Kuba clothing is usually referred to the African Kuba cloth belonging to the Kuba tribe in Zaire in equatorial Africa. The main context of this article pertains to the means and methods used to manufacture Kuba Cloth in relation to Kuba textiles and Kuba fabric. Filled with intricate and bold designs, of late Kuba fabric has turned quite a number of heads since its export began to modern world not too long ago starting with the surrounding European countries before pouring out to the rest of the world. Kuba people are fond of architecture and basketry along with a whole host of sophisticated and irregular designs, which are brought to light in their beautiful and magnificent textiles and fabrics.
Kuba clothing is created out of the natural fibres found in Raphia Vinifera tree, which in itself goes through a chain of process aided by the different sects of Kuba people from men, children and women to give it shape and form to make the final product as we know as the beloved Kuba textiles. These processes can be very briefly summed up under the following heads as:
- Gathering: This process involves collecting and preparation of the initial Raphia Vinifera Palm to be made into further processed fibers to be made into textiles. This step involves aid from the children and women who help in gathering the fiber from these palms who then continue to strip the fiber either by the utilization of manual labour or by a stripping comb to be further turned into a loom.
- The Loom: The Kuba use a single handled loom throughout the Zaire Basin. The loom is specially designed as per the Raphia Vinifera palm to handle measurements of exactly 26×28” in size to ensure optimum utilization of the fibers. The loom comprises of two horizontal bars and a single heddle bar. The lower bar is fixed and the fibers are stretched in it through groups of hanks or fibers.
- Post weaving: After the loom process is done, each unit is trimmed of the uneven or excess fibres and then the edges are hemmed or joined with another cloth to ensure that the newly form cloth doesn’t unravel on its down. After that, the units are dyed and softened by repeated wetting and pounding in a mortar.
Now, coming to the matter of appliqués, this technique begins once more with the initial weave cloth unit once again going through the process of further embroidery and decoration. This involves making an embroidery stitch in single or double rows within and around the perimeter of each thereby leading to more intricate patterns. What makes the Kuba embroidery so unique is that they use an entirely separate layer of the Raphia Vinifera Palm loom to do the embroidery thereby giving them completely freedom in the direction they would want to proceed without needing to worry about the base layer.
Another unique style of embroidery used in Kuba Fabrics are the process of patchworks wherein, intentionally holes are made or the base line of the cloth unit is cut and is filled up with layers to the back and front thereby giving it a very bold and intricate construction due to the presence of multiple layers and bold stitching techniques. This method is referred to as the cutout appliqué by the Kubas.
Finally, in matters relating to dying of cloth units, the Kubas use either tie dying or cane dying processes which is essentially followed up by combining contrasting un-dyed and dyed cloth units to be give the finished product an enchanting appearance. Traditionally, literature suggests that the Kubas used only natural dyes but now both natural and synthetic dyes are used in a combination to get optimum results.