We aim to explore the different types of African textiles in this project. The African continent is often referred to as one monolith. Some even reference it as though it was a country when in fact, it is a continent made up of 54 countries. Each with its own culture, language, ways and beliefs. Of course there is some overlap in these cultures, as the lines that separate countries were not developed organically. This is also reflected in the fabric traditions across the continent which is what we will be looking at in the Glossary Project. Some fabric techniques are similar but with different aesthetic outcomes. Let us explore them! This will be an ongoing project that will be continuously developed as we learn more about the fabrics of different African countries. Do join us on this adventure by telling us your favourites, if you discovered something special on a trip, if you are a maker in one of these countries. Let’s build a body of work together. We will look at one fabric with each update and for the sake of simplification, we will highlight the country or countries it is traditionally produced in, rather than where it might be purchased or worn. At the end, we will also have a pretty mapped representation of the variety of fabrics. The 54 African Countries A – C Algeria Angola Benin Botswana Burkina Faso Burundi Cape Verde Cameroon Central African Republic Chad Comoros Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of the Cote d’Ivoire D – G Djibouti Egypt Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Eswatini Ethiopia Gabon Gambia Ghana Guinea Guinea-Bissau K – M Kenya Lesotho Liberia Libya Madagascar Malawi Mali Mauritania Mauritius Morocco Mozambique N – S Namibia Niger Nigeria Rwanda Sao Tome and Principe Senegal Seychelles Sierra Leone Somalia South Africa South Sudan Sudan T – Z Tanzania Togo Tunisia Uganda Zambia Zimbabwe The A to Z of African Textiles AKWETE Akwete is a woven cloth from Nigeria, traditionally woven and worn by Igbo women in the east of the country. It dates back to the 1400s and named after Akwete, a town in the South-eastern state of Abia where it is made. It was woven out of sisal hemp, raffia, cotton or rayon silk. These woven cloths were worn as wrappers and are of a similar weaving tradition to Aso-oke, Daboya and Kente. ANKARA If you are shopping for wax print fabrics in the markets in Nigeria, you will have to ask for Ankara. This is the catch-all name for cotton wax print fabrics. They are also called wax prints, African wax prints, Dutch wax, English wax depending on where they are made. With a rich and intricate history, these cloths tend to be what people think of African fabric is referred to. African wax prints were not originally made in any African country. When the Dutch colonised modern day Indonesia, they tried to industrialise an imitation of their traditional batik fabrics in order to mass produce them in the Netherlands and sell back to the population. This failed as there was no appetite for the fabric. However, they found an audience in West Africa and their popularity and demand grew and eventually the British started to produce the fabrics. After West African nations gained independence from their European colonisers and their economies began to grow, they too started production of the fabric locally. Fun fact; there is no wax used in the production of modern African wax print fabrics. Find out more about Ankara. ADIRE Adire pronounced (pronounced ah-d-reh) is the indigo dyed cloth made predominantly by Yoruba women in South-West Nigeria. The fabric is produced using a range of resist dye techniques ranging from folding, tying and stitching the areas that will resist the dye, to the use of wax for the same purpose. Additional methods also include hand-painted or stenciled designs directly onto cloth. The word Adire is now used more generically to refer to various resist dye fabrics in Nigeria. Find out more about Adire. ASO-OKE Aso-Oke (pronounced ah-SHOW-kay) is a hand woven cloth made mostly by the Yoruba tribe of south west Nigeria. Narrow strips are woven on wooden looms. The woven strips are sewn together along the selvedge to make clothing. The clothes would be worn for special occasions such as weddings, festivals, coronations. The strips came in a range of widths, some as narrow as 7.5 cm (3 inches). However, more contemporarily, the are now much wider and the most common width is 17 cm (7 inches). Find out more about Aso-oke. BATIKI Although batiki is actually the name of a island in Fiji, it is what Tanzanians call their wax resist dyed cloths. Similar to the Adire of Nigeria and other resist dyed cloths of both East and West Africa, there is a tradition of colourful dyed cotton batik fabrics in Tanzania. DABOYA/FUGU Daboya is a region in Northern Ghana and is the home of a narrow strip cloth. Similar to other weaving traditions in West Africa, these strips are sewn together selvedge to selvedge to make clothing, the most popular of which is the Fugu or Batakari which is a traditional smock mostly worn by men. The cloth is indigo dyed and 100% cotton, often with an indigo background with brighter coloured highlights. Whilst the cotton used for the cloth is spun by the women, the cloth is woven by the men of the region. The strips are very narrow and are about 8/9 cm (3 to 3.5 inches) in width. KITENGE Kitenge also known as chitenge or vitenge , is a factory printed cotton fabric popular in East Africa. It is similar to the wax prints that are popular in West Africa. It is common in the market places of Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya and Zambia. OKENE Okene is another woven cloth from Nigeria. It is handwoven by women in the town of Okene in central Nigeria. It was woven out of cotton and plant stem fibre. The cloth is produced on a vertical, single-heddle loom and it takes about three weeks to produce five yards of the cloth. SHWESHWE Shweshwe is a printed cotton fabric that is manufactured in South Africa. The often geometric designs are created using a weak acid solution to bleach out the motifs seen on the fabric. Originally, shweshwe was produced in two main colours indigo and brown but the range from (Three Cats- the original shweshwe brand) has expanded to include brighter and more varied colourways. It is a popular choice of fabric for wedding ceremonies in Southern Africa and has also found popularity with quilters worldwide but especially in North America. Find out more about shweshwe. Stay tuned as we continue to add new fabrics to the list!