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African Fabrics: Sewing Contemporary Fashion With Ethnic Flair by Ronke Luke-Boone


I am fascinated by the textile and ornamental arts of "native peoples" around the world. The intricate details, the craftsmanship, the beauty of the work, and the stories the textiles and ornaments tell intrigue me. In many indigenous societies in Africa, Asia, and South America, the choice of colors and motifs in a textile are not always arbitrary or purely aesthetic; they may have meaning and tell stories of everyday life's struggles and joys.

For many years, I paid little attention to the work of textile artisans in my native Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa. They were simply things of everyday life that I used and took for granted. During my college years in Germany, I was drawn again to the textiles of Africa. With a new critical eye, I recognized the beauty of the work, appreciated the craftsmanship, and understood the cultural significance of the artifacts.

But I also love fashion. Clothes, accessories, and home decor are expressions of who we are. I challenged myself to use African textiles in modern fashions for my modern life. I'm on a wonderful fashion adventure. I consider my designs successful when I achieve perfect harmony between the textiles and design, each enhancing the beauty of the other, neither overpowering the other.

Using this book

This book covers six of the most popular African fabrics available in North America and Europe: mudcloth, Kuba cloth, Kente cloth, Korhogo cloth, fancy prints, and wax prints. I share with you many of my design ideas featuring these fabrics. You'll see designs that are fashionable, functional, and fun! These are modern clothes, accessories, and home ideas that work for our modern Western lives. I hope you like what you see and are inspired.

If you've never worked with African fabrics, this book will give you tips, tricks, and techniques to help you get started. You will learn what to look for when you buy fabrics and how to sew and care for them. Take a second look at mudcloth, Kente cloth, and other popular African fabrics. If you can see these textiles simply as fabric and not "African fabrics," you will liberate yourself to use them in as wide a range of designs as possible. If you have experience with African fabrics, I hope that I enhance your knowledge and keep you excited. The designs I show here are but the tip of the iceberg -- the design possibilities are endless. All you need to do is imagine!

I also hope that this book becomes a reference that you will use often. For each of the fabrics, I provide information about their cultural significance in relation to their African societies.

I believe that all of us in North America and Europe who love African fabrics form an important link to the African artisans who work very hard to make these fabrics but often have low standing in society. By supporting textile artisans, you play a critical role in strengthening the cultural heritage of their societies, in demonstrating that there is value (including monetary) in textile craft and expanding market opportunities for African textiles. The United States and Europe are huge growth markets for African textiles. While we respect the heritage of the fabrics, we should feel free to translate the cloth into designs that suit our Western lives. I hope this book is a glimpse into how our love for fashion continues to celebrate the work of many African textile artisans and may encourage them to keep faith with their textile traditions.

Ronke Luke-Boone