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Vintage African Textile: Zaire, Woven Kuba Cloth, Item 5

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Dimensions: 18.5" x 21"
Metric 47 x 53 cm

There are several qualities of kuba cloth on the market. This is of the highest quality and actually becoming more difficult to find. It's a big one and is still in excellent shape. I've always carried the lower end Kubas ($50 range), but my trader friend was out of them the last time I saw him. I decided to risk it and if they don't sell (pricey!), I'll keep them.

The last photo is of the back. Use the zoom feature for larger images.

The technique of making Kuba cloth is similar to that of hand knotting carpets or weaving a kilim. Instead of using wool, the weavers use raffia palm.

Kuba cloths can be hand-washed with a mild soap. They can be made into pillows, bags, or incorporated into other sewn projects. They look great used as an accent or framed on rice paper or other natural paper or fabric as a backing.

The following ethnographic description is taken from The African
Conservancy, a non-profit which seems to be a great organization. Please visit their site:

Kuba Cloth: Playing with Geometry

Kuba cloth, the magnificent embroidered and appliqué fabric of the Kuba people, is the best-known example of the ancient African tradition of raffia cloth weaving.

A Trend-Setting Art Form

Weaving, embroidery, appliqué; and other textile techniques have long been staples of African artistry. In the past, European nobility displayed raffia cloth in curio cabinets as prime examples of African artistry. More recently, the masterful abstract patterning displayed in Kuba cloth served as a source of inspiration to artists such as Klee, Picasso, and Braque. Matisse was such a fan that he displayed pieces of his extensive Kuba cloth collection on the walls of his studio.

Symbols in the After-Life

The ceremonial occasions and court rituals that embroidered raffia cloth were originally produced for are rare events today.The survival of raffia weaving and embroidery techniques is tied to the importance these cloths play in today's funeral celebrations. The Kuba believe that high quality, correctly patterned raffia dress is key to being recognized by clan ancestors in the land of the dead, so families accumulate the cloths and pass them down through the generations.

Creating Kuba Cloth

The basic unit of Kuba weaving is the undecorated square of plain raffia cloth, the mbal, woven by men on an upright single-heddle loom. Although men sometimes decorate the cloth they weave, only women produce the most laborious and prestigious type of cloth decoration, cut-pile embroidery.

It takes about a month of regular work for a woman to complete a small square of kuba embroidery using a laborious technique that includes dying, detailed needlework and clipping individual tufts. Except for novices, designs are created as the crafter proceeds, usually elaborating a new combination from the more than 200 familiar patterns known designs, most which are identified by name. The same patterns are used on other Kuba art forms, including wood sculpture, metalworking, mat making, and women's body scarification.
Although the regular interlacing on the background cloth promotes a regular and symmetrical design, Kuba artists favor an improvisational, fluid effect that plays with deliberate asymmetries and pattern variation, creating the exquisite workmanship that distinguishes this native art form.

Visit my Etsy shop for more cultural textiles, supplies and things that I make. My blog, Fiber Focus, has great articles on textiles and what is going on in the Fiber Art world. More on Kuba cloths:

Free shipping on this item worldwide. It will ship folded, so if there is a crease, just spray it with water and let it dry flat.

Vintage African Textile: Zaire, Woven Kuba Cloth, Item 5


  • Vintage item
  • Material: raffia palm
  • Ships worldwide from Kentucky, United States
  • Feedback: 921 reviews
  • Favorited by: 18 people