I am surrounded by kente.
I woke up this morning, peeked out my door, and kente! Kente everywhere. The walls were covered with them. Some are simple checkered patterns, some are complex diamonds with figures of animals inside, some have stripes and plaids and woven-in symbols which I believe have meanings to the Ewe. I’ll have to ask Kwame about that.
Yesterday, Kwame showed me the basics of kente weaving – how to measure the warp, make the cross, wind the warp without it tangling, thread the heddles and sley the reed, and weave plainweave and a little bit of design. He would demonstrate for about 3/4 of the task, then let me try, so I got a feel for it but it didn’t take forever. I’m not going to go into too much about that because my nascent web page on kente covers it, along with photos and some short videos, and they communicate the process of kente weaving better than I could in words. Suffice it to say that I spent a good several hours just getting down plainweave – without a reed fixed at 90 degrees to the fell, I found it difficult to beat evenly, and tended to get a convex fell as a result. After I had figured that out, I spent some time paying attention to my selvages (edges of the fabric) – Kwame’s looked machine-even, mine looked ragged. It did go better after Kwame waxed my threads a bit with a candle- they had a tendency to fray and get fuzzy, and then start sticking together.
Later in the day, after I was starting to get bored with plainweave (and Heaven knows Kwame must have been bored to tears a long time before that), Kwame started showing me how to make the inlaid Ewe patterns. It’s a supplementary-weft technique, with either one or two tabby (plainweave) shots between the pattern wefts. The warp is done in polyester and cotton, roughly double the weight of sewing thread, and the supplementary weft is a bit heavier, in silk or rayon. Of the two sets of heddles, the first set weaves plainweave and the second set weaves pattern, four threads together in each heddle. When weaving plainweave, it appears to be an even fabric ()equal warp and weft showing), but when weaving using the pattern heddles, a weft-faced fabric results and the warp (ideally) does not appear.
I’d like to see Kwame’s work. He says he’s been weaving for 29 years, which impresses me – (a) that’s a long time, and (b) he doesn’t look old enough to have been weaving that long. I guess he’s older than he looks.
“Kwame”, by the way, is a very common name in Ghana. Amonst the Ewe, it’s traditional to name a child according to the day of the week in which s/he was born. So “Kwame” means he was born on a Saturday, and by tradition, all other male children born on Saturday would also be “Kwame”. I’m not sure how they keep trake of all those Kwames – perhaps they go by nicknames in school, or last names. I should ask someone.