Monday, June 14, 2010

Types of African Clothes

There are different types of African clothes that will be discussed in this series

Cotton Cloth:

Cotton was woven in West Africa as early as the thirteenth century. Unlike the earlier handwoven cloths, cotton was woven on looms, frames used to interlace individual threads into fabric. These looms produced narrow strips of cloth that would be stitched together to form larger pieces of cloth. Typically, six to eight strips would be sewn together to form a dress or other garment. Like other cloths used by Africans, cotton was wrapped around the body to create many different styles of clothing, from toga-like dresses to turban headdresses. Patterns were applied to cotton in a variety of different ways. Finished cotton fabric was dyed with natural pigments to create bold whole color clothing, or individual threads were dyed before weaving so that geometric patterns could be woven directly into the fabric. People living in different regions preferred different colored dyes. Those living near the Gold Coast, along the shores of Ghana, preferred blue, while those in West Africa favored red. Mud and soap were also used to make patterns on cotton fabric. Majority of African clothing are made out of cotton

Kente Cloth:

Richly woven Kente cloth is among the most famous woven cloths of Africa. Made originally for Ashante tribal royalty in the seventeenth century, the cloth is derived from an ancient type of weaving practiced since the eleventh century. In the past, Kente cloth was woven by hand on looms or weaving devices in a tightly formed basket weave. The dense fabric was very difficult to weave, and weavers who devised new patterns were revered. Traditionally each new pattern is named to commemorate an important event during the reign of an Ashante king and becomes a document of the history of the people. Kente cloth is bright and is woven from dyed yarns of predominately yellow, orange, blue, and red. Originally the colorful cloth was made from raffia fibers, from the raffia palm, but later was created from silk unraveled from imported cloth. Although once only worn by royalty, Kente cloth continues to be worn by wealthy Africans, especially by the Ashante of Ghana. The cloth is used to make a variety of garments draped around the body. The continued popularity of the cloth is based on its beauty as well as a belief system that some follow. Many people believe that Kente cloth can tell more than the history of a community. Some “read” the designs in the cloth for signs of the future. The cloth’s appeal is so great that its popularity is now filled by cloth woven on power looms. Until recently Kente cloth was not affordable by the common people.

Kuba Cloth:

In the present-day nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo the Kuba people weave a decorative cloth called Kuba cloth. Although this tradition is believed to be ancient, the oldest surviving examples of the cloth are dated back to the seventeenth century. Men weave the fabric out of raffia fibers, from a palm plant, and women apply colorful tufts in bold geometric designs. An entire social group is involved in the production of the cloth, from gathering the fibers, weaving the cloth, dyeing the decorative strands, to applying the embroidery, appliqué, or patchwork. Natural dyes were traditionally used, but man-made dyes are now used. The embroidery on Kuba cloth look like tufts of velvet. The designs are stitched to the cloth and snipped to make a dense pile. There are hundreds of designs for Kuba cloth that have been handed down through the generations. However, each design can be embellished by the individual weaver. Appliqués are pieces of raffia cloth embroidered over the top of the base cloth. Patchwork involves stitching together smaller pieces of raffia cloth to create a whole garment. Appliqué and patchwork designs may have been created as a decorative method for patching holes. Kuba cloth is fashioned into ceremonial garments and is most often worn for funerals. Mourners often wear large skirts made of Kuba cloth, and people are buried wearing Kuba cloth garments. Ceremonial garments include skirts for both men and women and overskirts for women. Women’s skirts are often twenty-five feet long and men’s skirts are longer than thirty feet. Kuba cloth skirts are wound around the body and held in place with a belt. Commercially made Kuba cloth of inferior quality is also created for export.

Mud Cloth:

Among African fabrics, the mud cloth of Mali in West Africa is as well-known as the Kente cloth of Ghana. Mud cloth is made of cotton strips woven by men and stitched together to form a larger cloth. Women then decorate the cloth with mud from the seasonal rivers in Mali. Mud cloth patterns are rich with meaning for the Bamana people of Mali; they symbolize the use of the cloth or convey messages to the wearer. Applying patterns to mud cloth is labor intensive and time consuming. First women soak the rough cotton cloth in leaves that have a natural softening agent called tannin. When they apply clay in bands, diamonds, and other geometric shapes, the clay reacts with the tannin and a dark brown design is left on the fabric. The background of the fabric is then bleached white or cream to improve the contrast of the design. Mud cloth is worn for ceremonial purposes in Mali. The cloth serves as a celebratory outfit during young girls’ initiation rituals and as a shroud during funerals. Although mainly worn by women, mud cloth is also worn proudly by hunters to signal their status .

