la Mode This pattern has many meanings. The names “Cha Cha Cha” and ‘Change your Life’ are derived from the rhythm of the pattern. ‘Senchi Bridge’ refers to a bridge over the Volta River in Ghana, a suspension bridge that sways violently when crossed. In Togo the pattern is called “Aganmakpo”, which means the back of a chameleon, an animal that symbolises change. And in Ivory Coast this pattern was called “La Danse à la Mode” after the war in that country. Lomé 2015 This design is a new interpretation of the iconic ‘1004’ pattern. President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo had renewals and renovations planned for the city of Lomé in 2015 . The people of Togo named the pattern ‘Lomé 2015’ because they no longer believed in change. Na You BikoAlso Known as My hat goes off to you In Nigeria, this fabric is called “Na You Biko”, meaning: ‘My hat goes off to you’. Sometimes, it is also referred to as ‘The Diamond’, because of the leaves that are somewhat diamond-shaped. Big BibleAlso Known as Snail In Nigeria, this design is known as the Big Bible and the Snail, a literal interpretation of the motif. The fabric is adored by the Igbo, a tribe in the Eastern part of Nigeria, who wear it during festive periods, such as their August meeting. Fish ScaleAlso Known as Finger Nail, Akpirikpa Azu, Bijenkorfje, Abarro Basso This design has been given several names across several countries. “Akpirikpa azu” means ‘fish scale’ in Igbo language. It is so called among the Igbo of eastern Nigeria because the design looks similar to the scale pattern on the tropical tilapia fish. “Bijenkorfje” is South-African for ‘bee hyve’, which is also inspired by the structure of the pattern. ABCAlso Known as Alphabet People wear this design to indicate that they went to school and know how to read and write. They also attach importance to a good education for their children, and they set aside money to provide it. Love BombAlso Known as Wounded Heart | Cœur Blessé | Dynamite In Togo this pattern has acquired a special meaning. The drawing depicts the state of mind of a woman who knows her husband is cheating on her and is leaving her with a “Cœur Blessé”, a broken heart. Barclay’s BankAlso Known as Iburaka Belun / Igba Akubu Ilum / Katikati / Mbanda This design is known by many names including ‘Barclay’s Bank’ or “Iburaka Belun”. In Igbo language this means: ‘Are you coming to marry me empty handed?’ Like the meaning implied in ‘Barclay’s Bank’, it declares that the wearer’s suitor better be a stable provider. Don’t get married empty-handed Don’t get married with empty hands: In Togo, young women prepare for marriage by assembling their valuable materials and financial assets, in order to be financially independent from their future husband. it is said that when a girl is wed with love as her only baggage, she runs the risk of returning to her mother’s arms in tears very quickly. The eye of my rivalAlso Known as Moran’s Eyes In Ivory Coast, this fabric refers up family tensions, because by this direct information, members of the family and their immediate relatives are called to act, to take a stand. This wax reveals the discrepancies between the co-wives and between them and their husbands. This line requires that the situation be dedramatized and that the limits of the different roles be restored. The name of the wax solicits the word of all. It raises feelings, but above all it creates a dialogue where everyone has to freely examine his own feelings. Under his abstract motifs, he proclaims the love and family life of the woman. HelmetAlso Known as Bunch of bananas / Shell This heritage design from the 1960s is also known as ‘Bunch of Bananas’ and “Coquillage”, which means shell in English. In Togo this design is known as “Abobo To Lé Gomè”, which means ‘the snail out of its shell’. In a village called Abobo, they celebrate the Abobozan festival in September each year. During the festival, snail dishes are enjoyed by locals and the snail fabric is a popular choice. The MoonAlso Known as La Lune The origins of this Java design lie in Kano, Nigeria. The pattern is an interpretation of a tie-dye motif that is still being used by indigo dyers in Kano today. The large spiral of dots represents the sultan surrounded by his entourage. The pattern is also popular in Ghana, where it was named after a junction in the city of Obo. In Togo, the pattern refers to small change—literally shells, which were once used as currency. Jumping HorseAlso Known as I run faster than my Rival The names of many patterns identify with a woman’s family and marital relationships. In Côte d’Ivoire, the classic Jumping Horse, also known as “Je Cours Plus Vite Que Ma Rivale” (I Run Faster than My Rival), expresses the rivalry between co-wives. In Nigeria, Igbo women favor this design for Aso-Ebi (uniform cloth) to express unity at their annual women’s meeting, held every August. Day and Night The two halves of this pattern represent ‘Day and Night’, in reference to a custom in Indonesia, where light clothing would be worn during the evening and dark clothing during the day. Rolls RoyceAlso Known as Fleurs De Mariage / Mgbolodi This popular fabric is known by names such as “Rolls Royce”, “Mgbolodi” and “Fleurs de Mariage” (Wedding Flowers). It symbolizes the beauty of happiness in a marriage. It is also believed that when owned or worn, the design will