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Threads of Tradition

April 30, 2016–February 20, 2017

Admire the beauty and richness of traditional African textiles.

Threads of Tradition focuses on the time-honored techniques used to create patterns in Central and West African textiles. Among the examples on view are complex strip-woven kente cloths made by the Asante and Ewe of Ghana, an impressive resist-dyed display textile (or ndop) from Cameroon, and raffia skirts that the Kuba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo create using piecing, appliqué, and embroidery.

Vibrant patterns are an important part of the rich textile heritage of Central and West Africa. More than just decoration, patterns often possess deep cultural significance. In addition to expressing the status of those who wear them, African textiles highlight the technical skill and creativity of the makers, both male and female.

African weavers, dyers, and other artisans use various methods to create patterns, including strip-weaving, resist dyeing, appliqué, and embroidery. While many of these methods are hundreds of years old, contemporary makers often update them in response to cultural exchange, new materials, changing social needs, and their own inspiration.


Offered in conjunction with Creative Africa, this installation presents African textiles from the museum's collection and the Penn Museum. The gallery also features an activity station for visitors to create their own patterns.

Main Building


Kristina Haugland, The Le Vine Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles and Supervising Curator for the Study Room

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