Monday, 9 December 2013

Hausa cloth workers in Kura, 2006.

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The famous indigo dye pits at the Kofar Mata gate in Kano may be the last few survivors in the city of what was once a massive local industry supplying highly prized burnished indigo turbans and robes to wealthy patrons throughout the Sahara and Sahel but today they are a rather sad sight, with only a few remaining dyers who largely make tie dye patterned cloths for the extremely desultory tourist trade. However a short drive outside Kano the village of Kura still retains  its ancient specialisation supplying merchants from Niger and Mali. For the most expensive cloths cloth is woven from very fine spun cotton into strips only around 1 cm in width – these are the narrowest strips produced anywhere in West Africa.

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Between sixty and one hundred and twenty strips are then sewn together edge to edge to make a turban before being dyed in indigo. In order to obtain the darkest possible colour the cloth is immersed and then drawn out to oxidise the dye repeatedly.

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The dyed cloth is then dried in the sun.

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It is then ready for the cloth beaters, another specialised craft requiring great skill.

Water is sprayed onto a cloth dusted with powdered indigo and animal fat.

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Two workers use heavy wooden mallets to beat the cloth, giving it a metallic sheen and folding it repeatedly until a long narrow bar of cloth is ready to be wrapped in paper for sale.

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Two completed bars of cloth can be seen behind the seated man below.

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Click on the photos to enlarge. All photos above © Duncan Clarke.


The Hausa/Fulani chief Sarkin Zamfara Ahmadu Barmo, Anka, north Nigeria 1961/62, photographer Brigitte Menzel. Indigo dyed and glazed turban.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Cloth of the month: Two Kanuri women’s robes.


The far north eastern corner of Nigeria and adjacent areas of Cameroun and Chad are today best known for Islamist insurgency but were once the centre of a powerful kingdom known to historians as Kanem-Bornu that grew rich through controlling the southern end of one of the most important trans-Saharan trade routes.  The Kanuri rulers maintained close links with both other trade centres in the Sahel such as Kano and Timbuktu and with north African trading centres and as a result developed a distinctive material culture  that today is little known. Among the most spectacular features were these embroidered tunic that formed a key part of ceremonial attire for high status Kanuri women. 


Made from imported trade cloth hand embroidered with brightly coloured silks these duriya tunics seem to have been quite varied in style during the nineteenth century, as indicated by examples in museum collections in Berlin and Paris, but to have become more standardised during the first half of the C20th. Our example, shown above, which was collected during the 1950s, is very similar to the single tunic in the British Museum that David Heathcote obtained in the early 1970s (British Museum #Af2008,2025.22) Tunics with embroidered decoration all over were known as sharwan kura (Lyndersay, Nigerian Dress, 2011), while those with more restricted decoration as below were   called kura.



As the sketch below indicates in use they formed part of an elaborate outfit combined with a headcloth, waist wrapper and a large wrapper called a leppaye that could be either locally woven or imported cloth.


From: Dani Lydersay, Nigerian Dress, the Body Honoured (2011, CBAAC, Lagos.)


This photo from the Bella Naija website shows a modern version at an elite Kanuri wedding.

To visit our gallery of West African robes clock here.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Three early postcards from Benin.


Vintage postcard, circa 1900, Benin Republic. Caption" Dahomey woman." Photographer Geo Wolber.


Vintage postcard, before 1904. Caption "The King of Sakete", Benin Republic.


Vintage postcard, circa 1900, Benin Republic, caption "A cunning Hausa" - photographer Geo. Wolber.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Looking back at some exceptional Ewe cloths from our archive.

As I look back on some of the more unusual and significant pieces from our archive of sold cloths I am struck once again by the diversity and sophistication of the finest Ewe weaving. As I noted in an earlier post I have been assembling a selection of images of Ewe cloths on my Pinterest page here. This project is continuing and I will be adding other pages looking at other major groups of West African textiles over the coming months. Visit Pinterest for the full group but here are some highlights.


Ewe men's cloth, early C20th: Usually these weft faced cloths are only red, blue and white, but on this one the weaver went wild with new colours. The only example I have seen like it. Now in a private collection.


Ewe men's cloth, circa 1900: the weaver combines a supplementary floating warp and a floating weft to create the tooth-like pattern in the black squares. This is the only time I have seen this rare technique on a weft-faced cloth. Now in private collection.


Ewe men's cloth, early C20th: Silk weft motifs on cotton ground, the black dyed cotton in the weft stripes had perished. Now in private collection.


Ewe men's cloth, early C20th: On this exceptional cloth the weaver has placed the supplementary weft floats on top of the weft faced blocks rather than between them as is typical. Now in the Metropolitan Museum.

Click on the photos to enlarge. To see our current stock of Ewe cloths click here.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A Baule Weaver, Ivory Coast, 1960s.


Vintage postcard, postmarked 1969, showing a  Baule or Dioula weaver in Côte D’Ivoire, wearing an indigo overdyed robe cloth and weaving an ikat pattern. Note the indigo on the loom’s heddles. This is not normal weaving attire so we can assume he put on a finished cloth or his best outfit for the photographer.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Some early images of Sierra Leone “country cloth” weavers, circa 1900.


I recently bought the card above, a rare image published circa 1900, that I had not seen before (click the photos to enlarge.) It prompted me to review the other views of Sierra Leone weavers that I have gathered over the years. Most show the distinctive “tripod loom” used by Mende, Vai, Sherbro and other groups and found only in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Others show odd variations on the standard West African narrow strip loom.


On this card, written in 1902 at Fourah Bay College, the sender notes that he saw one of the weavers and bought a 60 yard strip of cloth from him.





above - Photographer & publisher: Alphonse Lisk-Carew




above – Photographer: W.S. Johnson.


above - Photographer & publisher: Alphonse Lisk-Carew



Monday, 11 November 2013

Hairstyles, Togo, circa 1900


Vintage postcard, author’s collection.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

“Vanity Fair on Gifts” recommends Adire African Textiles…


In the “Interiors” section of the UK edition, Jemima Khan recommends Adire African Textiles….

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Cloth of the month: a remarkable mixed pattern Ewe kente


Ewe767 - Highly unusual cloth in which a master weaver has used a virtuoso display of complex and finely controlled supplementary weft float motifs to unite a varied group of different warp stripe patterned and coloured strips. Motifs include two men in a canoe, a man with a caged bird, crocodiles, chiefs with umbrellas, various complex multibladed ceremonial swords etcetera. Cloths with this level of decoration were extremely expensive to commission and would only have been worn by the wealthiest men. Dates from circa 1930-50s. Condition excellent. Size: 118 ins x 74, 300cm x 188.



Click on the photos to enlarge..







Please visit our updated gallery to see some of our current stock of Ewe kente cloths here.