Eleanor Levie HomeAboutEditorial ServicesBooksGallerySpeaker TopicsWorkshopsPast BookingsFree StuffLInks Contact Me

Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

Out of Africa? Wearable Art

Stunning fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art stirs up passions…and questions. Those who know global fabrics have long recognized that the colorful fabrics long associated with Africa come from Europe, particularly the Netherlands. Which begs for an understanding of colonialism and economic exploitation. In any case, Africans as well as Europeans have embraced the fabrics, combining them in ways wild but wearable, even for large ladies.


From its website (http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/845.html):
Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage, April 30, 2016 – January 22, 2017

Explore how the Dutch company Vlisco became one of the most influential textile brands in West and Central African fashion and a design inspiration around the world. Known for its bold and colorful patterns, Vlisco creates fabrics that marry tradition with luxury. This exhibition highlights the company’s classic and new designs, follows the creation of a textile, and showcases a selection of contemporary fashions by African and European makers as well as Vlisco’s in-house design team.
The wax printed textiles associated with Central and West Africa have a surprising history. Although consumers in Africa and the diaspora embrace them as African, the fabrics have long been designed and manufactured in Europe, and now in China and India. The most luxurious are the wax prints designed and made in the Netherlands by Vlisco. Shortly after its founding in 1846, the company began exporting imitation batiks to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Three decades later, Vlisco found a new market in West Africa. This exhibition is offered in conjunction with Creative Africa, a season devoted to African art and design.”
Have a look!


























Sumptuous, right? Would you wear any of these wow’ems?


12 Responses to “Out of Africa? Wearable Art”

  1. Thanks for sharing this! At my son’s college graduation yesterday, there were quite a few parents in African regalia – absolutely incredible dresses, colors, headdresses. This is very interesting information. People had brought me fabric they bought in Africa that was marked “made in Holland.” Fascinating!

  2. Barb L. says:

    My uncle Joe was ordained a Catholic priest and promptly moved to Tanzania on the eastern coast of Africa in 1964. He went to live with the Massai people, they lived several hundred miles inland.. He has lived and worked there his entire life. For a long time the villages he lived and worked in were in the bush, accessible only by jeep and hiking.. Of the many souvenirs he brought home on visits, there was always cloth. His sisters would make skirts and my mom kept hers as she always planned to make a quilt with them. I was very grateful to inherit these fabrics. They couldn’t be more different than the ones in the exhibit. There were a few photographs that showed the Massai women in the same fabrics. I don’t believe they could have been made in Europe as for a very long time the Massai people were completely self sufficient. I will have to take a look at the selvage to be sure.

  3. Thank you for your wonderful photos – these are gorgeous patterns and clothing! We have to remember that Africa is a huge continent with many countries and cultures. The ones in this exhibit are designed by the Dutch mfg. There is a lot more to African clothing than this type of print.
    I loved the orange, turquoise and periwinkle dress! Where I live, LLBean is the style, so I don’t see myself wearing any of the clothing. The bright colors tend to look best on African American skin. The patterns remind me how drawn I am to very graphic designs and they might inspire something in my own art quilts. Thanks for sharing Elly. It looks like it would be worth the 5 hour drive to go see it!

  4. These are absolutely FASCINATING! What country in Africa are these from? Aparently one connected with the Netherlands?
    We Quakers have an orphanage in Kenya. I have not seen any photos of clothing with these wild prints. I have seen stunning clothing on some of the women. Of course the childen wear either school uniforms or what we send them.
    Because I am fair skinned, those wild colors would overwhelm me. However, I think I could spend a few hours looking at this exhibit. I LOVE the details such as that wrist ‘ruffle’, the cut outs around the neck and back, the fabric covered HIGH platform shoes [could break a leg falling off those], the slim pants [extra large for me would have a totally different look], the arrangement of designs motifs, etc.
    Thanks so much for treating us to this wonderful exhibit!

    • Eleanor says:

      You are absolutely right on so many points! I have pasty white skin, but frizzy curly hair–a Jew-fro, but feel a bit guilty when I appropriate African styles…much more than Japanese, Chinese, or other cultures’ garb.

  5. Judy Anderson says:

    FABULOUS! Thank you forsharing these photos.

  6. Heidi Lund says:

    Absolutely stunning wearable garments! The color, the fabric, the designs, wow. It must have been wonderful to see them in person. They are each equally unique and the African prints lend themselves not not only be eye catching but dramatic. I love the one with the red leaves framing the back, and shoulder.

  7. I used Vlisco in my first major quilt, a Mariner’s Compass queen sized, as we lived in central Africa at the time. I have two outfits (which alas do not at this time FIT) in these glorious fabrics, and more fabric in my stash. I’ve put this on my calendar–we deliver our son to college for Freshman year and YIPPEE the exhibit will still be on in August, so I have already pled with hubby to take an extra day and take the train from Lancaster to Phila. just to see this! Thanks for the preview, Sarah

Leave a Reply