April 14, 2009

kuba cloth

Kuba cloth is the embroidered and appliqued fabric of the Kuba people of central Africa who live around Kinshasa in modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The cloth is woven of fibers from the Raphia Vinifera palm leaves. Left in its natural color or dyed with organic dyes, it is sewn into applique and reverse-applique, traditionally used in long wrap-around dancing skirts. The flat-weave fabric may also be embroidered or decorated with cowry shells. But certainly the most lavish technique is the "Shoowa velvet", small panels of flat-weave fabric which are over-woven with a raffia fiber pile cut in a manner similar to an oriental pile rug. Geometric patterns are formed by outlining areas of pile of different colors with flat-weave emroidery. 
It has served as an inspiration to artists such as Picasso, Klee, and Matisse who had a collection of the kuba cloth displayed on his studio walls.
It takes about a month for a woman to finish one square of kuba embroidery using time consuming techniques that include dying and needlework.
Designs are usually improvised using a combination from the hundreds of known designs, most of which have names.

These photos were taken at the maasai market in Nairobi. Piles of kuba cloth are for sale at the market each Friday. Large numbers of the cloth are now exported to Europe and the United States and sold at stores like ABC Carpet & Home in New York city.


  1. I love kuba cloth and have a large-ish collection. So beautiful!

  2. Yes, it is great. I was at the maasai market today and a friend of mine bought a very long one for her table. They are unique!


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