Berber Dress Cloth:

The nomadic Berber people trace their African roots back to 2000 B.C.E. (Nomads are peoples who have no fixed place of residence and wander from place to place usually with the seasons or as food sources become scarce.) Over the years since then their dress has changed with the influences of invading cultures. Influenced by the past colonization of ancient Romans, whose power was felt in the region from about 509 B.C.E. to 476 C.E., many Berbers continue to wear a haik, a large cloth wrapped around the body in a fashion similar to a Roman toga. When Arabs conquered their territory in the twelfth century C.E., the Berbers were forced to accept the Muslim religion and the strict dress codes of that religion. Arab influence is still present among Berbers today. On their heads men wear wrapped cloth turbans, and women cover their hair with scarves and their faces with veils called mandeels. Under their haiks, many Berbers wear ankle-length tunics or loose trousers called chalwar. In general, the Muslim influence is stronger among the Berbers of the north, where women wear plainer clothes in public than at home. In the south, Berber women’s clothes are notably colorful and decorative. Although the clothes worn today by many Berbers have ancient origins, some Berbers, especially those living in cities, wear Western style clothes. Berber women of Morroco living in the Middle Atlas mountain part of the on the hand still make the nomadic style of Berber cloth with bands instead of geometric motifs with wool. Moroccan women have composed fine embroideries and rugs using intricate designs that have been passed down from generations to generations. If you would like to add a touch of the Mediterranean to your wardrobe take a look at traditional Morrocon clothing which includes cotton kaftans with silk embroidery, authentic Fez hats, and soft leather slippers.

Batik Cloth:

Batik cloth has been important in Africa for nearly two thousand years. Batik is a method of applying pattern to fabric. A resist-dyeing technique, batik involves coating fabric with a dye-resistant substance and submerging the fabric in colored dye. Typically the dye-resistant substance is made of the cassava root or rice flour and the chemicals alum, a type of salt found in the earth, or copper sulfate, a naturally occurring mineral. The substance is boiled with water to make a thick paste. Women paint the paste on the fabric by hand to make flowing designs or men press the paste into stencils to make accurate repeated patterns. The patterns and methods for applying designs have been handed down through families for generations. Once the paste is dry, the fabric is submerged in dye in large clay pots or pits dug in the earth. When the dyed fabric is dry, the paste is scraped off to reveal a white or pale blue design. Indigo is the most common dye used to produce batik cloth. Indigo is made from a plant that grows in Africa. Most often cotton is used for the base fabric. The popularity of batik patterns as an item for trade has encouraged factories to produce masses of machine-made batik cloths for sale. These fabrics are made in Europe and in some African countries. However, the best examples of traditional African batik cloth are made by the Yoruba in Nigeria. Batik cloth is made into a variety of wrapped clothing, as well as stitched tunics, robes, and trousers.

Kuta Cloth:

This is a handmade cloth made by Eritrean and Ethiopan people which they use to cover their head and shoulders. It is made up of two layers of fabric and the gabi which is made out of four. Netela or netsela is the female version. Gabi and Netela are variations of shawls. The hand made process takes the raw cotton from the market to the "Shemane's" (traditional Ethiopian weavers) . The cotton is then separated from the seed to be worked to make them seed and dirt free. It is therefore, its stretched into a string by a slow manual process by the women. Another group of women uses a manually operated machine to 'stain' or 'color' some of the strings so they can be used for the colorful patterns that are sawn into the shawls or clothes.
Once the strings are prepared and made in to a bowl, the Shemane uses weaving machine usually done by men to make the gabi - shawls, dresses or shirts.
Once the cotton is turned into fabric, then the actual patterns are sawn in by hand. This whole process will take days and is not conducive to mass production; but for getting that one of a kind shawl or cultural cloth to wear and adore.

Coffee Dress Cloth:

The Traditional Coffee Dress popuplary worn by Ethiopan women are hand made with 100% pure Ethiopian cotton. This dress is worn for more relaxed casual wear or for the coffee ceremony. The coffee ceremony is a celebration of friendship in the Ethiopan culture.

