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Woman's Ceremonial Skirt (Democratic Republic of the Congo), early 20th century

This is a Woman's ceremonial skirt. It is dated early 20th century and we acquired it in 1990. Its medium is raffia and its technique is hand-loomed plain weave, embroidered in buttonhole, stem and cut pile stitches with withdrawn-thread work. It is a part of the Textiles department.

The visual arts of the Kuba Kingdom have long been admired for their vitality and complexity, especially in the handling of abstract geometric surface design. Perhaps the most dynamic examples are raffia skirts worn for ceremonial occasions. Both men and women use a broad repertoire of decorative techniques, including tie-dye, appliqué, patchwork and embroidery, but only women use cut-work and cut-pile embroidery, the two dominant techniques in this skirt. Each tuft of pile is a short length of raffia inserted with a needle under the warps of the foundation, and the two ends cut short. Brushing the exposed ends with the edge of a knife further splits the raffia ends and gives a rich, velvety texture. The undulating coil edging of this piece is created by wrapping and binding a thick rope of raffia to the edge of the skirt with buttonhole stitches; the tension introduced causes it to flip back and forth like an unruly cable.

This object was featured in our Object of the Day series in a post titled Unwound from the Round.

This object was purchased from David M. Lamtz. It is credited Museum purchase through gift of Dr. and Mrs. Lewis Balamuth, Mr. and Mrs. DeWitt Clinton Cohen, Gertrude Crownfeld, Valerie Dreyfus, Norvin Hewitt Green, Rodman A. Heeren, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, Florence N. Levy, Mrs. Paul C. Pennoyer, Mrs. Bernard Reis, Mrs. William Jay Schieffelin, and Mr. and Mrs. Stephens B. Stanton.

Its dimensions are

H x W: 68.6 x 162.6 cm (27 in. x 5 ft. 4 in.)

Cite this object as

Woman's Ceremonial Skirt (Democratic Republic of the Congo), early 20th century; raffia; H x W: 68.6 x 162.6 cm (27 in. x 5 ft. 4 in.); 1990-133-3

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Woman's Ceremonial Skirt (Democratic Republic of the Congo), early 20th century |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=12 February 2016 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>

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