PATTERN TRENDS | Discovering the beauty of African Kuba textiles

by Alice Dottori

Meet the harmonious beauty of Kuba textiles from Central Africa!


If you have liked the regular motives and sober nuances of bogolans and pagnes tissés you will simply adore the linear geometry and earthy colours of Kuba textiles, another precious gem of the ancient African hand-weaving tradition.  Made in raffia palm leaves, Kuba textiles are beautiful in their symmetrical designs, hypnotic in their labyrinthine motives, perfect and very versatile for your home décor.

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Keep reading to find out more and get seduced by the grace of Kuba textiles.

|| Be inspired: interior trends | The charm of West African textiles


Foto 02: A stylish corner made with Kuba panels and other African details Credits



A BIT OF HISTORY | African Kuba textiles

Their name comes from the Kuba tribes who between the 17th and early 20th centuries established in what is today the south-eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of Africa’s largest and most powerful kingdom. Besides their great commercial abilities  – which led them to control for centuries the trade of ivory and rubber – Kuba people were also renowned for their artistry to carve beautiful sculptures and masks, assemble meticulous bead-works and create elaborated textiles; in this last case, their talent and skills are particularity evident, as you will read, with the whole making process taking up to a year for the more complex patterns.


Kuba women embroidering cloths with a specific technique for a final velvet like appearance Credits  



Both Kuba men and women contribute in equally important ways to the production of these fabrics. Men, at first, collect raffia leaves and dye them using natural and vegetal substances like mud, indigo or twool, a particular deep red substance obtained from the heartwood of a local tree. Raffia fibres are then manipulated and pounded in a mortar until they become soft enough to be weaved.

Women start then embellishing the cloths, incorporating a variety of interesting features such as serpentine patchworks, articulated embroideries, appliqué and other ornaments. The result are thick cloths, mostly in rectangular sizes, run by regular and geometric designs such as circles, rectangles or more creative curvatures, all executed along linear works and stitches but according to two main types of techniques that give either a flat final aspect or a sort of velvet like appearance.


Kuba cloths in the flat version Credits


For centuries, Kuba textiles have served almost any purpose: they have been used as skirts, sleeping mats, wrappers and even currencies; and since more complex designs indicated wealth and wisdom, they have been also employed as garments during ceremonial occasions like weddings, funerals, coronations etc.

More recently, great artists such as Matisse, Picasso, and Klee found great inspirations in the abstract patterns displayed on Kuba cloths. Matisse, in particular, was such a fan of ”the mystery of their instinctive geometry” that he had an extensive collection on the walls of his studio.

Kuba men wearing their traditional skirts Credits

Matisse photographed in his studio by Cartier Bresson(1944), Kuba cloths on the background Credits


LET YOUR CREATIVITY LOOSE | African Kuba textiles

For their linear geometrical décors and neutral tones – which includes beautiful shades of black, tan and beige – Kuba textiles are great for your home décor and fit well with almost any interior style, including the more modern ones. Being Raffia fibres strong and resistant, Kuba make great upholstery fabrics for detail benches and armchairs; or simply for set of cushions that will immediately revive your dull sofa.

They can also become cool and stylish table runners, perfect to be paired with exotic styles cutleries or other African details.

In the bedroom, as a simple set of pillows and throw over neutral bed linens, the will help recreating that sophisticated tribal chic atmosphere we like so much…Or, and this is my favourite option, they can simply hung on walls, either as panels to let loose, or to be framed as if they were artworks – which they are indeed!

|| Be inspired: How to decorate your home in African style


This graceful detail bench would match well with any interiors Credits 

Dark Kuba fabrics contrast beautifully over neutral light colours  Credits 

Perfect as table runners or mats Credits

A dream cosy bed where to soak Credits

An eye catching décor Credits

Looking like abstract paintings Credits

Matching magnificently over a blue background Credits

In love with patterns and décor motives but struggling to mix them wisely? Have a look here to see how to mix patterns like a pro!

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