A Guide to Amazing Ethiopian Cultural Clothes, Pictures, and Design

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Ethiopia is one of the countries around the world known to have its own traditional Ethiopian Cultural Clothes and the production of fabrics. It is one of the major sources of income for the country in the non-agricultural sector of production.

These Ethiopian cultural clothes and fabrics are produced by the technique of hand weaving. Handweaving is a traditional way of fabric production in different parts of the country scattered throughout Ethiopia.

Of these places which are well known for the production of Ethiopian cultural clothes and fabrics, we can mention Kechene Medhane Alem, Guellele, Shiro Meda, Addisu Gebeya as an example market in Addis Ababa. And for the rural areas, we can mention Gonder, Gojam, and Wollo from the Amhara region, Dorze, and Konso from the southern region of the country.

Traditional textiles and fabric production in Ethiopia have been practiced and dependent on the country’s reputation of cotton cultivation and hand made here for thousands of years. Cotton being the center of the rural culture, Ethiopian women will grow or buy an unrefined cotton, card it by hand and spin it with the so called inzirt.

Women twist the so called inzirt, basically a free standing spindle, in one hand while pulling the cotton in the other hand to make yarn. The inzirt is topped with a part which bobbin to pull the thread on a material called the Kesem.

The thread being passed to weavers that use handlooms that are either raised or suspended in a pit loom all weaving is done by interweaving the warp threads with weft threads. Weavers operate the loom by stepping on pedals with their feet interchanging up and down to interweave the threads.

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Ethiopian cultural clothes Design

Most handlooms are only 70 – 90 cm wide which makes them easily reachable by both hands and make the working process easier. Often, weavers will sew together multiple panels to make larger swatches of cloth because due to the width of the handloom the fabrics produced are relatively narrower.

The craft designs in the traditional society of Ethiopia are composed of three-dimensional object forms and artifacts and also the two-dimensional features such as patterns, lines, and colors.

The visual designs on material artifacts have always integrated the culturally practiced aesthetics and this added value to their local identity and commercial price.

Being done by technical enterprise expertise and covering wide areas of applied art and design, such as jewelry, interior design, ceramics, household wares, architecture, textile designs, leisure goods, and woodwork. Hand weaves textiles products are a material medium for the communication and exchange of social as well as cultural values.

Since visual and material articles are a piece of such correspondence and trade forms that offers ascend to social structures, visual and material socio-culture has risen up out of the cooperation among man and Hand weaves materials and textures.

Today, plan woven textures have become an indivisible segment of human culture, social character, and a significant wellspring of reference for present-day society. These hand weaved textures and materials are instrumental and obligatory to tasteful articulation and socio-social communication inside a neighborhood setting just as globally recognizable proof.

Behind each man-made article and item is a significant idea, convictions, customs, ceremonies, propensities, and thoughts that shape its recognition inside a socio-social setting and neighborhood condition.

Woman wearing Ethiopian cultural clothes
Woman wearing Ethiopian cultural clothes

Visual culture has been depicted as the aesthetic qualities and understanding of what is stylishly speaking to an individual or the entire society relying upon the environment and the earth. Be that as it may, it isn’t simply aesthetic contrasts that are impacted by natural contrasts yet additionally the common sense of the visual proclamation.

Many historical references refer to cotton, cloth trade, and the handloom in this area of east Africa as the earliest once to practice these processes. Excavations at Axum in northern Ethiopia by a team led by David Phillipson show indirect evidence for textiles and fabrics that used to be produced at that time period.

Documentation of specific weave structures and design vocabulary for the woven “Tibeb”, as well as other textiles and fabrics, remains sparse. Taboos associated with weaving vary and are dispersed in different areas of the country.

In Addis Ababa today the Ethiopian cultural clothes so-called the “Yehabesha Lib’s” is a national dress with the woven “Tibeb” is worn predominately by women on different ceremonies but also by men for special occasions like holidays and weddings. It is considered to be traditional, elegant, comfortable, versatile, and modest to all these events.

