Celebrating African Textiles with Lisa Shepard Stewart

Celebrating African Textiles with Lisa Shepard Stewart

Posted by Lisa Shepard Stewart on Mar 17th 2023

There's something about African TextilesYou instantly feel their Energy... You imagine the textile artist at work, whether known or unknown, and wonder what inspired the blend of colors, patterns, textures and symbols in a particular cloth.

Lisa Shepard Stewart_BIO

I work primarily with bogolan (mudcloth), kuba cloth, kente, batik, and African prints.I sell these fabrics, and use them to design pieces that combine style and function, a duality commonly found throughout West African art and craft.Recycled glass beads and hand-cast brass accents from Ghana often provide the finishing touches.Through my company, Cultured Expressions, I want other DIY enthusiasts to come away with a new (or heightened) appreciation for the cultures behind these traditional textiles, along with the inspiration to create their own beautiful pieces with these unique fabrics.

As we celebrate March as International Women’s History Month, and National Quilting Month, I’m especially mindful of my entrepreneurial friends and suppliers in Ghana.

A favorite part of my annual sourcing trips to Ghana is shopping in the open-air markets.Here, the women vendors in the fabric section of Makola market each run their own small businesses, selling ankara prints amidst the bright, busy, bustling market, complete with music, food, foot traffic, crowded alleyways, car traffic and merchandise of all kinds! The unique energy of the market inspired me to create a quilt called “Makola on My Mind” It was included in “Testimony”, an exhibit that debuted at the Nelson Atkins in Kansas City, MO, with plans to travel across the US.

MakolaQuilt-Testimony (2)

Since launching Cultured Expressions in 2002, I’ve also developed relationships with various batik designers in Ghana, women who own their own businesses and employ full-time batik artists and tailors. Each designer has a distinct style, working on juicy jacquard weave base fabrics, and I feel fortunate to continue to bring their artistry to the quilting and sewing community.

Jacquard BatiksSM

And for me, spending time in Ghana isn’t just artistically inspiring; I’m also motivated by the sheer number of women business owners there, from market stalls to corporate settings. During the first group SewJourn to Ghana, which I hosted in 2010, I organized a panel discussion and creative demo featuring some of the women crafters, batik makers, basket weavers, exporters and textile industry experts I met on previous sourcing trips, all sharing their varied experiences with our SewJourn group. 


According to Crunchbase.com, an online business data source, “In the realm of business, (Ghana’s) women entrepreneurs enjoy special status. At 46.4 percent, Ghana has the highest rate of women-owned businesses in the world. In a region that has been typecast as patriarchal, women’s labor force participation in Ghana is an astonishing 96.1 percent. Moreover, perceptions of women entrepreneurs in the country are predominantly positive.”(2019 statistics)

woman with purple textile_Lisa Shepard Stewart blog post

Events like the upcoming biennial Ghana Women Entrepreneurship Summit help to maintain the trend, supported by government agencies.

Join me in celebrating the excitement of Makola market, and the spirit of Ghanaian women entrepreneurs with a visit to CulturedExpressions.com, where C&T Publishing blog readers can save 10% on all ankara precuts with the code “MAKOLA10” thru March 31, 2023.


All images are provided by CulturedExpressions.com and used with their permission.

From fashion to home decor to quilts and crafts, Carole Lyles Shaw and Lisa Shepard Stewart share more information on African prints in their Creative Spark lecture, African Prints for Contemporary Quilts, Crafts and More