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Raffia pile cloth (velours de kasai)

Rhythmic and dynamic patterns appear in many textiles from the sub-Saharan regions of Africa, particularly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana and Nigeria. The same improvisational approach to creating patterns infuses the musical traditions of these regions, which gave rise to 20th century jazz and blues.

Where was this textile created?

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Improvised Patterns

Raffia pile cloth (velours de kasai)
Africa: Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kuba people
20th century
Hand woven raffia embroidered with natural and dyed raffia
49 cm x 46 cm
Gift of Dr. Peter Herschman
T88.0616 Textile Museum of Canada

The Kuba people of the Congo are well known for textiles such as this one, made from raffia and featuring interlocking knot designs. The men weave the cloth and the women embroider it. The characteristic pile – known as Kasai velvet or clipped pile cloth – is made by embroidering the cloth with soft, thin strips of natural and dyed raffia, which are clipped to make a velvet-like surface. The fabric is a prestige item traditionally used as ceremonial clothing and for exchange, especially as part of a marriage contract.

“They look so spontaneous, but when you think about the amount of time it takes to make these lines, then you have to wonder. These textiles make me appreciate the fact that subtle variation is something to strive for.” Judith Tinkl, Canadian textile artist

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