Cotton was woven in West Africa as early as the thirteenth century. Unlike the earlier handwoven cloths, cotton was woven on looms, frames used to interlace individual threads into fabric. These looms produced narrow strips of cloth that would be stitched together to form larger pieces of cloth. Typically, six to eight strips would be sewn together to form a dress or other garment. Like other cloths used by Africans, cotton was wrapped around the body to create many different styles of clothing, from toga-like dresses to turban headdresses.
Patterns were applied to cotton in a variety of different ways. Finished cotton fabric was dyed with natural pigments to create bold whole color clothing, or individual threads were dyed before weaving so that geometric patterns could be woven directly into the fabric. People living in different regions preferred different colored dyes. Those living near the Gold Coast, along the shores of Ghana, preferred blue, while those in West Africa favored red. Mud and soap were also used to make patterns on cotton fabric.
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Kennett, Frances, and Caroline MacDonald-Haig. Ethnic Dress. New York: Facts on File, 1994.
Starke, Barbara M., Lillian O. Holloman, and Barbara K Nordquist. African American Dress and Adornment: A Cultural Perspective. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1990.