Weaving Abstraction exhibition at the Textile Museum last Sunday, and it got me wanting to take a look at our raffia fabric. So, rather than take them out of their special box and risk getting them coated with dust (the south wing is under construction & wall board/sheet rock is just as dusty as you've heard), I just looked up the photos from the digital archive.
On the right is a piece of kuba cloth. It's dyed woven raffia (the long inner fibers from palm leaves). And then the lighter designs are REVERSE-appliqued on! This particular piece is a men's ceremonial skirt, about 30" wide, but 14' (yes feet!) long. That's about 4.5 meters. The designs are amazing--graphic & modern. And not very easy to execute. As I've said before regarding molas, applique is hard enougn; reverse applique--yikes! And working with raffia must not be easy either--it's stiff and breaks, unlike fabric or yarn. I suspect they do some of their work when the raffia is damp, to make it more flexible.
The next three are also ceremonial skirts, which would be tied on with a belt. They are kasai velvet or raffia velvet. Think of a carpet, from Iran or Turkey, made with raffia, but without knotting. Amazing geometric designs, huh?
The amout of work that must go into these is just amazing, and again, the tools are simple, but the artistry is exquisite. We bought all of these a a shop in Ouagadougou, even though they items were made in the Congo. Unfortunately the Congo isn't that safe, so Burkina Faso was where we did our kuba/kasai shopping!
These three skirts measure about 2' square. You really can't go much longer than that because the raffia fibers don't get much longer than 24-30". For the longer kuba cloth skirts, they are also 24-30" wide, but many squares are sewn together to get the length. We saw one at the exhibition that was over 30' long!
If you'd like to see more amazing kuba & kasai, check out Hide & Seek Africa; their items are for sale, and the site gives a glimpse into the variety of designs these artists create. Here's a photo taken of young boys in 1970, showing how the extra long kuba cloth is wrapped around & around & then tied.
Raffia velvet is rather interesting because both genders produce it. Generally speaking, men weave the base cloth from raffia (plain woven fabric), then women do the embroidery, creating the intricate designs & trimming the raffia to different lengths to create different pile heights. These different heights, different colors & geometric designs help to create true works of art--try to see them in person if you can!