Kitambaa - Musings on my textile journey, and on life
Monday, November 13, 2017
Improvisational Piecing Inspired by Kuba Cloth
Kuba cloth is one of two very distinctive types of cloth made in what was known as Congo, and now is the DRC. Typically two colours of raffia are knotted into a burlap-like base fabric, resulting in complex patterns of woven and slightly raised threads.
Kuba cloth designs are often worked on the diagonal, which is one of the reasons they appeal to me so much. Their imperfections are another aspect of their charm. And it is quite common to see one part of a design "collide" with another, as though two different people had been working on it.
I have admired these very graphic pieces of cloth for sometime, but it was the photograph below that inspired me to work with some of the shapes. It's from the book African Textiles by Christopher Spring, and is a sample that can be found at the British Museum.
I have worked with it once before, on a smaller piece, and returned to it this week while thinking about ideas for a piece I have committed to make for the Vancouver Island Surface Design Association (VISDA). The theme of this particular exhibit is "Pathways". And all those diagonal lines running between the rectangular blocks look just like pathways to me.
I started by making two types of units - rectangular block units and strip units - using the fabrics I'd chosen to bring with me to New Zealand.
I began joining them together on the diagonal. Knowing that the finished piece needed to be 12" x 60-72", I squared off the bottom and side corners to 13" when there were enough pieces joined together to do so.
I thought about squaring it off at this point, and might still do so, but felt compelled to keep adding to it a bit more before deciding whether or not that's what I want to do. For now it's spending a little time up on my design wall before I decide what to do next.
This is very much a work in progress, but I like the way it's going so far. The questions I'm asking myself now are: Do I want to add other design elements next? If so, which ones, and how can I keep them on the diagonal? Should the join between the first unit and the second be a horizontal line, or should it be on the diagonal too? Does it look better upside down than in this orientation? How will I work this so that the whole piece is balanced? Will it need another unit pieced a similar way at the top of the work? This way of working - asking these questions and considering the possible answers, weighing them and then moving forward to see what happens next - this is what I love most about improvisational piecing. I may have an idea where I'm headed, but I can't know the outcome at the beginning. It is very much a conversation that takes place between me and the fabric, me and the design. Each piece made this way is an adventure of sorts. I have to be prepared to fail spectacularly (by my own measure). Still, it is now my favourite way of working.