More African Clothing for Kids
Indigo dye on cotton cloth
People dyed this bark cloth to make all kinds of patterns. The most important dye was indigo, which is the dye we use today to make blue jeans blue. Africans used tie-dyeing to make patterns on their cloth. In some parts of Africa, women did most of the fabric work, and in other parts of Africa, men did most of it. But early Africans also kept on wearing fur, and leather, and feather hats and headdresses, and jewelry made of ostrich shells, gold, feathers, and braided grass.
By about 2000 BC, some people in Africa began to weave their cloth instead of pounding it, which makes more flexible, comfortable clothing. The Egyptians were weaving linen by this time. The idea of weaving gradually spread to other parts of Africa - almost immediately to Meroe, south of Egypt, and then more gradually to West Africa and Central Africa. Some people wove linen, others wove other kinds of grass like jute. People in West Africa were weaving local grasses into cloth by the 800s AD. By the 1100s AD people were using looms as far west as Mauretania.
At first each family made its own cloth, but by 2500 BC professionals wove cloth in Egypt - men and women who did not farm, but just spun or wove or dyed cloth all day, and sold it to other people in order to buy their food. Under the Egyptians, and then the Carthaginians, and the Romans, most people bought their clothes instead of making them themselves. Under Islamic rule as well, there were organized guilds of weavers and dyers in North Africa, who controlled the production of linen, wool, and cotton for sale. Along the coast of East Africa, too, professional weavers and dyers made most of the cloth. By the 1400s AD, West Africa also had professional dyers, who were famous all the way across the Sahara. These dyers worked mainly for the local kings, and their courts, making luxury fabrics for the king and other powerful people to wear - ordinary people still made a lot of their own cloth in West Africa.
To find out more about African cloth and clothing, you might want to buy these books, or get them at your local library:
Traditional African Costumes Paper Dolls, by Yuko Green (1999).
African Girl and Boy Paper Dolls, by Yuko Green (1997).
African Textiles, by John Gillow (2003). Not for kids.