One of the most common fabrics used for Gele by African women is Aso Oke, which is pronounced ah-SHOW-kay. Aso Oke originated in Nigeria, from the Yoruba people who live in the southern part of the country. This intricate fabric has a long history of use in traditional African clothing, and is still popular today worldwide.
Aso Oke was originally woven by male weavers, but today there are as many women weaving Aso Oke in Nigeria as there are men. They work on a narrow strip loom that produces a length of fabric less than two feet wide. These colorful strips are then sewn together to create fabric for making garments. Often, the strips are left as one long narrow piece of fabric, and used as draping sashes or head wraps, like the Gele.
The fabric is generally woven from cotton threads, but there are different types of Aso Oke that use more exotic materials to weave their designs. One such fabric is called Sanyan, and it is woven from the spun cocoon of the Anaphe Infacta Moth. This produces a soft fabric that resembles raw silk. Another type of
Aso Oke is called Alaari, and it is generally woven from Magenta waste silk obtained from European sources. This type of Aso Oke can be rough and heavy.
Aso Oke is made today in Nigeria in much the same way it has been made for hundreds of years. While the fabric is a staple of the Yoruba people, it is also very popular in many countries as a specialty fabric for use in African clothing, styling, and of course, Gele. By purchasing Aso Oke that was made in Nigeria, not only are you getting a classic and stylish fabric to use for your Gele, but you are supporting the people of Nigeria and their way of life.
Ade Adetayo is a semi-professional photographer who has a preference for natural looks.
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