Celebrating African Fabrics
Black History Month affords us a chance to dig deeper, spotlight, and celebrate great achievements that Africans in the UK have accomplished. For Sewing2gether All Nations, diversity and inclusion will always be an essential. Despite the history of racism and oppression, we get to focus on a more positive narrative of the Black culture. From handmade weaving, sewing techniques and fabrics have evolved, but in Africa weaving is of great importance. For some cultures it is likened to rebirth.
Africa is known for its individual art which is strongly influenced by the vast richness in the environment and nature. The tapestries differ across the region, and where written historical accounts are unavailable, there is a lot of information behind the patterns or weaving techniques.
A closer look at each fabric reveals the craftsmanship; with colours and patterns representing specific attributes such as ceremonies, holidays, status and more. The fabrics are sometimes worn just as they are, by wrapping them around the body, and they are also designed to make beautiful attire or accessories. Mothers use the fabric to carry babies on their backs, and it can also be used as an apron when cooking or cleaning. In some cultures, the fabrics are laid on the floor for a bride to walk on when leaving the parents house on her wedding day.
Some of the most popular fabrics are the Kente of Ghana which was only worn by Kings in the past. Adire’(tie-dye),’ Ankara,’ and ‘Aso oke’ of Nigeria. ’Kitenge’, ‘leso’ (wrapper /kanga) of East Africa. Leso is light and known for its bold designs and Swahili proverbs printed on the base of the fabric.
For Africans, head wraps have also come a long way. Enslaved men and women were forced to wear head wraps as a badge. They however bravely regarded the head-wrap as a helmet of courage that evoked an image of their true homeland. It then became a way to deal with the harsh weather, or it would indicate a woman’s spirituality, wealth and social status within a community, simply from its style, colour and design. The famous ‘Gele’ head wrap; usually rather large, ornate and associated with ceremonial wear. In Nigeria it is adorned as a sign of elegance and maturity.
Through the journey of slavery, racism and colonisation, there is a lot of pride tied to the history of this fabrics. Clothes have lost value due to the fast fashion trends but many stakeholders are exploring and employing sustainable practices to make the sector more environmental friendly. This story continues to positively fuel the social, political, economic and cultural development of the United Kingdom.
This month, we will be telling the story of the beautiful fabrics of the African heritage, and using some donated African Fabrics for our sewing project - a ruffle brooch.
Written and Narrated by Laura Ndanuko.