Kuba, Kente and Mud Cloth Textiles
Ever see gorgeous African textiles in design magazines and wonder what, where, how? Textile design is a true art form across the continent of Africa, and many designs are specific, not just to a region, but to a particular tribe or family. Some designs are like a coat of arms. Today we present a 101 on some of the designs that have made it into North American interiors. Mud Cloth from Mali Mud cloth (bogolanfini, or bogolan) is a culturally important tradition in Mali dating back to the 12th century. Cotton fabrics are traditionally dyed using fermented clays and muds, that give the cloth the rich dark colours and patterns. Historically, the cotton fabrics are weaved by men, while the intricate patterning created in the dyeing process is done by women. Mud cloth is enjoying its moment in the sun right now, where these textiles are being incorporated into high end interior design and fashion. Mud cloth is made by bathing the cotton in a yellow solution made from mashed and boiled leaves of the n’gallama tree. Left in the sun to dry, clay and mud is then applied as a painted layer to create the beautiful motifs. There are many artisans who continue to create these textiles using time-honoured techniques, but some modern makers have come up with new processes that speed up their creation. Kuba Textiles Kuba cloths are generally rectangular or square pieces of woven raffia that are embellished with embroidered geometric patterns. Originating from the DRC (formerly Zaire), these textiles have been intricately made by hand. Once the raffia fabric is woven, typically by men, women hand embroider the geometric patterns by sewing in the desired pattern with raffia thread, stitch by stitch, clipping or cutting each thread. This makes the embroidery process painstakingly long, but the final effect are patterned pieces that resemble velvet in texture. The pattern and repetition you see in Kuba cloth tell stories. Mathematicians have long been intrigued by the elaborate use of patterning in traditional Kuba cloths and marvel at how they also seem to represent the traditional music and song of the Kuba people, which you see in off-beat phrasing that seems to interrupt an expected pattern. Just think, that’s not simply art on your wall, or headboard at your bed, but hidden within that pattern is a myth, a song, a story. Kente Cloth Created by the Asanti people of Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire, Kente cloth derives its name from kenten, for basket, because its woven look is so similar. The fabric itself is woven using specialized looms to create the brightly coloured and intricate patterns of the final product. Every colour used in Kente cloth carries a meaning, so that each finished piece of textile tells its own story. For instance:
- White: denotes purity, peace, innocence and spirituality
- Yellow: represents gold and signifies royalty, wealth and fertility
- Black: is the symbol for bereavement and darkness, but also for secrecy and mystery
- Blue: represents wisdom, humility, harmony and love. It’s the symbol for big spaces like the sun and ocean.
- Green: denotes life, growth, and youth
- Brown: is the colour of mother earth, and represents healing
- Pink: is associated with femininity, tenderness, calmness and the essence of life.
Various colour combinations also carry different meanings. Some weaving patterns represent entire tribes and families. The richness of these textiles, the stories and cultural narratives they hold make each one uniquely special. These should never be treated just as home trends, but understood in their context of history, geography and culture. I love these cloths and textiles. I’ve never seen any like them and so enjoy these voices in the spaces I live and work.