Thus the interaction between hand weaving societies and the majority public is a two-way relationship. Their study is mainly focused on social status and the economy of artisans.

However, the relationship between material culture and society was addressed in a fairly limited way. Cultural values of hand-weaving in particular selected areas were studied deep in detail.

For example, traditionally made for the wedding gift, the bride’s family must give the groom a Buluko before the marriage ceremony. These Ethiopian cultural clothes are also used by village chefs during important village meetings as a symbol of leadership within the society.

Most Ethiopian cultural clothes are worn during special occasions, public events, and holidays. Even if there are diverse religions, cultures, and ethnicity they have a blood tie relationship among the peoples that make Ethiopia different from any other place and country. The other most interesting things that the wearing styles of Ethiopian cultural clothes (traditional clothes) like gabi and Netela of Muslims and Christian are distinct and have their own different ways.

Woman wearing Ethiopian cultural clothes

History of hand weaving and textile in Ethiopian cultural clothes

Handweaving and textiles used for the production of fabrics like the gabi, Netela, Kuta, and Qemis are the key pieces of Ethiopian cultural clothes (traditional clothes) that are worn throughout the country.

The gabi is a large heavy, white wrap having many layers that can unfold getting thinner and thinner and are used by both men and women to protect themselves from the cold air during nights and the winter season. Its thick cotton weave helps to keep out the cold.

During the warmer month or on special occasions, men will also wear a Kuta in the place of the gabi which is more like it but relatively simple and more beautiful. Women on the other hand wear the Netela which is very thin cotton made fabric worn above everyday clothes.

Usually, the Netela edge is decored with beautiful multicolored fabric designs called Tibeb on the edges which often have shiny silver or gold metallic threads which are the major source of its aesthetical value.

More recently, the weaver has incorporated the Tibeb design and concept into larger patterns for home decor and fashion accessories. The traditional dress for women called the Qemis, a long, white robe decorated with Tibeb on the edges and waistband in a matching design and pattern with the Netela that is worn with it.

These traditional dresses are made from Shemma along strips of woven fabric sewn together. Recently, innovative designers have been creating modern styled dresses with dyed Shemma cloth and Tibeb. Finally, Buluko holds a special place in Ethiopian clothing that is given to the groom from his mother and fathers-in-law as discussed earlier.

Meqenet is a piece of Ethiopian cultural clothes used as a belt tied around the waist on the Qemis. The cloth is about 3m in length, and its width is approximately 70 cm. Once the woman has put on the Qemis, the Meqenetis wrapped around her waist folded in half-length, and it is tied in the front.

Cloth for the Meqenetalso features the thin stripes and simple geometric line patterns. Traditionally made for the wedding gift, the bride’s family must offer the groom a buluko before marriage ceremony. These heavy wraps are also used by village chefs during important village meetings to illustrate their leadership.

The best fabric in Ethiopia is today delivered by two ethnic gatherings that live near each other in the southern good countries of Ethiopia: The Konso and the Dorze. The Dorze relocate to the enormous towns looking for different outlets for their items, which the Konso individuals once in a while do.

In Ethiopia, the even treadle loom is utilized in weaving the cotton, silk, and manufactured textures. There are various local varieties of the treadle loom. The “pit looms” is the one Dorze employments. Others portray it as the weaver is perched on the edge of the pit above which the loom is mounted and in which he works the treadles with his feet.

Interchangeably, the weaver may sit upright with his feet operating the treadles at ground level. Predominantly Male craftsmen are engaged in operating the weaving while the women are cleaning and spinning the cotton.

On the weaving, process warping is done first and it is done outside in an open and larger area. The weaver unrolls the wrapping threads which are made in the factory around eight wrapping wooden posts that are placed in the ground in two parallel rows. When the weaver roll up the threads a zigzag design is formed between the two parallel posts.