bring uncountable success and wealth to the owner and their family. Perhaps the fabric owes its name “Rolls Royce” to this superstition. You leave, I leaveAlso Known as Tu sors, je sors The name “Tu sors, je sors” means: if you are unfaithful to me, I’m not going to restrain myself either. With these words, the newlywed wife warns her husband about future escapades. In Togo the pattern is always bought by the woman herself in order to spread the word. The pattern became popular in 1983, particularly in Ivory Coast. The pattern was removed from the line in the nineties, but has been sold again since 2007. The Head of the Family The geometrical shapes in this fabric resemble a person embracing others. The story goes that it stands for the head of a family embracing a baby in the arm, with siblings at the feet. Onion The name of this design is inspired by its motifs, which look a lot like onions. In Benin, this fabric is also called ‘Home on three legs’ and it symbolizes the power of unity. AdviceAlso Known as Conseille, Macaroni “In Ivory Coast, this fabric is called “Conseille”, meaning: advice. When the fabric came out, Ivorian women had the habit of advising their daughters on romantic relationships.However, in Benin the fabric is referred to as “Macaroni” because the shapes are similar to that of macaroni parts. Speed BirdAlso Known as Air Afrique | ‘Rich today, poor tomorrow’ With the bird being such an important symbol in many cultures, this fabric has gained a variety of meanings, often referring to change, prosperity, freedom and transition. In Ghana the pattern refers to the transience of riches: rich today, poor tomorrow, for money has wings and can fly away. But the pattern also symbolises asking for a favour, such as the hand of a young woman. In Togo the pattern is called “”Air Afrique”” because the fabric was also used in the uniform of the local airline company.In the Ebo region it is called Eneke, and it is said that if the hunters learn to shoot without missing, they have learned to fly without perching. AklepanAlso Known as Tomato, Necklace The name “Aklepan” refers to an instrument used in the “Oracle Fa-“, a voodoo ritual. Perhaps it is the instrumental nature of this pattern that inspired the traders to name the fabric thereafter. Otopa This design is called “Otopa” in Togo. In the book “Les Messages du Pagne” (The Stories of Loin Cloth), this pattern means ‘Concert of Stars’. They are shining and moving. It’s a sign of a celebration, success and joy. The second name of the design, in Benin is “Hêfounmè wè hè non soudè” meaning ‘The Bird is growing in his down Feather’. Pepper LeafAlso Known as Adémé This design is called ‘Pepper Leaf’ and “Adémé”, named after a vegetable from the south of Togo. Most mothers have their own way of preparing this vegetable, and likewise this fabric has many ways it can be worn. AngelinaAlso Known as Ya Mado, Miriam Makeba This pattern was originally one of the most important of the Vlisco range. The popularity of the print coincided with the release of the hit song “Angelina” by legendary Ghanaian band “The Sweet Talks”. People began referring to the printed fabric as ‘Angelina’. In Congo, this print is called “Ya Mado”. Famous Congolese singer Fabregas released the song “Mascara”, in which “Ya Mado!” Was part of the lyrics, referring to an attractive voluptuous woman. As the dancers wore this pattern in the music video, the name Ya Mado gained popularity in Congo. Since the passing of beloved singer and activist Miriam Makeba, in Congo this fabric is also named after her, as Miriam was always dressed in African prints. Icons on a Pedestal In celebration of Vlisco’s iconic drawings, our designers created a new fabric design by showcasing a number of famous Vlisco figures on pedestals. Some of these symbols will be instantly recognisable to many of Vlisco’s fans, such as ‘The Hand’, ‘The Jumping Horse’ and ‘The Fan’. GrottoAlso Known as Papaya Ye Asa ‘Grotto’ is an Ivorian term that refers to a well-off person who enjoys social recognition. Wearing this fabric affirms the high social status to which a woman belongs by her own merit or thanks to her wealthy spouse. The Grotto is one of the successful pagnes that have gone through the generations in Côte d’Ivoire.In Ghana this fabric is called “Papa Ye Asa”, which means “”goodness is finished””. The meaning behind “Papa Ye Asa” is that no matter what you do for your fellow human being he/she will never be grateful. King’s ChairAlso Known as Ashanti Chair, Oche Eze, Hene Egua Two stories have circulated about the meaning of this fabric. By the Igbo in Nigeria, this fabric is called “Oche Eze” and is a must-have for newly married ladies. This fabric is bought by the bride’s family as a gift to their daughter, and presented to her on her traditional wedding day along with other items. “Oche Eze” symbolizes the wealth of the bride’s family which she brings along to her new family. In Ghana the title ‘The King’s Chair’ refers to gossiping about people, and that you would have to pull up a chair to discuss everything about a person, because every person has a long story. HandcuffsAlso Known as Don’t be unhappy because I walk with my Hands tied.” | Aban Nkaba | Olympia This fabric is known as “Olympia” but more popular is the name: “Aban Nkaba”- (detention chains/ Handcuffs). The lyrics of a popular Ghanaian song about