Kente, Royal Cloth of the Ashanti

Kente inspired mini dressKente inspired dress by Victoria Pettersson Henry source

Some time ago I wrote a post dedicated to the spectacular gold ornaments of the Ashanti (Asante). But besides their gold the Ashanti are famous as creators of one of the most spectacular elite dress in all of Africa. I am talking about kente. Kente is a large cloth about two by four meters for men and one by two meters for women made up of 16 to 24 long and narrow (3-5 inches wide) loom-woven strips sewn together. According to legend the first weaver learnt his skill by studying the way in which a spider - a symbol of treachery and wisdom in Ashanti folklore - spun its web.

Kente weaver, photo courtesy  Patrick Smith

Kente, 1970-1990, silk. The pattern on this kente is known as Puduo or Kuduo, which was a pyramid-shaped brass container used in rituals to sustain the family. The Indianapolis Museum of Art Close up below

Kente is worn wrapped around the body toga style over the left shoudler and under the right arm. Kente was originally woven from cotton. But when silk fabrics from Europe reached African market silk threads were obtained by carefully unpicking those fabrics to be then rewoven into kente. Some of the finest kente made for royalty and chieftains were woven wholly from silk while others used silk only for a range of decorative techniques on a background of warp striped cotton cloth. One of the first accounts of Ashanti royal silk weaving comes from the 1730s. Unfortunately very few cloths that may be dated to that time have been preserved.

Silk kente cloth, 1947
Silk kente, 1947. The British Museum

In most kente cloths the design effect is achieved by alternating regularly positioned blocks of pattern in bright-coloured silk with the more muted colours of the warp-striped plain weave background. Interestingly, each kente has a distinctive name and it is exactly the background design that provides the name. One of the most popular designs featuring red, green and gold stripes is named after the lineage of the Ashanti king. Some of the names refer to the leaders of the past or to the persons for whom the designs were first woven. Others refer to historical incidents, to household objects or to proverbs. For example, pattern with red, green and blue stripes on a yellow warp is named "if you climb a good tree you get a push" - meaning if your intentions are good people will help you. There is also design named "he has become rich", it is supposed to be worn only by men who had more than a thousand pounds worth of gold dust. Marriage kente often have motifs symbolizing life-affirming messages such as "extended family is strong."

Silk kente, 1947 The British Museum Close up below

Ashanti kente clothAshanti Kente Cloth Gregg Museum of Art and Design

Ashanti weavers use only geometric, non-figurative motifs primary in bright red, green, blue and yellow colours in their strips which distinguishes them from very similar Ewe people's kente whose designs are of more pastel hues and usually depict such figurative subjects as animals, human figures, ceremonial stools, household objects, hats, trees and flowers.

Silk kente, 1900-1950 The Indianapolis Museum of Art

Cotton, rayon and silk kente, mid 1900s The Indianapolis Museum of Art Close up below 

The pattern on this kente, known as Aberewa Ben, was named for a spiritually strong woman of the Asensie clan. 1930-70 cotton, silk The Indianapolis Museum of Art

The wearing of kente is typically reserved for formal occasions when high status festive dress is required. Designers all over the world get inspired by stunning kente prints using them in all kinds of clothing items as well as accessories.

kente inspired dress
Kente inspired dress Zanjoo

Kente inspired dress Kente mini dress  source

Kente inspired shoes
Kente platform shoes by Dionne Gooding

Kente inspired bangles and shirt, both by Victoria Pettersson Henry source

Kente inspired bag source

Kente inspired vest
Kente vest KLKC Collections

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  1. Two Kente posts in a week, talk about great minds thinking alike. I've been Googling since I bought my dress, there really are some gorgeous things out there. xxx

  2. Those prints really leap out at you. I love reading the history behind prints and textiles. Fascinating that they all have names. And so interesting to see how specific styles of dressing and traditions then seep into mainstream design.

  3. Look at that! A picture from the Indianapolis Museum of Art, right in my city! We do have many nice international items there I have visited many times. Such an interesting history. I started to think if we made them today with the meanings attach what the modern ones might be. Things about taking good selfies probably :) I would love to be able to wear a garment like those long robes but, sadly, the mocking would be pretty intense. Maybe one day I can live somewhere it will be accepted. Great job lovely friend :) Kisses

    All Things Bright and Lovely

  4. Kente, like all traditional attire, can be a source of great inspiration and it is surely to be admired.

  5. Wow! Very interesting to read about kente. I like the way the traditional cloth and kente print is used as inspiration in modern clothing and accessories :)