When the warping of threads is finished it is ready to be put on the loom and be used for the next step of production. The weaver takes one end of the warp threads and ties this to a post located at the front of the loom where the weaver seats at. Then the warp threads are brought around a second post, which is 2.5m beyond the back end of the loom.

Next, the weaver takes the warp threads along with them so that they can pull them through the harnesses. After this, half of the threads will be on each side of the harnesses which are then pulled through a small space of reed.

Finally, the warp threads are tangled onto the beam at the anterior part of the loom. After the loom is wrapped the threads are ready for using a material called bobbin winder (ibid) on small hollow pieces of bamboo. The weavers use three kinds of raw materials: Dir(yarn), a factory-produced warp also locally known as “Komtare”; mag, a weft which is spun by women mostly in the house and Tilet (Thread) which are factory produced colored threads used for decorative borders and edges.

Weaving Techniques in Ethiopian Cultural Clothes

The basic six steps in the production of traditional handwoven clothes are namely spinning the weft thread, warping, starching the warp thread, setting up the loom, test weaving, and weaving the final order.

A loom is a manual machine that produces different types of textile Ethiopian cultural clothes from warp and threads; this is a primary machine used in the production process of traditional weaving.

The basic purpose of any loom is to hold the warp threads under tension to facilitate the interweaving of the threads. Warping thread entails fixing cotton thread onto a bamboo tool called Qwoshere to hank it. The tips of the thread are taken from each hank and twisted into one strand and rotates creating the hank.

During the warping process, the thread is treated with tef starch which enables it to resist the tension and friction of weaving work. To create the tef starch for the treatment, one handful of tef powder is added to 10 L of hot water (80–90ºC) and boiled. The warped thread is dipped in the mixture and boiled for about an hour while it is in it.

Then excess moisture is pressed out and the thread is laid out to the sun to that it will dry. When it dries the warp is tied in the shape of a ball. The tension of the warp is checked after the thread is placed in the loom.

Then the weaver weaves several centimeters to test the weave that they are able to resist to withstand the tension created in the production process. Weaving the final piece of cloth begins after the weaver checks and adjusts warp, heddles, and a reed in ways that are required for the production.

Handwoven fabrics and textiles in Ethiopian society are used for different purposes ranging from day-to-day activities to ceremonial occasions and religious purposes. They are woven materials produced in amazing designs with rich colors and patterns which are made for both genders.

Different designs and ideas are folded into the material before dyeing and the fabric is often beaten to achieve its shiny, colorful attractive appearance. Weaving is not simply a particular way of making cloth but is inextricably bound up with structure value history and identity of the community in which it practiced. Of all the clothing and fabric produced the traditional weaving technique, some of them are discussed in brief below.

Netela Ethiopian Cultural Clothes

The way to wear the Neteladiffers depending on the religion of the wearer and also on the occasion. The Ethiopian Orthodox wear the Netelaat church, on public holidays, at weddings and funerals, and also as the Everyday.

On the other hand, Muslims wear Netelaonly at weddings and funerals. For funerals, it opened horizontally and wrapped around the body, and the remaining piece of cloth may be hung from both shoulders which are the upper parts to the lower part of the body. In general, the people of Amhara vary hanging their patterns horizontally or vertically depending on the occasion.

ethiopian woman wearing habesha kemis
Woman wearing Ethiopian cultural clothes Habesha Kemis

Qemis Ethiopian Cultural Clothes

Unlike the Netela the Qemisis formal wear for women regardless of their religion. The fabric used for the Qemis is machine-spun cotton thread for warp and hand-spun cotton thread for the weft. There is no standard for length or width of this cloth rather the woman gives the order of her cloth for the weaver and he takes the measurement of her form and height and produces it accordingly.