a man going to prison read “Don’t be to unhappy because I am in prison and walk with my hands tied.” The rings in this design were associated with the handcuffs mentioned in the song. SantanaAlso Known as Darling don’t turn your Back on Me This rare three-colours pattern, loved by the Igbo, is one of the few Wax Hollandais patterns to incorporate three colours. Santana is derived from the name Madame Santa Anna Nelly, the name of one of the Nana Benz in Togo who apparently got the exclusivity of the sales of this pattern. The pattern is based on a sketch provided by vendors. It is said to represent an angry woman lying in bed with her back to the husband. Her husband is asking for forgiveness and begging het to turn around, saying “Cherie, ne me tourne pas le dos” (Darling, don’t turn your back on me). Fallen Tree This design, known as ‘Fallen Tree’, is especially popular in Ghana. The Twi proverb written on a scroll above the tree reads “Dua kur gye enum a obu” (‘One Tree alone cannot stand the Wind’), meaning that in unity, there is strength. The design draws on the aesthetics of Dutch Art Nouveau and Indo-European batiks produced from the beginning of the 1900s, although it was designed considerably later, in 1933. RecordAlso Known as Target / Nsu Bura This drawing first appeared on the market in the 1960s and goes by many names, such as “Plaque-Plaque”, “Target”, and “Nsu Bura”, which means ‘water well’ in Ghana. When you throw a stone in a water well, you can see a ripple effect. The message is that whatever you do, good or bad, it will have an effect on everyone around you. Other names include “Consulaire”, “Gbédjégan” (which is a traditional straw king’s hat in Togo), and “Gbedze”, a hat worn during daily activities to protect the wearer from the sun. In Nigeria, the design is known as Record, thanks to the circular shape of the motif, which reminds many consumers and traders of old vinyl records. Mama Benz This pattern is a playful reference to Mama Benz, a name given to the female vendors of Vlisco products (also known as Nana Benz). Because of the succes in their jobs, these women have the opportunity to buy Mercedes Benzes, which explains the origin of the term. GenitoAlso Known as Le Cheque et le Choque Genito” is a virile young lover, while “Grotto” is a wealthy, fat, older uncle. In Ivory Coast they also speak of “Le cheque et le choque”, ‘The cheque and the scare’, referring to the older rich man who adores young, beautiful women. The Household GravelAlso Known as Leopard Skin The motifs in this pattern are associated with the gravel around a house as well as the texture of a panther’s skin, hence the names ‘The Household Gravel’ and “Peau de Léopard”. The gravel also refers to the immediate family - ‘It’s sometimes sharp and can cut you deeply’ - that is, your immediate family can give you the most pain. Sugar Cane Plant The story goes that Nigerian women have titled this fabric as “Cane a Sucre”, possibly referring to similarities between this design and the shapes of sugar cane plants. Six Bougies In May 1940, a Portuguese trader named Nogueira arrived in Helmond in the Netherlands to order a custom-made Wax Hollandais. He conceived an idea for a design with six spark plugs (bougies), indicating that its wearer had a six-cylinder car, a sign of wealth. During the Second World War, Vlisco was unable to carry out production operations, but numerous trial productions with Six Bougies were conducted. After the war, this supply of fabric constituted the first shipment to the fully dried-up Congolese market, and it appears to have been an immediate success. Over the years the design took different popular meaning: the woman in the middle is strong enough to take on six men. The ForceAlso Known as I am sitting at my Gate | Gendarmerie One of the stories comes from Togo where the first name given to this drawing was “Je suis assis à mon portail” (‘I am sitting at my gate’). The name was a literal reflection of the design, which depicts a lion (or person) sitting at a gate. The name later changed to “Gendarmerie” (or ‘Force’ in English) as the design reminded some people of the entrance of the Togolese police station. Nkrumah’s Pencil This design was once given the name ‘Nkrumah’s Pencil’, after Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. As the story goes, Nkrumah was known for making strong comments and speeches both at home and worldwide. But before proclaiming anything, he gave much thought to what he would say and put it down on paper. Nkrumah’s pencils were always well sharpened, and his written words served as a weapon against any obstacle in his way. Good living Since its release 75 years ago, this is still one of the most popular fabrics in Ghana. The colourful flower motifs attest to the Chinese style of batiks that were made in the Javanese village of Pekalongan, where many Chinese traders had their domicile. The name Pekalongan became linked to a dyeing and printing procedure that is unique to Vlisco and is characterised by very strong and saturated colours.The revival of the fabric on the Ivorian market in 2008, coincided with the broadcast of a popular television show about ‘a daughter of a gardener’. Hence, this floral design got its Ivorian title ‘La Fille du Jardinier

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African Textiles in Close Up #2: a Sierra Leone robe.

