Design and Production

Kuba artists make design cloths from Raphia Vinifera Palm fibers. The fibers are woven together on a single heddle loom to make a stiff textile sheet. Women wet the sheet and pound it with rocks to make it soft and flexible. The final sheet has a texture similar to coarse linen. The size of the sheet is limited by the length of the palm fibers- most cloths are about 26 inches square.

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Kuba single heddle looms are configured so the weaver sits underneath and weaves looking upwards. Building up the arm strength to weave for long periods of time takes several years.

Photo credit: Contemporary African Arts 

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The Raphia Vinifera Palm. Once it is dried, each leaf becomes a fiber for weaving.

Photo credit: Dave’s Garden

Once the base cloth is complete, a female artist embroiders designs onto the textile. Artists use three main embroidery techniques to create different effects and textures. 

Cut Pile: A small piece of fiber is anchored into the base cloth and then cut, leaving a small tuft behind. Cut-pile stitching creates a dense, plush texture that feels like velvet.

Un-cut stitches: These stitches use a long strand of fiber. The most commonly seen of these stitches is the stem stitch, which creates a looped spiral effect. Un-cut stitches create bold lines and outline areas filled with cut-pile embroidery.

Applique: Raffia cloth of a different color is sewn onto the base cloth to create patterns.