A Story Told In Fabric: Honoring Black History Month Through Textile

Maor Yur
February 16, 2022


The values of diversity and inclusion have always been essential to Kornit, and so is the art of storytelling through fashion and textile. This Black History Month, we’ve decided to combine all by sharing a few takes on the journey of the African-American community, as it is told with fabrics.    

Putting The Pieces Together With Traditional Quilting

Quilting is an art form shaped by many regions worldwide, playing fascinating roles throughout history. Each region and group embraced quilting as a way to create items that are usable, beautiful, and personal. 

For African Americans, quilts served a practical purpose, delivering secret messages as part of the Underground Railroad. They also made this textile tradition their own by choosing signature colors and shapes that represented the community, as they continue to do today. 

Some secret quilt messages remain a mystery, but we do know that quilts were hanging from safe houses as a way to mark them. Those on the run could learn about the local dangers by searching for clues within the quilt. The shape of a cabin, for instance, advised seeking shelter within the local community, which was considered safer.  

Creating History In Textile Portraits 

Fast forward many years, and we see how current artists tell the stories of African Americans using fabrics. One example is Bisa Butler, an artist living in New Jersey who creates stunning vintage fabric photographs of the community. 

By combining new materials with older memories, textile artists keep these stories and the inspiration they give alive. The fabrics chosen for the project remain true to tradition and add to the authentic vibe. 

Fabric Patterns Inspired By Black History

Speaking of authenticity, traditional African prints bring art and history together with patterns that represent ceremonies, holidays, social status, and more. In October, HSBC and the Wunderman Thompson UK announced the launch of the Tapestries of Diversity creative campaign, which celebrates different textile traditions from African and Caribbean cultures. Fabrics from Ghana, Uganda, Mali, and other areas were at the center of this campaign, representing the rich traditions and mastery behind them. 

Another interesting project by The African Heritage House and Google Arts and Culture is The Fabric of Africa, focusing on the personal fabric collection of Alan Donovan. Stunning images connect locations with African fabrics and the creative methods used to produce them. A closer look at each fabric reveals the craftsmanship and attention it takes to make vivid prints and woven cloths. 

We learn about the complicated weaving of Kente, worn during ceremonies by Ashanti royalty; on the Nigerian term “Ase Oke,” which is both the name of local cloth and a phrase meaning “greetings on the spending of money,” and much more. The fabrics tell us remarkable stories of people, places, and everything in between. 

Honoring Black Pattern Designers 

Current history is just as critical to the goals of Black History Month and in the world of textile, that includes shining a spotlight on African American designers who create special printed patterns. We highly recommend this piece by Nicole Crowder of Food52, featuring designers responsible for a variety of patterns, some inspired by African history and others by different corners of life. 

If we open our eyes, we can see that history is everywhere, including in the textile designs surrounding us. The fashion industry should focus on sharing the tales that led to the creation of fabrics, during Black History month and beyond.