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Asante Kente Cloth

The Asante are one of two cultural groups in Ghana with a long tradition of weaving kente cloth.

Asante weavers use a narrow strip loom common throughout West Africa. The warp threads stretch out behind the loom and are anchored under heavy rocks about ten feet away. Traditionally, weaving was done only by men, but today a few women are weavers as well.
Photograph courtesy of Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

The colors of the warp threads appear as solid vertical stripes in some blocks of this cloth. In other blocks, the warp is completely covered by horizontal weft stripes or appears as stripes behind the weft design.

key idea
Kente cloths are made from narrow strips sewn together to form a lively pattern.

Like other fabrics, kente cloth is woven on a loom. But instead of using a loom the same width as the finished fabric—which might be eight feet wide—Asante weavers use a narrow loom. They weave a very long strip of fabric about the width of a hand. The strip is then cut into pieces, which are sewn together to make the finished cloth.

Patterns can be formed by the warp (the threads that run lengthwise) or the weft (the threads the weaver passes back and forth across the warp). The warp threads, often more than 90 feet long, are attached to the loom before any weaving begins. Their colors remain the same throughout the entire strip. Sometimes the warp shows as solid-color stripes in the finished cloth; sometimes it is completely hidden by the weft. Using the weft in various ways, the weaver forms the pattern blocks typical of kente cloth.

The weaver must measure the pattern blocks carefully as he works. If they are different sizes, the pattern will not line up properly across the finished cloth when the strips are sewn together.

The warp threads here are completely covered by weft patterning. This challenging style of kente is known as adweneasa, or “my ideas have come to an end,” because there is no room for another design.
September 2006