The embroidery arts: Embroidery or machine hand embroidery (zig zag) is something we specialize in at Ocacia. It is one of those dying arts. Not too many people offer African clothes with quality embroidery work. When it comes to the origins of embroidery in Africa we really do not know. But it is doubtful it existed before the 1950s and most likely came with colonialism. But the styles are very similar to what they do in North Africa. The embroidery arts are like the Kora tradition, they stay within certain cultural groups in Africa. You do not find a lot of it in Nigeria, but mainly in Ghana and Senegal although in Senegal they seem to favor the African stitch machine or Consew chain stitch machine. Like most things African and "traditional" there is no institutionalization around the art. I guess we are waiting for someone from Europe to come and write a book about it and probably make a PBS doc about it.

Helen Blanchard is said to have invented and patented the first zigzag stitch sewing machine in 1873.

Embroidery is a popular feature of African clothes. Almost exclusively originated in West Africa and parts of North Africa, again tied to traditionally Islamic settlements.  Embroidery is painting with thread and is very different from sewing, although sharing many things in common. The learning process is different. It takes a lot longer to learn embroidery.

The machines are not the same, the approach is not the same, the technique is very different. And embroidery like painting or playing guitar requires more natural talent. If you do not have it — you will never be a master

Embroidery is like a fingerprint, it is unique to the artist. We can look at any embroidery work and tell you who did it. Each person has a style and many have a specialty, something they do very very well. Some are ultra-clean, some are rustic, some are masters of sheriba, some are masters of geometric shapes.


Sheriba: You probably only hear us talking about it. Yet we certainly did not invent it. But what you will find is Africans have all kinds of stuff going on, but we rarely have the ability to name things and impose those things we create/

use on the world beyond our little villages. So if you were researching Africa you will find not even 80% of the available info about our rich history and traditions. And historically it has been a problem for us because we do not place enough value in what we do. We recognize this issue and deal with it by institutionalizing everything we do.


In West Africa, there are various styles of embroidery. Some are called carpet, rice, bars, flowers, to describe the different techniques which constitute a design.