There are so many beautiful textiles that are produced in Africa. Some fabrics have bold patterns and vibrant colours whereas others are more subtle in design and colour, such as mud cloth (Bogolan) from Mali.
Hand-painted mud cloth
Most traditional African fabrics have been made for hundreds of years and the skills, techniques, and equipment that go into making them by hand have been passed down from generation to generation.
Several African textiles are traditionally handmade by certain tribes. For example, Kente cloth is produced on handlooms by Asante and Ewe weavers in Ghana, and Akwete cloth is handwoven by Igbo weavers in Nigeria.
A handloom used in Ghana to make kente cloth
This blog explores the diversity and richness of different African textiles including their history, the type of materials used, how they are made, and how they can be used to add touches of African inspired décor to your homes.
Lampshade by Tropikala using our Authentic African print fabric
African textiles can be used to add colour, texture, warmth and richness to your living spaces. From cushion covers to luxurious bed throws and unique wall hangings, there are so many possibilities and creative ways to add African style to your home décor.
Get inspiration for your home by exploring these African style interior trends and ideas.
Many beautiful African textiles are produced on the continent, see how they can be used to decorate your living space.
Mud cloth (Bògòlanfini) from Mali is traditionally hand-dyed and painted cotton fabric made using fermented mud (or bark) and leaves.
The cloth is seen as an important symbol in Malian culture and is popular worldwide. The material is commonly used in fashion, art and interior design styles.
Strips of cotton cloth are handwoven before being stitched together to make the cloth. The woven cloth is put into a dye bath made from mashed and boiled leaves. The cloth is then dried in the sun and turns yellow.
A mud cloth design from Mali
Wooden and metal pieces are used to paint a design on the fabric using fermented mud, which causes a chemical reaction and leaves a brown colour. The cloth is then washed to remove the mud and yellow background colour which turns white.
Mud cloth can be used for a variety of different design elements for your home such as a rug, cushion covers, chair upholstery, a wall hanging, and shower curtain.
Kente is a luxurious handwoven cloth that originated in Ghana hundreds of years ago. The expensive cloth is traditionally woven by the Asante people of the Akan kingdom and the Ewe ethnic group.
Different kente cloth strips from Ghana
A finished kente cloth design from Ghana
The method of producing Kente cloth is called strip weaving. Narrow pieces of cloth are woven on a horizontal strip loom before being stitched together to create the desired pattern. Every unique design is named and has a story behind it.
Each colour in the cloth has a hidden meaning, for example, the colour blue symbolises harmony and red passion. Traditionally the cloth is worn for special occasions such as weddings and funerals.
To decorate your home, kente cloth can be used as a rug, bed or sofa throw, table runner, table cloth, cushion covers, curtains or a wall hanging to add colour and texture.
Learn more about kente cloth and watch it being made in Ghana.
Aso-oke (pronounced ah-shaw-okay) is also a strip woven cloth that originates from southwestern Nigeria. It is traditionally woven by the Yoruba people using locally grown handspun cotton that is dyed using natural indigo dyes or used in its natural form.
Intricate patterns can be woven into the designs using different colours. Some designs feature holes in the fabric similar to lace. Shiny gold and silver threads have been introduced into the designs.
It is believed that aso-oke dates back to the 10th century and was introduced into Yorubaland in the 15th century. Like kente, the cloth is worn for special occasions including weddings, funerals and royal ceremonies.
Aso-oke hand-woven cloth strips
Aso-oke hand-woven cloth with gold thread
Aso-oke can also be used to make cushion covers, chair upholstery, a table cloth, sofa throw, wall hanging and curtains. Enjoy experimenting with this beautifully handwoven cloth to add African inspired design to your home.
Adire is an indigo-dyed cotton cloth traditionally made and worn in southwestern Nigeria by Yoruba women since the early 20th century. This handmade dyed cloth is a natural process that boils leaves and seeds of indigo plants.
The cotton cloth is dipped several times inside the dye until it turns a darker shade of blue. A variety of dye-resist techniques are applied to create patterns including batik, tie-dye and hand painting.
Indigo-dyed adire cloth made in Nigeria
Adire cloth can be used in interior design to make cushion covers, bed sheets, curtains or blinds, wall hangings and lampshade covers to add pattern to your living space.
Akwete is a handwoven cloth produced in Igboland, famously in Akwete, a town in Abia State, Nigeria. Traditionally, the cloth was made using earthy colours, but coloured threads were later introduced, and the cloths are now known for their colourful and creative patterns.
