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African Accents: Fabrics And Crafts To Decorate Your Home by Lisa Shepard


When you think of "African fabrics," what probably comes to mind first are the familiar cotton prints with bold gold accents, vibrant geometrics, or printed designs that mimic true woven kente cloth. Yet, as beautiful as these are, it's important to remember that the category takes in an entire continent of creativity. Each fiber technique carries great significance for its particular region of The Continent; each is a mode of creative expression, social and political communication, and economic endeavor. As such, the value of textile arts in African cultures can't be overestimated.

The visual excitement of Africa's colors, textures, and patterns is increasingly sought after in the home decor market worldwide, from upholstered furniture to the many African-inspired lines of bed, bath, and kitchen linens, window treatments, and other textile products now available. Continued globalization also gives rise to eclectic, culturally diverse interior design, mixing a variety of influences. The way we decorate our surroundings has become one of the most meaningful expressions of our individualism, and African fabrics bring a unique character to the home, at the same time conveying comfort, drama, and a certain timelessness.

Throughout Africa, objects that are found in the home are created to serve a dual purpose, that is, combining function with beauty. Even the simplest utilitarian pieces, such as spoons, bowls, and containers, are carved or otherwise treated to give a special aesthetic quality to everyday life. It's no wonder African influences are so apparent in the works of Matisse, Picasso, and other world-renowned artists.

Part of the fun of working with the wide array of African fabrics is discovering the rich cultural aspects tied into the various designs and processes. With the exception of raffia fabrics from Zaire in central Africa, the fabrics presented here are of West African origin, including Ghanaian kente strip weaving and adinkra stamping, Korhogo designs of the Ivory Coast, and bogolanfini (mudcloth) from Mali. Designs often carry specific meanings, with certain fabrics being reserved for special purposes. These works of art are the result of relatively simple means and materials, coupled with labor-intensive methods. They are a testament to the resourcefulness of the artisans as much as their creativity.

My fascination with African fabrics grew out of a combined interest in sewing and African art in general. I returned from a trip to Senegal in 1986 with an "instant collection" that still continues to expand, piece by piece. Most of the pieces are used for home decor rather than apparel sewing. By decorating with them, I can enjoy my mudcloths, korhogos, prints, and kuba cloths every day and share them with others. See how well these fabrics mix with other styles that appeal to you for a truly personalized home environment. I blend them with touches of Indian and Indonesian design; the similarity of colors (deep reds, blacks with golds, and muted earth tones) and dramatic motifs (like geometric and nature figures) ties these styles together in an interesting way. I hope that this book inspires you to create useful, beautiful African Accents and helps you to understand the significance behind the fabrics.

Lisa Shepard