Colour and patterns

Colour is the most immediately visible stylistic element. The two-colour or polychrome process depends on the number of dye baths which follow the preparation of reserves.  Formerly exclusively natural, dyes today are often synthetic.  The choice of colour is associated with symbolism of the colours and this aspect is equally referred to here.


Some original patterns come from reserve-dyeing processes and are revealed by playing with the colours.

  • indigo


  • parrot green

    parrot green

  • red


  • colour symbolism

    colour symbolism

  • ochre and brown

    ochre and brown

  • multicoloured


  • paint highlights

    paint highlights

  • dotted spiral

    dotted spiral

  • circular pattern

    circular pattern

  • figurative dotted lines

    figurative dotted lines

  • irregular line design

    irregular line design

  • sewing on pleats

    sewing on pleats

  • geometric representation, sowing

    geometric representation, sowing

  • figurative


irregular line design

irregular line design

Woman’s loincloth Mali ? 20th century Handspun cotton, Z-twist 73.15608.13-8

The loincloth is made from thirteen narrow strips of barred cloth woven on a double heddle loom. The strips are reserved by pleating, sewing, gathering and tying, then dyed in a bath of natural indigo after reserve. The strips are then assembled. Weaving narrow strips is characteristic of West Africa and the decorative process takes place with the play of colour combinations. Thus, the presence of a different strip indicates the meaning of the design. The gaps left without reserve on each strip also make the composition more dynamic. Handspun cotton and woven on a double heddle loom gives a different grainy texture to that of industrial cotton fabrics.