On the areas around the collar, the chest, the back, and part of the skirt of the Qemis have embroidery which differs according to their religion. The Ethiopian Orthodox uses a pattern of the cross and diamonds whereas and Muslims use a star and crescent pattern. Embroidery of the Qemisis done after the garment is sewn.

Gabi Ethiopian Cultural Clothes

The length of the cloth used for the Gabiis about 25 m. The cloth for the Gabiis cut into 3m and stacked, and these stacks are sewn together on one side so that it can unfold getting thinner and larger in size. Among the people of Amhara, the Gabi is widely worn irrespective of religion by both genders.

Men wear the Gabi as formal wear at funerals, during worship services, and as everyday wear and women wear them as winter clothing at home. In addition, at funerals, Gabi is used to wrapping the body of the dead, and at weddings, Gabi is given as a gift to the groom.

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Woman wearing Ethiopian cultural clothes– Mekenet

Meqenet Ethiopian Cultural Cloths

The Meqenet is a piece of cloth used as a belt twisted around the waist a woman is wearing a Qemis. These Ethiopian cultural clothes are about 3 m in length, and approximately 70cm wide. Once the woman has put on the Qemis, the Meqenet is folded in half lengthwise and twisted around the Qemis, and it connects in the front.

The fabric for the Meqenet also features thin stripes and simple geometric patterns. Just like the Qemis the Mekenet is also widely worn irrespective of religion.

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Ethiopian cultural clothes Oromo clothing

In Oromo, hand weave just like other Ethiopian cultural clothes their products protects cold from the skin. Apart from being clothes, their products are highly linked with Oromo philosophy and cultural identity. In a social event like a funeral, market, and wedding ceremonies adult men and women wear bale and bullukkoo.

Bale is dressed by women whereas bullukkoo is worn by adult men. On the marriage ceremony, these Ethiopian cultural clothes are prepared especially bullukkoo and bale are things that do not leave. Even if a girl’s family is very poor one bullukkoo for father in law and one bale and sabbata for mother in law are mandatory.

On this day family relatives and friends give her Bullukkoo or bale which is called Gumaata meaning gift. The girl’s family should prepare Bullukkoo for husband and father in law and Sabbataa for Mather in law. The number of Bullukko and bale gave for girls on the wedding day indicates her parent status and strength.

Generally Hand-woven cotton textiles and garments are artisanal traditional crafts and craftsmanship which differ from region to region, and group to group with hundreds and thousands of different material traditions in evidence.

Hand-woven cotton garments also called shemma were traditionally worn by the Christian and Muslim populations of the northern and central highlands of Ethiopia and the central and southern highlands of the country.

Today the hand-woven cotton garments are found nearly everywhere in all part of the countries and are not only used for garments but also for household products like blankets, cushion covers and table covers.

Traditional handwoven fabrics show different socio-culture values. The fabrics also show the religious statues of the society, the nations and nationality of the groups, the age of the society also the cloths show the socioeconomic level of the group.

Traditional Weaving has various socio-cultural, economic, and religious significance and values. Costumes that participate wear in ritual activity, religious, political, and in the different cultural events are provided by local weavers.

Their products are more preferable to modern factory production, which has a great contribution to the development of the textile and fashion sectors. The local products are cost-effective, durable, thick, and propend as a socio-cultural context of users. In blessings and prayers like for God, every individual in society comes to God by wearing cultural cloth.

All ritual ceremony has its own cultural cloth or ways of dressing them. Therefore the Ethiopian cultural clothes (cultural clothes) are mandatory on these events and ceremonies and are taken as pure. On the other hand, the production does not pollute the environment or nature make it an ecofriendly way of production.

This means like the modern industry, it does not release burnt air to the environment in the process of fabric production which gives it more positive value in avoiding environmental pollution. But on the other hand, this production process is time-consuming and it takes much time for the production of a single cloth.

Therefore, the process needs to be upgraded and a faster and cheaper way of production needs to be introduced while maintaining the pollution-free way of production.

More may be found on Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism

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