The weavers use mainly sisal, hemp, raffia, cotton, silk, and rayon. The main part of the cloth is usually made from cotton and the decorative motifs use coarser fibres such as sisal and raffia to add texture. Rayon and silk are also used for the decorative motifs for formal wear.
There are known to be over a hundred different motifs that have been created by the Akwete weavers who usually include three or four on each unique piece of cloth. The motifs have different meanings and can reflect the social status of the wearer.
Akwete cloth hand-woven in Nigeria
Akwete cloth looks great when used as a rug to add colour, richness, warmth and comfort to your home. You could also use the cloth to make cushion covers or use it as a sofa throw or wall hanging.
Kanga (or Leso) is a rectangular shaped printed cotton cloth with a decorative border on all four sides and a central design featuring a Swahili proverb.
They are bought in pairs and commonly worn by women in East African countries including Tanzania and Kenya, and known to have many uses such as carrying a baby in a sling.
Women often wear Kanga cloth when cleaning, cooking, showering, and sleeping. Kangas can be presented as special gifts for birthdays, weddings and to guests as a symbol of friendship.
Find out more about kanga cloth, its many uses and how it’s made.
Closeup of a kanga design from East Africa
Kanga is a versatile African printed fabric that can be used to make cushion covers, curtains, and table runners. It can easily be used as a wall hanging or draped over any table to add a splash of colour to your home décor.
Kikoy is a handwoven, rectangular, multi-coloured cotton cloth produced on the east coast of Africa (Kenya and Tanzania). Simple stripe patterns are woven, instead of dyed, into the fabric.
The Kikoy is a type of sarong that is part of Swahili culture. Traditionally it is wrapped around the waist and worn like a long skirt but can also be used as a beach towel or headscarf. Kikoy is worn by both men and women.
Example of an East African kikoy
Kikoy is suitable for making cushion or pillow covers, curtains, a table runner or as it is to drape over a sofa, table or bed.
Shuka is a cotton plaid cloth in red (the most common colour) or blue, with black stripes traditionally worn by the semi-nomadic Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania. They like to wear red as it symbolises courage, bravery, and strength.
It is a thick, strong and durable blanket worn like a sarong and looks like tartan. The exact origin is unknown, but it is believed that possibly Scottish missionaries introduced Shuka during colonial times.
Maasai shuka blanket from Tanzania
Shuka is commonly made in Tanzania and also imported from China. Shuka is suitable to make many different home décor items such as cushion covers, throws, table cloths, and curtains.
Basotho is a woollen blanket traditionally worn by the Sotho men and women in the highlands of Lesotho and South Africa to keep them warm. You may recognise this blanket from the Black Panther movie.
Different types of Basotho blanket designs reflect the wearers social status. For example, there’s a blanket design that is given to a new mother by her husband to welcome their first child.
They are used for special occasions such as weddings (as an engagement ring) and funerals. The blanket is worn over clothing with the stripes vertical to symbolise growth. Men wear the darker side of the blanket on the outside and women vice versa.
A Basotho blanket design
Basotho is perfect for decorating your sofa or bed as a throw/blanket. The woollen material can also be used to make cosy cushion covers.
Popular African wax print fabric, also known as ankara, kitenge (or chitenge), and Dutch wax, is industrially produced using a wax-resist dyeing technique (batik), which originates from Indonesia.
Their bold and vibrant patterns are visible on both sides of the cotton fabric. The width of the fabric varies between 46 to 48 inches and is usually sold in 6 yards (half pieces) or 12 yards (whole pieces).
They are commonly worn by African women as a non-verbal way of communication; some of the designs have hidden meanings. The material can be worn as they are, wrapped around the body or as a headwrap.
African print fabric napkins by QÄSA QÄSA
The versatile fabric is also used to make modern African print clothing and for African interior design such as napkins, table cloths, table runners, plant pot covers, upholstery, cushion covers, lampshade covers, curtains, and bedsheets.
There are many stages in the production of wax print fabrics, which is why they are expensive to make. The most expensive fabrics use high-quality, locally grown cotton and have several finishes that are applied at the end of production.
Learn how you can tell the difference between authentic and counterfeit African wax print fabric.
We hope you have enjoyed reading about the different African textiles that can be used to make interior design styles for your home as well as modern and traditional African clothing.
There are so many beautiful fabrics to discover that are handcrafted on the African continent. Each unique fabric has history, heritage, social symbolism and hidden meanings.
Authentic African wax print fabric designs by Kitenge Store
If you’re looking to purchase high-quality authentic fabric that is printed in Africa to make clothing or home décor items take a look at our colourful collection, which is available to purchase by the yard.
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