Friday, February 27, 2015

a thousand ant holes

circle motif, white cotton thread, eyelet stitch, on indigo dyed cotton cloth
Part of the embroidery that covers the chest, torso, and upper back of a man's robe from Nigeria.
detail of eyelet stitch, nick named 'a thousand ant holes'
The cloth for the robes was woven by men, embroidered by men and worn by men for special occasions like weddings and funerals.  They were also made for kings, chiefs, and important men. The first ones were made in the 15th century by the Hausa, Nupe and Yoruba cultures.  Saved as family heirlooms, the robes continued to be made through the early 20th century.
African Tunic, cotton, stitch, indigo dye,  Collection of the Art Institute of Toronto textile department, donated by Anne Wilson
Several men did the embroidery, following the lead artist's design, over a period of months.  The design used here is a variation of eight knives, a protection motif.
I first saw these kinds of garments in the Textile Museum of Canada,  It is the time involved in creating garments like this that hits me in the heart.  Here, time is an aesthetic.

I was inspired to use the eyelet stitch in the meditation panel, Layers of Time.  It took several of us 6 months to cover the upper half of a large circle with the stitch.
Once the robe was completed, the embroidered area was beaten with a wooden mallet over a smooth log so that the cloth took on a glossy, ironed appearance and the threads of the work were compacted.

Information is from Australia's powerhouse museum.
Images are from my recent visit to the textile collection of the school of the art institute of chicago.


  1. I am agog and speechless. Protected, indeed.

  2. Ant holes. You crack me up.

  3. The embroiderer gets hammered :) Interesting concept.

  4. I have seen this motives in Marrakech in a very smal museum. Never forgot the beauty.....

  5. It is very powerful to view these stitches in real life. Images in books or on computer screen just are not the same.


  6. Judy, I love that you’ve shared sacred embroidery created by men. I find it fascinating that the final finishing technique is so brutal and physical and wonder how the threads aren’t destroyed in the process.


    Maybe we need to go beat on our work a little, too. Ha!

    XO Amy


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx