Cut-pile and embroidered textile

Kuba peoples, Shoowa group
early 20th century
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General Description

"Kasai velvets," as Kuba cut-pile and embroidered textiles were known when first introduced to foreign markets at the turn of the 20th century, are so described because they feel like velvet. The smooth, unknotted, brushlike surface resembling a pile of velvet resulted from filling the shapes in by threading an iron needle under one strand of the weave and pulling the fiber through until only about 2mm were left on the far side of the stitch; the fiber was then cut off at the same height near the side, this stitching was repeatedly closely over the whole area. The work was so finely done that the embroidery fibers did not appear on the wrong side. The geometric motifs on the surface of the plain-weave mat were outlined or filled by various means to create different textures. For example, a single row or multiple rows of black or colored stem stitching outlined the form, and sometimes the pile was left as loops rather than being cut.

The men wove the plain raffia panels, and women, during their pregnancies, embroidered them. Gifted embroiders specialized in this laborious and time-consuming needlework. Kuba textiles have retained their cultural importance and are still being made for local use as well as for sale abroad.

Adapted from

Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 290-293.

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