African textile traditions are a rich tapestry of history, culture, and creativity, with each region boasting unique designs, symbols, and techniques. The continent’s vastness and cultural heritage have given rise to artistic expressions that manifest themselves in textile design. 

West Africa

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West Africa is known for its vibrant, bold, and geometric looks that transcend time and have influenced global fashion. Among the most sophisticated textile techniques is the Adire dyeing process used by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. At Edire, brown dye is used to create intricate patterns through wrapping paper or against color. The repetition of geometric shapes often symbolizes unity and harmony within a community.

Another special style is the stunning Ghanaian Kente fabric woven on traditional tapestry. Kente patterns are characterized by vibrant color blends and intricate geometric patterns, each conveying specific meanings and cultural expressions. Shapes and colors are carefully chosen to represent values, proverbs, or a representation of the depth of symbolism in West African textiles.

North Africa

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The North African region includes countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, with textile designs that reflect the region’s Islamic and Berber cultural influences One well-known fabric is the Moroccan Berber rug, known for its patternless perfection and its earthy colors. These fabrics often incorporate motifs representing fertility, protection, and spirituality, and weaving techniques have been passed down through generations.

In addition, Islamic calligraphy is highly regarded in North African textile production. Quranic verses and religious phrases are intricately stitched or embroidered on the garments, imbuing them with spiritual significance and serving as reminders of faith.

East Africa

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East African textiles are characterized by the use of natural, innovative, and distinctive materials. The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania are known for their brightly colored floral work and intricate floral patterns, which are often included in textiles such as shuka (traditional clothing), jewellery, etc. These designs have a vast cultural identity, social status, and ritual meaning. 

The ancient handicrafts of weaving are highly appreciated in Ethiopia. Various weaving techniques such as the famous “Tibeb” and “Shemma” are available in this country. Tibeb’s work is dominated by horizontal lines and subtle geometric shapes, while Shemma is known for her distinctive colour combinations and checkerboard-like patterns.

Southern Africa

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The South African region is home to textile traditions, with each country showcasing its own unique craft. The Zulu people of South Africa are known for their use of “isishweshwe”, a printed cotton fabric with intricate patterns in a variety of colours. The designs often reflect cultural beliefs and experiences of daily life, and clothing is a symbol of pride and identity among the Zulu people.

The Ndebele people of South Africa are also known for their colourful house painting and beadwork. Their clothing designs use vibrant geometric patterns to convey information about a person’s age, marital status, and social roles.

Central Africa

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Central Africa has a rich textile heritage, and the region’s design traditions are heavily influenced by its natural environment and spiritual beliefs. The Kuba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are revered for their unique raffia, known for its “butcher’s velvet”. These garments are intricately designed with geometric and abstract embroidery, often representing animal, nature, or cultural symbols.

Southern-Central Africa

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The South Central region of Africa has textile traditions including those of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Chitenge fabrics are common in these countries and are characterized by bold and colourful calligraphy. Used in a variety of applications from clothing to home décor, the fabrics often carry messages of power, social change, and cultural heritage.

The Tongans of Zambia are known for their exceptional basket weaving skills, which also extend to amazing textiles. The “Mapara” fabric, for example, is handmade, made from natural fibers, with geometric patterns inspired by the surrounding landscape and connected to Tongan nature.

Maghreb Region

The Maghreb region of Algeria, Libya, and Mauritania reflects textile traditions influenced by Berber, Arab, and French cultures Maghrebi carpets, also known as “kilim”, are meticulously woven with geometric patterns and vibrant colors. These carpets often symbolize safety, prosperity, and cultural heritage.

The traditional Moroccan “Djelaba” is the common clothing in the area. These long dresses have embellished embroidery and can be made of different fabrics depending on the occasion. The embroidery on the djelaba often has a symbolic significance, representing the wearer’s personality, ethnicity, or personal beliefs.


African textile traditions encompass a wide range of ideological and symbolic styles, each reflecting the diverse cultures and histories of different regions of the continent From the bold geometric designs of West Africa to the floral forms of East Africa wonderful and Northern-inspired prints on Africa Carrying a woven narrative, these fabrics are not only functional garments but also embody a deep sense of cultural heritage and artistic expression, making them an African creation and the emergence of valuable features of their personality.


Emma Mohammad is CEO of JustNow. She researches urban biophilic design for micro-architecture technologies whilst writing for various organizations such as Motus News, Greener is Cleaner, PathCheck foundation, and The Biomimicry Institute. Through writing on regenerative design, and eco-architecture, she has continued to delegate as a sustainable procurement (SPP) ambassador.