Get Inspiration from African Fabric Art

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kuba cloth fabric art
Kuba cloth incorporated into a
mixed-media fabric art piece.

Where do you find inspiration? Personally, I love the fluid lines of Victorian furniture and textile designs. And I'm also strongly attracted to the juicy fruits and flowers motifs and colors of the 1930s and '40s.

But there's something about the bold, graphic nature of African handmade arts and crafts, especially textiles, that I find arresting. Part of it is the geometric patterns. But as a tactile person, I'm fascinated by how the natural materials are manipulated by hand to achieve different textures.

Kuba cloth is one of my favorites. Plush, coarse, and crafted by hand in sophisticated earth tones, Kuba cloth is woven of raffia fibers by the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa.

Various techniques are employed to create it: The two most prominent styles being a richly textured cut-pile technique known as Kasaї velvet and a version with appliqué designs. Often, a single cloth might combine the two looks, along with other surface design techniques like tie-and-dye and embroidery.

kuba cloth fabric art
Kuba cloth.

According to an article in the interactive eMag Quilting Arts In Stitches, Vol. 3, "The powerful and unmistakable influence of the Central Africa's raffia textile artists shows up repeatedly in the works of such European artists as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. In viewing their art, chances are you've admired the unique aesthetics of African design without even knowing it! In fact, Matisse was so greatly affected by African fabrics that he displayed a sizeable collection on the wall of his studio."

The In Stitches article includes a Q&A with Lisa Shepard Stewart, an award-winning author, designer, and instructor specializing in the creative use of authentic African textiles and embellishments. She is the author of two how-to home decorating books, African Accents and Global Expressions, and a handbag design book, On The Go! Lisa offers specialty merchandise, workshops, lectures, and unique travel opportunities to Jamaica and Ghana. Here are a couple of stitching tips she shares in the piece:

fabric art designer lisa shepard stewart
Lisa Shepard Stewart

Q. What is your must-have stitching tool or supply?

A. I use the Fasturn® tool to make custom cording from the Ghanian batiks I work with. The Fasturn lets you turn a sewn fabric tube and stuff it with cording all in one step, so you have a nicely finished cording to couch over, to coil, to tie into knots, etc. I always make it from bias strips, even if it will be used in a straight line.

 Q. What is your number one quick stitch-related tip, trick, or technique?

A. I always like to incorporate at least one element that can't be duplicated-a found object-that makes that piece truly unique. It works with my philosophy of never re-creating the same exact piece twice.

Great tips! The full article offers a fascinating look into the history and technique of Kuba cloth. Being able to click on the images of the cloth and zoom in on them as I read really enhanced the experience. I could see every stitch and detail in the pattern.

This issue of In Stitches also includes a video tutorial by Judy Coates Perez on stitching through metal and one by Natalya Aikens on hand stitching. The articles and videos in In Stitches Vol. 3 could inspire you to try many new techniques and motifs to add texture and interest to your art.

P.S. What textiles or styles of art inspire you? Share in the comments section below.


Blog, Fabric Art


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