TODAY ON FASHION: AKWETE, ITS LOOMING TECHNIQUES AND MOTIF PATTERNS

A woman looming Akwete

Many fabrics and prints are making headway in the African market all over the globe. Fabrics such as Ankara, Hollandaise, George and Lace are been associated to African culture and origin. However, little or no attention is given to our own traditional woven loom/fabric popularly known as Akwete, so today our major focus will be on Akwete as in the Fabric, the techniques of looming the fabrics and the pattern of motif used in creating various designs on them.
Akwete cloth is a unique hand woven textile produced in Igboland for which the town of Akwete in Abia state, Nigeria is famous. The traditional Igbo weaving as demonstrated in Akwete processes sisal-hemp, raffia and spun cotton into finished products. While the coarse raffia materials are used by masquerades and in the past as head gear for warriors among other uses, the hemp material was used to weave towels, ropes and handbags. The more comfortable and colorful spun cotton is used to weave cloth for everyday wearing.
Weaving is done on a loom. There are two types of loom, the horizontal loom used by men and the vertical loom used by women. Traditionally most of the weaving is done by women. A continuous warp thread gives a solid color background for the motifs. A two color warp background is also used which produces a blended color effect. An iridescent color effect can also be produced when the warp is one color and the base weft (as opposed to decorative motive weft) ano
ther. Fabrics are woven to be single faced or double faced, that is the motifs show on both sides. Base fabric is mostly low twist yarn cotton, with the decorative motifs consisting of coarser or heavier spun cotton, low twist silk, or shiny rayon. Cotton and rayon combinations give a multicolored, brocaded look. Earth colors seem to predominate traditionally, but the contemporary access to imported dyes and colored cotton thread has broadened the spectrum.
The weavers in Akwete claim to know over a hundred different motifs but not more than three or four are usually used simultaneously on one piece of cloth. Traditionally the creator of a new motif is granted an unwritten copyright. This is explained by the inspirational aspect of the development of motifs in the society, certain motifs being regarded as gifts of creative inspiration from a divinity. Social status plays a role in the wearing of Akwete cloth, certain motifs being reserved for royalty, or used as a talisman to protect warriors going into battle or women in pregnancy. Some patterns are reserved for special families or occasions because of circumstances pertaining to motif origin.

Source:Akwete Cloth and Its Motifs, Marian Davis, African Arts Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1974)], pp. 22–25 Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center
Akwete cloth: An Igbo textile art Vanguard Newspaper published JULY 26, 2012 by McPhilips Nwachukwu and Appollos Oziogu Ibebabuchi
Photo credit: wikipedia.org

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