Textiles Close Up – African Textiles by Harini Ramaswamy

A Review of TSA’s program Textiles Close Up: Historic and Contemporary African Textiles that took place at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the home of Joanne Eicher in Minneapolis, MN on June 6, 2014


African textiles are known for their bright colors and intricate patterns which are often woven, printed, dyed or drawn onto fabric. A symbol of power and wealth, the Kente cloth is associated with special occasions and is made by sewing woven strips together. Adire or Yoruba is a colorful resist tie-dyed cloth found throughout Africa. Adinkra is a printed cloth made with thick black dye and stamps carved with symbols, which traditionally represent proverbs.



We examined a kaleidoscopic range of African textiles during the Textiles Close Up: Historic and Contemporary African Textiles program of the Textile Society of America, held on Friday, June 6, 2014. Headed by Dr.  Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the first part of the program covered African textiles from the 19th and 20th Century, comprising of Islamic garments, Morocco, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The second part of the program involved a show and tell session with Dr. Joanne Eicher’s massive collection of African textiles with Pelete Bite (cut-thread cloth), Yoruba and Kente to name a few, and how these were incorporated in apparel and home textiles. It was interesting to learn about cultural authentication, which in this context was achieved through the creative transformation of imported Indian textiles into authentic African textiles by Kalabari women for ceremonial contexts. We were transported into the world of African material, culture and design through the stories associated with these myriad textiles. We often engaged in discussions regarding the significance of these textiles, symbolism, production techniques, draping and aesthetics. Cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas took place due to the diversity in backgrounds among participants, ranging from anthropologists and historians to those with specializations in textile processes.

On behalf of the participants, I would like to thank the Textile Society of America for providing an informative and enjoyable experience!


Author Bio: Harini Ramaswamy is a graduate student in the Apparel Studies program at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, with research interests in technical textiles and wearable technology. She currently works at the Wearable Technology lab at the College of Design and at Playtabase, a tech. startup.

Harini received a scholarship to attend this program. Learn more about TSA scholarship opportunities.