Kente thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Africa Fashion, Temporary Exhibition Gallery 40

Kente

Textile
1900-1949 (made), 1900-1949 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Formed by stitching together narrow strips of handwoven cloth, Kente often features colourful woven patterns. The term is particularly used to refer to the silk cloth of West Africa, where it has been traditionally crafted and worn by Asante and Ewe populations since at least the 17th century, chiefly in the region of modern-day Ghana. Stripweave is an ancient textile type, created by stitching together individual, narrow strips of handwoven fabric to form a whole finished cloth. Asante and Ewe men traditionally took on the role of weaving, using a small double-heddle handloom to make the cloth strips, typically warp-striped and often enhanced with weft-float patterns. These strips are arranged in an off-set manner of alternating patterns – the resulting effect is that of an elaborate design that if it were one continuous length would require a much larger and more complex loom. Historically the reserve of royalty and the elite, this highly prized textile is still today worn by many, often for important occasions and celebrations.

Different kente weaves, patterns and colours often hold special symbolic meaning. Many are given a particular name, usually assigned by the weaver, based on proverbs, current events, or everyday objects. It is possible to distinguish between Asante and Ewe kente through the types of pattern and fibres used – whilst Asante favour geometric patterns in silk, Ewe are known to include figurative motifs such as animals, people and letters in their weft-float designs, utilising a blend of cotton and silk. Whilst the names of individual weavers often go unrecorded, lost to history, this kente bears a tantalising signature – possibly that of the weaver, or the cloth's commissioner.
read Cloth of a continent: Africa Fashion Africa is home to an abundance of cloth types, encompassing a breadth of materials and techniques as diverse as the continent itself. Revered for their distinctive weaving, dyeing, and decorative processes, as well as the raw materials used, these cloths are the tactile result of centuries...
object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Cotton, strip-woven, weft-float pattern
Brief Description
Kente, strip-woven cotton, Ghana, 1900-1949
Physical Description
Cotton kente cloth composed of joined strips woven in various weaving techniques with supplementary weft-float motifs.
Dimensions
  • Height: 185cm (Note: Measured by conservation)
  • Width: 118cm (Maximum) (Note: Measured by conservation)
Gallery Label
Stripweave cloths, like aso òkè and kente, are ancient textile types, created by stitching together narrow strips of woven fabric to create a finished cloth. Different weaves, patterns and colours often have special meaning. For the Ewe, the patterns of kente cloth often make a reference to daily life, rather than social standing. Each pattern has a name, usually given by the weaver, which can be inspired by a historical event, a proverb or even individuals in pop culture. (CIRC.116D-1934, CIRC.321-1964, CIRC.766-1967) V&A, Room 40, Africa Fashion (02/07/2022 - 16/04/2023)
Credit line
Given by J. W. F. Morton, Esq.
Object history
We are very grateful to Professor John Picton for his advice in identifying several African textiles held by the V&A.
Summary
Formed by stitching together narrow strips of handwoven cloth, Kente often features colourful woven patterns. The term is particularly used to refer to the silk cloth of West Africa, where it has been traditionally crafted and worn by Asante and Ewe populations since at least the 17th century, chiefly in the region of modern-day Ghana. Stripweave is an ancient textile type, created by stitching together individual, narrow strips of handwoven fabric to form a whole finished cloth. Asante and Ewe men traditionally took on the role of weaving, using a small double-heddle handloom to make the cloth strips, typically warp-striped and often enhanced with weft-float patterns. These strips are arranged in an off-set manner of alternating patterns – the resulting effect is that of an elaborate design that if it were one continuous length would require a much larger and more complex loom. Historically the reserve of royalty and the elite, this highly prized textile is still today worn by many, often for important occasions and celebrations.



Different kente weaves, patterns and colours often hold special symbolic meaning. Many are given a particular name, usually assigned by the weaver, based on proverbs, current events, or everyday objects. It is possible to distinguish between Asante and Ewe kente through the types of pattern and fibres used – whilst Asante favour geometric patterns in silk, Ewe are known to include figurative motifs such as animals, people and letters in their weft-float designs, utilising a blend of cotton and silk. Whilst the names of individual weavers often go unrecorded, lost to history, this kente bears a tantalising signature – possibly that of the weaver, or the cloth's commissioner.
Collection
Accession Number
CIRC.766-1967

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record createdJune 24, 2009
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