Bark Cloth:

Bark cloth was one of the first cloths known to be made on the African continent, though its exact origins are lost to history. Bark cloth was made by peeling the inner bark off trees and beating it until it was soft. The first peoples known to use bark cloth were the Kuba, living in the present-day nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The peoples living in the forested regions of Africa, including the Congo Basin and West Africa, used bark cloth extensively. Bark cloth was fashioned into skirts and robes long enough to drape around the entire body. The inner bark of the ficus tree was one of the most often used for bark cloth. Patterned bark cloth garments were made from the different colored bark of various trees, which were combined to create geometric designs, and sometimes the bark cloth was painted

Aso oke Cloth:

Aso oke cloth is an intricately woven cloth used for ceremonial garments. Made by the Yoruba men of Nigeria, Aso oke cloth is decorated with elaborate patterns made from dyed strands of fabric that are woven into strips of cloth. These strips of cloth are sewn together to form larger pieces. Some Aso oke cloth, called “prestige cloth,” has a lace-like appearance with intricate open patterns. Patterns and colors used for Aso oke cloth have special meanings. A purplish-red colored dye called allure is prized among the Yoruba. Some designs are specifically for women’s garments and some are for men’s. The cloth is used to make numerous garment styles, including skirts, shirts, and trousers. Many of the outfits made from Aso oke cloth reflect the strong influence of the Muslim religion in the area since the early nineteenth century, with headwraps and modest gowns being prevalent. The amount of fabric and the patterns used indicate the wealth of the wearer. Aso oke are also made for headwraps (Gele), Shawls (Ipele) or cap for men (file). Aso oke means top cloth in English.

Akwete Cloth:
Akwete cloth refers specifically to the cloth woven in the Ndoki town of Akwete in Ukwa East local Government Area of Abia State. An Igbo village in Eastern Nigeria. The Akwete grew from a local part time for the women to become an identity for the Akwete people especially when people from Ijaw in Niger-Delta started patronizing the local weavers. While all cotton used in Akwete weaving was once hand spun and hand dyed by women, today most of the materials used are imported dyed yarns. Akwete cloths are distinguished from other textiles produced on the vertical loom by their size. Akwete cloth wrappers range from 44 inch to 46 inch matching pairs, which are left separate. This is compared to non- Akwete cloths which are composed of strips of cloth approximately 20 inches wide, and which are sewn together. Both ends of this cloth are warp-tasselled. This decorative effect is achieved by grouping together the ends of the warp threads.

Kitenge Cloth:

Kitenge or chitenge is an African garment similar to sarong, often worn by women wrapped around the chest or waist, over the head as a headscarf, or as a baby sling. They are also sometimes worn by men around the waist in hot weather. Kitenges (plural vitenge in Swahili; zitenge in Tonga) serve as an inexpensive, informal piece of clothing that, often decorated with a huge variety of colors, patterns and even political slogans. Kitenges are similar to kangas and kikoy, but are of a thicker cloth, and have an edging only on a long side. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, and Somalia are some of the African countries where kitenge is worn. In Malawi, Namibia and Zambia, kitenge is known as Chitenge.

Kanga Cloth:

Kanga is a traditional Tanzanian cloth in rectangular shape. The kanga is designed with a border, a central pattern, and a saying, usually in Swahili. It can be a proverb, such as 'a ripe mango should be eaten slowly', or a message 'don’t gossip about me' or picture of a popular person. Kangas can be used in so many ways as a wrap skirt, a shoulder wrap, head or neck scarf; as table cloth, comforter cover, or as a decoration on a couch or wall. Kangas are also handy during travel, as a dress, sheet, towel, or to carry your belongings and also use as a wrap around on the beach. They are made with 100% cotton.

Wax Prints:

These are made with engraved copper rollers spreading hot wax on both sides of a roll of white fabric (typically 100% cotton) that is then dipped into dye baths.In West and Central Africa where wax prints are mostly worn; wax prints are really potent symbols that sum up the person who’s wearing them in a single glance. You can tell a person’s wealth, rank, social standing and age just by looking at her wax print. Vlisco is the number one maker of wax prints in Africa and has been doing so for 160 years. It was founded in 1846 by Dutchman Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen, Vlisco soon found an export market for its hand-printed fabrics in Indonesia. African soldiers who served the Dutch imperial army in Indonesia brought the fabrics, which drew their inspiration from the archipelago’s traditional batiks. Central and West Africa embraced the fabrics, integrating them into the local culture. Even today, wax print fabrics are a popular gift at weddings, birthdays and other milestones. Wax prints are also produced in Africa and other parts of the world including Europe and Asia.

Shop for original authentic Vlisco wax prints at

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