In my last post I looked at two rare embroidered robes from Liberia or Sierra Leone in the British Museum collection. Today I turn to a third robe, also from Sierra Leone, that is in an even more unusual style. The vast majority of robes from the region were tailored from either plain or simple warp stripe patterned cotton cloths in shades of white, brown and indigo. They can be distinguished from other West African robes by their distinctive front pockets and their overall design – according to Venice Lamb there were two styles: a simple sleeveless tunic called in Sierra Leone kusaibi, and a more complex sleeved robe called a duriki ba. A very few surviving examples (two of which we looked at) were embroidered and fall into a group that Bernhard Gardi in his important book Le Boubou – c’est chic calls Manding robes. However there remains an even smaller number of robes from the same region tailored from the elaborately patterned kpoikpoi cloths for which Sierra Leone weavers were so notable. This robe, part of the British Museum’s Beving collection, was collected at least by 1913 and most probably dates from the second half of the nineteenth century. It was apparently (Lamb 1984:136) collected in Bonthe region, Sierra Leone. It is among less than ten robes I am aware of that have been made from kpoikpoi cloths. The structure is simple – an existing small cloth is simply folded in half width ways, a neck hole made, and a patch pocket added at the front. This results in a robe made up of seven strips of cloth, each around 18cm in width, and a total size of 124 cm width by 96cm length. The pocket is made from a square piece of cloth, one and a half strip widths in size, with the small corner fold typical of robes from the region. The lower half of each side is sewn up with the rest left open to create armholes. However in marked contrast to this simple tailoring the cloth used to create this robe is exceptionally elaborate. On the pocket detail above we can see blocks of thicker indigo dyed thread inserted as supplementary weft floats half way across the strip in sufficient quantities to distort the flow of the ground weft into a curved pattern. This is just one of the many variations used in a way that seems to me to suggest a deliberate echo of the embroidery patterns normally found on the pocket and chest areas of prestige robes. In particular when we look at the back of the robe we see that the small block of checkerboard pattern largely concealed by the pocket is repeated. Elsewhere we see the use of tapestry weave techniques to create distinctive triangular patterns that are a feature of the more complex styles of Sierra Leone weaving. The detail above from the lower left of the back also shows some of the remarkable variation in weft stripe placement and simple variants of the weft float patterning the weaver has utilised. To me though the most interesting feature, and the strongest evidence that this cloth was woven to order with its use as a robe planned is the contrast in colour between the front and the back. On the front of the robe white is the dominant colour, but on the back there is a preponderance of light blue indigo dyed thread. The pattern diverges at the fold in the centre of the cloth, yet the strips used are continuous, strongly suggesting that it was woven with this use in mind. We can see this in the photograph below where the two sides are shown together (please excuse the inept photoshop.) Can anything useful be said about the ethnic origin of this robe ? Venice Lamb published it (1984:137) with a caption ascribing it to the Vai ethnic group, but in the text is much less certain noting only “It is possible that this garment is an example of Vai inventiveness in weaving.” However I am not convinced that there is sufficient evidence to distinguish Vai weaving from that of the larger group of Mende weavers. Easmon (1924:22) noted that kpoikpoi cloths were “essentially a Mende cloth, and is also made by the Gallinas [Vai]”. Very few of the small number of early Sierra Leone cloths in museum collections have any detailed collection data and where they do it is not generally sufficient to confirm that the piece was woven in the same place as it was collected. Prestige cloths and prestige robes were important trade goods and may well have been traded a considerable distance from their place of origin. Bonthe, where this cloth was collected, was mainly inhabited by Sherbro people . We might also note that the whole process of assigning a particular cloth style to a particular ethnic group is extremely problematic. All photographs above by Duncan Clarke. Click on the photos to enlarge.

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