African designs, £9.99
Length: 118.000 cm
Width: 85.000 cm
Collected by Christopher Spring and Julie Hudson
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Woman's head shawl (ta'jira)
Late 20th century AD
Many of the bright colours used on textiles in North Africa are produced by dyeing yarns. This is undertaken both by professionals in the large towns, and by individual weavers in rural areas.
Since the mid-nineteenth century synthetic dyes have gradually been introduced into North Africa, and the introduction of factory-dyed yarns has had a technical effect in an industry which still maintains this division of labour. By 1850 the professional dyers of Marrakesh, Morocco were using European dyes, and by the 1930s such dyes had supplanted local, natural ones. Although professionals were able to control and measure the conditions in which they produced the dyes, rural weavers achieved more varied and unpredictable results. The ritual preparation of the natural dyes also gradually disappeared, with the increased use of synthetics.
This woman's shawl is decorated using a number of different techniques. The lower half (not visible in this photograph) is covered with striking tie-dyed patterns in warm red, yellow and orange tones on a dark green background. This form of resist-dyeing also occurs among Berber peoples in Morocco and Libya. The vitality of the brightly-coloured motifs along the upper edge of the shawl are in sharp contrast to the formal composition of urban Tunisian embroidery. Gabes Oasis, close to the village of Tamezret, was a major centre on the trans-Saharan trade routes, and a possible source of contact and inspiration for this embroidery style, which has much in common with certain types of embroidery from Northern Nigeria.
C.J. Spring and J. Hudson, North African textiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)