African Fabrics, Patterns and Designs

I have looked into african patterns and designs as the Jamaican style is inspired by this.

Woven cloth is the oldest and most valuable type of fabric in Africa. weaving represents a tradition that is passed down from father to son and from mother to daughter. There are a few things that determines the value of the fabric. These things are the complexity of the weave, the thread used and the colour. Mudcloth, Kuba cloth and Kente cloth are examples of woven cloth.

Mudcloth is the traditional cloth from Mali. Sections of this cloth are made up of different motifs such as fish bones, little stars or hunters. These are usually in blacks browns and whites. Each mudcloth is unique. Traditionally, men were responsible for having the strips of plain fabric that were then put together to create a rectangular fabric. Mud cloth is made by dying it in bath of leaves and tree branches. This dye acts as a fixer. It will also make the cloth yellow. The cloth will then be sun dried and painted with mud that was collected from ponds. The mud was left to ferment. As the cloth dries, the mud turns grey and the cloth is washed to remove excess mud. This process is repeated multiple times. Each time the painted area gets darker. The yellow areas are then painted with bleach which turns them brown. The cloth is left to sun dry for a week. The cloth is washed and the bleached areas are now white. Mud cloth is also called Bogolanfini. In Bambara, the language spoken in Mali, Bogolanfini is made up of three words. Bogo means earth or mud, lan means means with and fini means cloth. The word literally translates to mud cloth. Fashion designer Chris Seydou bought mud cloth international. His mother was an embroiderer so from a young age he was surrounded by fabrics, the clothing trade and fashion magazines. He started in fashion by apprenticing in tailor hops in Mali at 16. By the age of 26, he was designing his own collection using mud cloth. He simplified the older patterns as he believed the traditional patterns were too complex for western clothing. He used the cloth on his haute couture mini skirts, biker jackets and bell bottom pants.

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Mud cloth patterns
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This pattern represents bamboo and millet leaves. The pattern is usually worn by a woman who wants to show her superiority to a co wife. However this pattern is popular and does not always mean this.

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This pattern is very old and represents the spindle.

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This pattern represents the belt that warriors used to wear before going out to battle. It is worn by someone brave and fearless.

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A farmer had a sickle that he particularly liked and he thought it deserved its own pattern. This pattern is named the back of the sickles blade.

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This pattern is very common. It may represents good fortune as an iguana can lead a hunter to water. The iguana is also symbolic for african born people in warfare with foreign powers.

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This pattern is also very popular and represents the flower of the calabash.

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This pattern means wealth and luxury. It represents the cushions of the rich women from the Mauritania area. These women are considered to be very wealthy and they don’t have to work just put their heads on cushions.

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This design represents crocodile fingers. It is a very popular design.

There are so many different designs that have different meanings. It is difficult to find specific meanings as everybody has different meanings for each pattern.

Kuba cloth

The process of making Kuba cloth is time consuming and takes several days to form a simple placemat size piece. The men gather leaves from the raffia tree and then dye it using mud, indigo or a substance from the camwood tree. They rub the raffia fibers in there hands to soften it and make it easier to weave. After they have completed the weave, the women embroider it. They do this by pulling a few threads of the raffia fibers, inserting them into a needle and running the needle through the cloth until the fibers show on the opposite end. They then cut the top of the fibers so that only a bit is showing. Doing this hundreds of times makes a design. The designs are planned out ahead and the embroidery is usually done from memory. You can learn a lot about the person wearing the designs just by looking at what they have on.

Kente cloth

Kente cloth is made by asante and ewe weavers using specially designed looms. It is woven in four inch narrow strips that are sewn together. A characteristic asante kente have geometric shapes woven in bright colours that go along the whole strip. Ewe kente has a tweed effect by plying together different colored threads in many of the warps. Original Kente cloth was black and white but dyes were developed from different plants and a range of colours evolved. Blue comes from the indigo plant, red comes from dried cam wood , brown comes from indian tamarind and green comes from boiled spinach leaves. The colours show mood. Dark colours are used to show grief and are used for mourning ceremonies and lighter shades show happiness. The colours of the ghanian flag, red, yellow, green and black, are the most popular in modern cloths. Kente cloth consists of sharp defined shapes created by the technique of loom weaving. Its easier to weave geometric shapes than natural shapes so rectangles, zig zags, diamonds and squares are mainly used.



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