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History of the Kuba Cloth

kuba cloth craftsmanship and history


The Kuba textile is a one of a kind fabric which has its origin from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. They are also popularly referred to as African Kuba Cloth. The reason they have worldwide recognition is owed to its elaborate, intricate designs and the finishing done by the surface decoration on the base cloth. There are several variants of this Kuba textile, but the base design is a rectangular piece made out of woven palm leaf fiber and improvised by complex geometric designs in the linear embroidery which also resembles velvet once cut to form pile surfaces.

Kuba cloth is regarded as an old fabric and a model material which has survived all through the seventeenth century till contemporary time. Kuba cloth is a product of joint effort made by the men and the women of Congo and not only this, but the entire social society is said to be involved in the manufacturing of the Kuba textiles. The men weave the fabric from the Raffia fibers, while the women decorate the cloth by applying colorful tufts in various geometric designs. The process involved in making the unique fabric includes the gathering of the fibers, the weaving of the base cloth, dyeing, embroideries, and patchworks. 

To make a dense pile of the cloth, the designs made by the women are stitched to the woven fabric. The final product with the tufts of embroidery gives the Kuba cloth resemblance to the velvet. As generations passed and time progressed, there came hundreds of design for the African Kuba cloth. However, the base model remains the same with a slightly different elaboration by the new Weaver. Two worldwide recognized models include the applique and the patchwork which are created as a method of decoration for the patching holes. Besides these, the Kuba rugs are also a famous product of the African Kuba textiles.

Historically, the Kuba cloth was fashioned as a ceremonial garment and was mainly worn for wedding ceremonies and funerals. It has also been reported that the Congolese people were buried in the same cloth and the mourners also wore voluminous skirts made out of the fabric. Both men and women wore Kuba cloth skirts. For women, it was 25 feet long, and for men, it exceeded 30 feet.