Thursday, January 17, 2013

Communicating Through Cloth

Many cultures have developed methods for creating cloth that imparts meaning through woven patterns, printed designs and embroidered imagery. I've become particularly interested in adinkra cloth, which originated in Ghana. Adinkra is a technique in which symbols are stamped on the cloth.  There are hundreds of adinkra symbols, each with its own meaning. When the symbols are stamped on the cloth in the traditional grid pattern, the cloth created has its own unique message. Adinkra cloth was traditionally used for funerals. “Adinkra” essentially means a message to one whose soul has departed. The family of the deceased works with an adinkra artisan to choose symbols reflecting the life and the qualities of the individual who has passed on. Once completed, the adinkra cloth is worn by the family at the funeral.

Over time, adinkra has begun to be used for other rituals, including weddings and baby naming ceremonies. Today in Ghana, adinkra symbols are common on everyday artifacts – signs, pottery and clothing. While commercially printed fabric with adinkra symbols is readily available, hand-stamped adinkra is still used, particularly for sacred rites and rituals.

Traditional adinkra cloth from Ghana

 The traditional process of creating a hand-stamped adinkra cloth is very time consuming. The ink is created from the bark of a locally available tree, the badee. Adinkra cloth is typically made up of several long panels sewn together. The adinkra symbols are created with stamps made from a calabash gourd.

Visit the link at the end of the post for a detailed description of the process and to see photos of adinkra artisans at work.

Below is an adinkra cloth created for a newly married couple. The symbols represent love and devotion, cooperation and interdependence, united hearts and the presence of Spirit.

This is a baby quilt created for one of my grandchildren.  The symbols represent wisdom and creativity, learning from the past, strength and humility, safety and security and reconciliation.

Below is a silk prayer shawl. The symbols represent faith, the presence of Spirit, eternal life, and the soul.

If you would like to learn how to make your own adinkra cloth, join me for my online class or my 2 day retreat.

The online class allows you to work at your own pace in your own workspace. The workshop files are available beginning next Tuesday and you can sign up through March 1.  Learn more

The retreat provides a hands on opportunity to explore adinkra cloth in more depth.    Learn more

For more information about the traditional adinkra process, visit

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