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What Is African Weaving?

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  • Written By: A.M. Boyle
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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African weaving is a traditional form of textile art. The craft originated in Africa many years ago and is still a large part of African culture. Artists use specific and complex spinning and looming techniques. The colorful and unique patterns in the textiles created are not only beautiful, but they often tell a story about the weaver’s history or heritage.

The art of African weaving is an ancient art form, most likely originating in the Central and Western parts of Africa, and the tradition was carried over into the U.S. and Europe during the days of slavery. Traditionally, the craft was performed only by African men, although in many African villages and weaver’s guilds, women are now accepted too. The yarn used in conventional African weaving was generally dyed by hand to ensure unique and vibrant colors. Weavers hand spun it on a drop spindle and wove it together using a specially crafted drag loom. In many parts of Africa, this ancient technique is still used to create handwoven textiles.

Bright colors and asymmetric patterns give African weaving its distinctive look. The vibrancy of the colors likely arose from the need for the various tribes to identify each other from a distance. Asymmetric patterns are quite common and generally stem from a time-honored belief that clear deviations in patterns signified the weaver’s ancestral power and served to ward off evil spirits.

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Often, the patterns used in African weaving also include hidden messages or symbols. For instance, the frequently used diamond pattern is a symbol of one’s life cycle. Each of the four sides of the diamond represents birth, life, death, and rebirth, respectively. Additionally, the patterns might also contain symbolic recounts of history, protective charms, or figures and ciphers indicating the weaver’s tribal status.

The techniques and skills used in African weaving are generally passed down from generation to generation. Being recognized as an accomplished weaver is often a source of family pride. Although recognized as an art form, the textiles created can have any number of practical uses as well. For instance, aside from quilts and tapestries, African weavers create any number of well-used items, such as belts, shawls, blankets, and scarves.

Quite a few African weaving artisans proudly sell their creations, and a variety of websites display genuine African woven textiles for sale. Each piece, by its nature, is unique and distinctive in design, color, and pattern. Due to this fact, although the purchase price for these items might seem relatively inexpensive, many consider them to be priceless collectors' items.

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Discuss this Article

Heavanet
Post 3

@rundocuri- Thank you for the information about your experience with woven items from Africa. I'm considering buying some clothing woven in Africa from a shop I found online, and it helps to here about the quality and heritage of these beautiful creations.

Rundocuri
Post 2

I traveled to African a few years ago, and purchased some authentic textiles for a friend. The quality was evident when you touched the clothing, and the colors were beautiful. My friend was thrilled, because the clothing also represented her culture and the love and skill the people put into weaving the textiles.

Raynbow
Post 1

I studied African culture in college, and I enjoyed learning about the importance of weaving among many African people. Creating woven items was an activity that families shared together, and a skill that is still important across the continent today.

Woven baskets were also created by many African people, and were practical and beautiful. Families also pass these beautiful creations down generation to generation, because they are examples of African culture.

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