There is this beautiful brightly colored woven cloth known as kente cloth. It has bright colors, snappy geometric patterns, and is fun to touch were you to get your hands on a piece. Explore the kente cloth meaning through this multi media paper weaving African craft.
What is kente cloth….
Kente cloth originated in the west African country of Ghana. It was originally worn by royalty, wealthy, or highly respected people. Today it is worn by all, especially for special occasions. Men tended to wear it toga style; or tied over one shoulder. Women traditionally wear kente cloth as a wraparound dress or skirt.
Our adventure into traditional African art began as a little rabbit hole from our new Science program. We’re just beginning (and loving) Elemental Sciences Sassafras Science Adventures Volume 2: Anatomy. Although we’re studying human anatomy the textbook reads like a Chapter book. Chapter one takes place in Ethiopia. We looked at maps and researched different things about African and somehow landed on the amazing textile art produced all around Africa. Like I said, it was a rabbit hole, but one I’m glad to be able to travel along with my kids!
Learn more about the legend of the kente cloth…..
One of my favorite things about homeschooling my kids is being able to provide some context for what they are learning. I think it makes the facts “stick.” My favorite way to provide that context is through children’s literature. Kids can learn so much through colorful books and it doesn’t seem like work; it’s just cuddling on the couch.
We worked our way through a stack of library books about Africa covering arts, folktales, etc. The Spider Weaver; the Legend of Kente Cloth really piqued my kid’s interest. This colorful book tells the folktale of how kente cloth was inspired by a master spider weaver.
The kente cloth meaning….
A piece of kente cloth is not just random colors and patterns and thrown together because they look pretty. The beauty of this traditional African craft lies in the kente cloth meaning.
Each color and each pattern in the kente cloth has a special meaning. The book The Spider Weaver tells a little about this and I’ve also included a printable color “cheat sheet” below. The age of your students will determine how much symbolism they are ready to understand. Start with the idea that different colors represent different ideas.
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Kente cloth printing…
Our first step is to make gold prints on black paper. To do this we wrapped a hefty piece of yarn around a scrap block of wood. (You could also use rubber bands around a small box) This is our printmaking block. Dip the block into a thin pile of gold paint and stamp away. Kids can cover the black paper with as many of these gold prints as they like. It’s simple, geometric, and makes for a nice backdrop for some color in the next step. Printmaking is a favorite process at our house. Check out other printmaking processes here and here!
The colors of the kente cloth…
While the paint is drying we used oil pastels to make geometric patterns on strips of brightly colored paper. Each kid made three decorated strips. This amount is doable in one sitting without being overwhelming. We also used a strip or two of colorful paper printed with gold paint. The printing process is quick and allows the kids a quick way to decorate multiple strips.
We talked about how the weaving process lends itself to geometric patterns as opposed to curved lines. Oil pastel shows up really vibrantly on colored paper and really pops against the back paper. Crayola makes a really nice student grade oil pastel that is super reasonable and is a fun introduction to oil pastels! They are so much brighter than crayons!
Weaving your kente cloth….
Weaving is a great skill to for kids to learn and this project is great practice. Even if their weaving pattern isn’t perfect the results will still be stunning. I used fat strips of paper (1- 1 1/2 inches) for my six year old and he did great.
Fold your black paper in half long ways and cut from the folded edge to about one inch away from the open edge. Leave more room between cuts for beginner weavers and less room for those that have some experience. (This is pictured above in graphic.)
Demonstrate weaving under and over the cuts in the black paper using the decorated strips they just made. This concept is difficult to explain in words but an easy one to show kids in a hands on setting! If you’re working with a large group in a classroom setting it can be helpful to demonstrate with a great big example!
The finished kente cloth weaving…
You could totally be done at this step. You’ve printed, patterned, woven, and have a sweet kente cloth. We went one step further. Secure the woven strips with a dot of glue. Then use scissors to cut the ends of the paper strips into a fringe. This step can drive home the idea that all woven cloth is made like their paper weavings; only using much smaller fibers.