Kente Cloth – A Score for Strings


For some time now I have been fascinated by Kente cloth from Africa. Kente originates in Ghana, and legend there says it was first made when two brothers on a hunting trip came upon a spider spinning her web; after watching her for two days, they returned to their village and wove cloth inspired by what they had seen. It is a ceremonial cloth that is woven from strips of cloth, into intricate patterns, and in all colors. Each color and pattern has its own attributes and connotations. It is called the cloth of Kings. Here are a few examples:

dsc_1555 2t-1409 2Kente_Cloth_multi_6001

So I thought, Hmmm, cloth woven from strips of cloth, I could do that! And I made a couple of pieces based on that notion. These two were made in a traditional quilting mode, and involved plenty of measuring, exact cutting and piecing, matching of corners, etc. One was made using only striped fabrics to enhance the “cloth woven from strips of cloth” effect.


The second was made using some stripes and other fabrics from my “sort of ethnic” stash,

4557b702ed012bf52a8853ee631fbc26 and was used as part of a larger (as yet unfinished) piece I was working on called “Giraffes in the Moonlight”. (Apologies for poor photo quality.)

Giraffes in the moonlight 2

As I began my score for Strings as part of the Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters sew-along, I thought again of the Kente cloth, and how much I like sewing and slicing and dicing many fabrics into one fabric. Could I make something that replicated this “cloth woven from cloth” in an improv style, using the string sheets from that score?

Curating the Fabrics

I chose the bold, saturated colors first, as I always do. Here is the first pull, but after I took this photo, I added some other darks…with red and black patterning. You’ll see them later.IMG_1670

In order to make three “related but distinct” string sheets, as per the instructions in the Improv Handbook, I elected to keep the color-way the same, but vary the value in each set, and also vary the predominant color. So I chose two more sets of colors for the strips, one set of medium value, and a third of light value.IMG_1675 IMG_1707

I pieced the medium set first. I liked this one a lot, but was unsure how it would play with the others. The lighter colors went together last, and made a very large sheet, about 2 feet wide by 8 feet long. It is pretty, in a pastel sort of way, but I quickly decided was discordant with my strings score. It has gone into the bag of “made fabric” for another day.

Then, I made two small panels using the intense colors. Here they are undergoing quality control inspection.IMG_1696 They passed the inspection, at which point I cross-cut them into very narrow strips, and recombined them into three narrow panels, about 10″ x 24″ or so. IMG_1700The more I considered these panels, the more I liked them. One commenter on the Improv Handbook FB page suggested leaving them as individual panels, but because of their small size, I was worried about losing too much “real estate” to the seams required for finishing. So, I stitched them together to make one piece. It preserved the woven effect that I had been aiming for (see “Inspiration” above) better than leaving them separate, and much better than any attempts I made to combine them with the other string sets. In finishing, I decided to leave the edges slightly wavy as they were naturally, and did not square it up, as that also would have interrupted the patterns. I used a pillowcase finish to attach the batting and backing and quilted with orange cotton thread that followed the slightly wavy vertical lines of the piecing.








Here is the finished piece, which I will be linking up with AHIQ when the time comes. The color in these last few pictures of the finish is different, due to the fact we’ve gone from brilliant blue skies and temps in the 70s to cold and rainy since I took the first set. The earlier ones are more accurate.


Finished quilt measures about 25 x 23.



9 thoughts on “Kente Cloth – A Score for Strings

  1. Interesting effect:usually orange accents, but here it is background and the blue and green accent. The warm colors don’t “come forward” as one would expect, but the cool ones do. So there are exceptions to some of those color “rules.”


    • Claire, I think perhaps some of that effect in this piece has to do with the way the colors are concentrated…and those bits of bright green-blue and blue came from some particularly luminous Gradations strips, as well as from the large-scale multi-color print. In any case, I like it. It always surprises me how large prints are altered by dissection!


  2. This is so fun, and thanks so much for showing both your inspiration and process. I love the African fabrics, too, and love the way you used the notion of weaving to guide your work.

    Found the link to your blog on the fb Improv Handbook group. Thanks for sharing it. I troll lots of wordpress quilting blogs and have not seen yours before.


  3. This is wonderful result; it was so interesting to read about your inspiration and the process, including the part the didn’t get included.


  4. Pingback: Marguerite’s Dream – A Challenge, a Detour, and another Finish | Sizzlewaggle

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