The Designer Exploring African Stories Through Traditional Fabrics by Susanne Lehner
Designer Susanne Lehner examines the diversity of African fabrics through her textile research for her book, African Stories Through Traditional Fabrics.
In Africa, cotton was originally cultivated as a forage crop, not as a textile that was spun into thread and woven into cloth. When cotton arrived in West Africa it had been grown for its seeds: they germinated after rainfall, then became a staple of the diet, the first meal of the day. And the fibers that were spun into thread were woven into clothing for humans and for animals.
This is how the cotton textile spread from northern Africa to the southern tip of the continent, and then through West Africa to the rest of the continent. From the beginning, African textiles have been a blend of multiple traditions. There was the pot-dyeing of the original cotton textiles; the use of animal skins for weaving, including the use of llama hides; and the creation of many different fabrics by combining these methods.
Cotton textiles represent another story, a story of transformation that is largely lost in these centuries of textiles’ decline. The history of textiles in Africa is in many ways the story of how African cloths changed through time, in response to changing economic and political conditions.
As the economy changed, cotton textiles changed as well. In Africa, from the time of slavery until well into the twentieth century, cotton textiles were very much the primary form of household dress, with only very few exceptions. As a result, the designs of African textiles are very much the designs you find throughout Africa.
Today, African textile makers continue to produce textiles that are quite different from the traditional designs that began to dominate African textiles’ designs.
African textiles have evolved through centuries of changes in the way they are made, sold, and used by Africans and African Americans. The stories of these changes, and the diversity of materials used by African textiles, are best explored in the book African Stories Through Traditional Fabrics, by Susanne