Provenance: Kuba Cloth

prov-e-nance \ˈpräv-nən(t)s, ˈprä-və-ˌnän(t)s\
noun. the place of origin or earliest known history of something.


ABOVE | Fabric Detail

Kuba Cloth is a rather magical kind of textile to me – it’s organic and earthy, made in a primitive sort of a way, yet reads as quite modern when used just right in interior design. I’ve been drawn to it for a long time and have been collecting lovely vintage pieces that really strike my fancy whenever I stumble across them. Some I’ve used in my own home, like the one below, and others I’m saving for clients or to sell in CLOTH & KIND’s online atelier which will be launching later this year (oh, if you’d like to be notified when the shop launches, please do sign up here).


ABOVE | My own vintage Kuba Cloth, mounted on nubby burlap and framed in a simple acrylic box, makes a total statement at the top of the stairs in my home.

Part of what makes ethnic textiles like Kuba Cloth so incredibly beautiful, at least to me, is knowing their history and understanding the time, technique, cultural significance and love that went into creating them. Is the same true for you? I hope so! It’s because of this that I’ve created this new column. On a monthly basis Provenance will offer a scholarly nod to the history of iconic styles in textile & interior design. Since this is the first, please don’t be shy about letting me know what you think and if you have any suggestions for styles you’d like to see covered in future Provenance posts.


ABOVE | Fabric Detail | Bedroom

ABOUT KUBA CLOTH
Using the leaf of the raffia tree, the Kuba people of the Congo first hand cut, and then weave the strips of leaf to make pieces of fabric, often called raffia cloth. There are several different sub groups of the Kuba people and each group has different and unique ways to make the fabric – contributing to the wide variety of styles you’ll find of this fabric. Some make it thicker, longer, shorter, or with different patches and/or colors. Each patch is symbolic and many times a piece has multiple meanings. When Kuba cloth originated it is thought that there were probably no patches used, but because the cloth is brittle it and tears easily, it’s likely that the patches were used to repair the frequent tears. Later each patch developed a meaning and different patterns were uniquely arranged to tell a story. I love this… how the function ultimately became the form.

The process of making Kuba cloth is extremely time-consuming and may take several days to complete a simple piece. Both men and women contribute in equally important ways to the production of this fabric. First, the men first gather the leaves of the raffia tree and dye it using mud, indigo, or substances from the camwood tree. They then rub the raffia fibers in their hands to soften it and make it easier for weaving. After they’ve completed the base cloth the women set about embroidering it. They do this by pulling a few threads of the raffia fibers, inserting them into a needle running the needle through the cloth until the fibers show up on the opposite end. They use a knife and cut off the tops of the fibers, leaving only a little bit showing. Doing this hundreds and hundreds of times leads to the formation of a design. Kuba Cloth designs are seldom planned out ahead of time, and most of the embroidery is done by memory. In my opinion, this is part of what makes each imperfect piece so lovely and, clearly, so unique.


ABOVE | Bedroom | Chair

INCORPORATING KUBA CLOTH IN YOUR HOME
Enchanted yet? There are so many ways that Kuba Cloth can be incorporated into interior spaces, and because of its dramatic design a single piece can make a major statement. Be sure to check out the shopping & inspiration resources below.

In addition to my own, I also wanted to share another Kuba Cloth wall hanging because I really, really love this as a way to showcase a long piece of this pretty fabric.

ABOVE | The Kuba Cloth above hangs in a long hallway of a gorgeous Streeterville condo in Chicago that belongs to a dear friend and former Condé Nast colleague of mine, Pam Dolby. It was placed by her talented designer Cindy Ilagan-Hengge, at the Kiran Design Group.

Admittedly, finding that one perfectly beautiful piece of vintage Kuba Cloth can be like searching for a needle in a haystack and the most stunning pieces are, not surprisingly, expensive. An alternative to finding an original piece of this fabric and transforming it for your space is to simply add a pillow or two. I’ve scoured the sources to share a few of my faves, some authentic Kuba Cloth and one awesome interpretation of it, complete with fun, shiny sequins, by Serena & Lily

 


ABOVE | One | Two | Three | Four | Five

Kuba Cloth and the heritage of this type of fabric is so beloved by tastemakers that a few talented textile designers have created thoughtful interpretations. I simply love these three…


ABOVE | Mally Skok | Mark Alexander | Serena & Lily

Want to know more about Kuba Cloth and/or are you ready to shop? Check these out…

SOURCES | My Sources + More Information
Africa Imports
Kuba Textiles: An Introduction
Wikipedia

SEE MORE | Kuba Cloth Pinterest Boards
Inspired | Kuba Cloth
Kuba Cloth
Kuba Art Cloth

SHOP | Kuba Cloth Sources
Africa and Beyond
D. Bryant Archie
Haba Na Haba
Hamill Tribal Textiles
Kathleen Taylor
L’Aviva Home
Michael Donaldson Antiques
The African Fabric Shop
The Loaded Trunk

Do you have a photo or story to share of how you’ve used Kuba Cloth in an interior space? Comment below and/or email it to info(at)clothandkind(dot)com and I’ll post my favorites to my Kuba Cloth board on Pinterest, which will continue to grow and be an evolving resource for all things Kuba Cloth.

Comments

  1. Thank you for posting the sources for Kuba cloth, and for the selections at Pinterest. ‘Have loved Kuba cloth for a very long time, and it’s wonderful to see all the variety.

  2. This is a great idea for a post. I’m a decorator and a professional historian so I’m always seeing the connection of design to historical and cultural peoples and events. I write a similar post on my blog re design and history and I’m doing one on Kuba cloth which brought me here today. Lovely blog, I’m following now :)

    • Ah! Thank you so much for your comment, Nicole. It’s so nice to hear that this is resonating with people, especially since it’s a new column (but one I’ve been wanting to do for a long time). Going to check yours out now… xo

  3. I adore these cloths. I’m an interior designer based in the UK. I’ll try and track down the UK supplier – is it George Spencer Designs? but would love to be kept up to date with what you’re doing. I’ll also have to think of a new scheme or two now….

  4. mea commented:

    Saw you were in Chicago….do you know any stores in the area that carry kuba cloth? I’m having trouble finding any. Thanks.

    • Hi, Mea. I am from Chicago originally, but don’t live there anymore. The only place I can think of recommending is Jayson Home – they always have an incredible stash of vintage textiles… and they may be able to point you in another direction if they don’t have any Kuba. But also there is a pretty comprehensive list of the best places to find Kuba Cloth online (in this post). Good luck!
      xo
      Krista

  5. Gaetan commented:

    Hi, I am a 22 yesr old british national of Congolese decent and a member of the Kuba tribe. It’s wonderful stumbling across your site. I’m glad that you admire the beautiful artistry behind the Kuba cloth. I have many pieces myself some framed and exhibited in my house and some used as pillows too. I also have many in my garage that I want to pass on. If you are interested in them send me an email.

    Gaetan

    • Kami commented:

      Hi! How much do you charge for your kuba cloth!? I am intetested in purchasing some!

      • Hi, Kami. We don’t have any for sale at the moment but check back soon… we have an online atelier launching and we’ll be selling many one of a kind textiles and other goodies for the home. Thanks.

  6. Katie commented:

    I inherited some kuba cloth and would like to sell but not sure what it is worth. One piece is 4m x 75cm and the other is 2.5m x 58cm. Any ideas on how much I could ask for it and where I could advertise?

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