With global celebrities strutting down red carpets and turning heads on the street, African fabrics have successfully left the shores of the continent and created couture of its own. The continent, boasts of a thriving industry with colourful fabric export. From Dashikis to Buba and other African inspired garments, people from all works of life find the colours, patterns, feel and origin of most of these fabrics fascinating. Much of African fabrics are deeply rooted in the cultures and traditions of the community it originated from.
Just like many events and objects in Africa, some of these colourful fabrics are believed to bring good luck or protection depending on how it is made and what it is made from.
Dyed brocade is made of soft pure cotton textile commonly found in West Africa with Mali as a major global distributor. Traditionally, these fabrics are hand dyed using local materials such as plants, mud and soda ash. The fabrics are left out in the sun to dry after dying. Fine finishing is achieved by embroidery, knotting, wax-stamping or painting before they are packaged for sale. In recent times, the use of chemicals has replaced traditional methods due to the complexity of modern life which places extra demand on the fabric market. The fabric feels velvety while having a look of delicateness engraved in it. Bamako boasts of a thriving dyed brocade industry employing over 250,000 people in the region after surviving the 2012 political crisis that hit the state.
Kente is a popular African fabric made in Ghana. With its name derived from ‘Kenten’ (basket), Kente is a fabric with detailed hand woven patterns of cotton ball thread in a way similar to that of a basket. These patterns are intricately designed to represent the artist’s mind at the time. Like different drumbeats, Kente patterns are knitted to form a story or riddle. No two Kente has the same pattern nor meaning, each has it literal meaning. It is worn for ceremonies, special occasions and weddings in Ghana as it forms an integral part of their culture. Kente has since gained global popularity with celebrities strutting down red carpets draped in the beautiful fabric which comes in bright colourful patterns such as red, yellow, blue and purple6 Colourful African Fabric Used Around the World Click To Tweet
Shweshwe is traditionally worn by the Xhosa women of South Africa. This fabric which comes in different shades of indigo is believed to have travelled to Africa with Indian and Arabian traders over 2000 years ago. It is a stiff rustling cotton material worn for major ceremonies and has come to form a major couture in modern African clothing lines. The fabric is believed to be named after king Moshoeshoe 1 of Basotho, while others believe the cloth was given to the king by French missionaries in the 1840’s, hence the name Ishweshwe.
This is a fabric found in Uganda made from the inner bark of Moraceae tree. The inner bark of the tree is shredded into strips and soaked in moisture. These strips are beaten into sheets and finished with different items. The barkcloth is a thick, highly textured material often having a rough feel. In recent times, it is made of intricately woven cotton fabric and used for interior designs such as curtains, drapery and slipovers.
Adire is a carefully hand dyed fabric made in Nigeria. Cotton materials are soaked in dyes of various colours to form abstract colourful patterns. This trade was often dominated by women from western Nigeria who learnt the skill as a part of their family heritage. However, virtually any body with a background in clothing and textile are involved in the trade. Despite the fact that Industrial methods were initially used to meet the growing demand for the fabric, the market collapsed in the 1930’s due to high demand. The indigo cotton material was initially two piece of different clothes stitched together. Nowadays, people greatly favour an equally brightly coloured wax patterned material called Kampala. It is still known by a few as Adire.
Bogolanfini or bologna is a fabric with origin from Mali; the cotton fabric is dyed in fermented mud to have its brownish colour. It is believed to enhance protection for hunters who use it for camouflage during hunting; women at childbirth use it believing it possesses healing powers.
The delicate patterns embroidered in this fabric are deeply rooted in mythological concepts, historical events and crocodile. The mud cloth is exported to other countries and it has become an integral part of world fashion, arts and designs. It is often used for wall hangings and mosaic patterns.