One of the great privileges of those who work in my profession is that we are constantly learning. Leaving aside my conviction that a day when you don't learn something is the day you may as well give up on life, our job not only requires us to discover new things, it gives us unparalleled opportunities to do so. However, to paraphrase that now-famous utterance by a now-infamous US government official, no matter how much we know, we know only what we know and don't know what it is that we don't know, until we know it. Which leaves a world of things yet to learn.
Recently, another thing moved from my "don't know" to my "do know" list as a result of my first encounter with Kuba cloth, in the form of this cushion. How can I have gone all this time without knowing? I don't know. But, fascinated by the fabric, I embarked on a crash course, courtesy of Google. First, it has nothing to do with Cuba. It is an age-old craft of the Kuba people of south-eastern Congo (or Zaire, as it briefly was called), whose prosperous kingdom along the Sankuru River reached its zenith in the mid-19th century.
Raffia palms grow in abundance there and it is this, rather than animal hair or wool, that the women have always used for their distinctive, geometrically patterned weaving. The fibres are coloured with vegetable dyes before being tightly woven on hand-held looms. Sometimes the "base" cloth is interwoven with differently coloured fibres that are then trimmed to create a velvety pile; usually differently coloured, cut-out pieces of the cloth are appliquéd onto the base to create rectangles, lines and other surface patterns; occasionally shells and seeds provide a final flourish. Every piece is unique - a vivid expression of its maker's aesthetic and skill.
This particular cushion, covered with a sampler of Kuba cloths sewn together as a patchwork, is one of a collection created specially for Andrew Martin, using vintage cloths. Being vintage, its colours - already with the lovely softness that only vegetable dye can produce - have become beautifully faded.Being vintage also means that it's definitely not one for visiting children to jump all over or the cat to sleep on.
Kuba cloth cushion, unique piece. Prices start from Dh1,800 at Andrew Martin, Gate Village, DIFC, Dubai, 04 323 1388