I met Joe last year at the Revive Fashion Show Fundraiser. He was there to watch his daughter Emily model the dress I had made out of repurposed neckties. Following the show, Joe contacted me to ask if I could help him turn a long-held vision of his into a reality. He had an old Kente cloth that he had come into on a family trip to Ghana, and he had wanted to make a blazer out of it. I was not familiar with Kente nor making men blazers, but I could not pass up the opportunity to work on such a poignant project.
One of the great parts about this project was getting to know the kindhearted and thoughtful Carter family. Emily’s parents, Rae and Joe, were warm and accommodating. They were also patient, which was a good thing because this project ended up requiring several virtual fittings during the stay-at-home order. Additionally, Emily’s husband, Adam, graciously offered to photograph the finished garment. He beautifully captured the details and the fabric and gave shape to the jacket. Having professional images of the finished product made this experience even more special.
The Kente cloth:
As I mentioned, I was not familiar with Kente, so I researched and tried my best to educate myself on the origins of this exceptional Ghanaian textile, traditionally made of interwoven cloth strips of silk and cotton. There are lots of informative resources available online and I’ve included a few links at the end of this post if you’re interested in learning more.
Kente is woven on a horizontal strip loom, which produces a narrow band of cloth about four inches wide. The strips are then hand-sewn together to create a cloth of the desired size.
Kente cloth varies in complexity. Patterns can exist vertically and horizontally and combined with the choice of colours, they all have symbolic significance. Each pattern has a name, and so does each cloth in its entirety. The weaver can assign names and significance to the new designs they create.
According to this website, Joe’s cloth
“includes both warp and weft patterns. The warp pattern, consisting of two multicolor stripes on blue, relates to the proverb “Fie buo yE buna,” meaning the head of the family has a difficult task. The weft patterns vary throughout the cloth; these examples are “NkyEmfrE,” a broken pot, and “Kwadum Asa,” an empty gunpowder keg.
In early March, just before the stay-at-home order was put in place, I met with Joe to learn more about his vision for the blazer. What we came up with was a single-breasted, relaxed “American fit”, with no back vent, a lightly padded natural shoulder and a low gorge line. We also took his measurements so I could start on the first toile.
To be clear, I am NOT a tailor. I am a self-taught seamstress, which means I had to learn a lot of new skills to make this custom jacket. “Classic Tailoring Techniques for Menswear: A Construction Guide” by Roberto Cabrera was of immense help and guidance throughout the construction. I also looked at V8890 for the drafting of the two-piece sleeve with vent, the welt pocket, and the double piping pocket with flap.
Shortly after I finished the first toile, Covid-19 was declared a pandemic and we moved our in-person fitting online. Our video fitting made it challenging to determine precisely the amount needed to correct the fit in certain areas. Consequently, I decided to make a second toile to make sure we would achieve a good fit. I added more room in the shoulder area (front and back) and in the back above the waist. I raised the armhole, widened the lapel, and lengthened the sleeve. These modifications worked well for Joe. After our second video fitting, I was ready to proceed with cutting the Kente cloth to make the final garment.
For the understructure, I purchased the sew-in hair canvas from https://www.fashionsewingsupply.com. The melton/french canvas for the undercollar, the cotton pocketing fabric, the shoulder pads, sleeve heads and twill tape are from https://www.biasbespoke.com/
For the lining, Joe chose a vibrant blue Silk Habotai. And I covered the buttons with Kente.
I underestimated the amount of hand-stitching that would be required to make this garment, and by a huge margin. Basting, pad-stitching, cross-stitching, slip-stitching etc, I knew that a custom jacket is mostly done by hand to attach the multiple layers which give body to the desired areas. But I didn’t realize the cloth’s age and weaving mastery would require extra hand-stitching to reinforce the Kente strips. I developed a few calluses on my fingers, but in the end it was totally worth it 😉
Learning about Kente and being a part of Joe’s special project has been an honor and a true highlight of my past few months.
Here are some of Adam’s beautiful images:
Thanks for looking!
To view Adam’s work:
To learn about Kente: