Textiles in Africa were used to represent wealth and a superior sense of culture. As such representations of the social standing of a family or tribe, much effort was invested into making them as beautiful, intricate and impressive as possible. They even became a means of currency. Africans traded cloth with surrounding nations as well as European explorers in exchange for food, weapons and so on. As such, these items have now become valuable pieces of art.
The styles and fabrics of the clothing made from textiles were determined largely by the environment in which they were being worn. For example, the hotter, Arab-oriented places were characterised by large, flowing garments (for both men and women), which allowed the air to circulate and keep them cool. In lands where royalty was revered, the kings received especially beautiful garments, made out of valuable textiles.
Clothing and textiles were, and still are in many countries, used to indicate the newly married status of a woman. In some cultures, she is required to wear a certain outfit and / or textile for a specific period of time to indicate to the rest of the tribe that she has recently married. Similarly, those in mourning will often wear a certain colour or pattern, as will young girls ready to be given away in marriage.
The textiles were made using wooden looms and pulleys, and dyed with plant dyes and even mud. The more intensive work was frequently performed by men. After they have been dyed, seamstresses (as they were usually women) worked on each piece with needles and blades to create a unique, beautiful piece. An inordinate amount of time was invested into each piece, and this is evident by the detail. A fascinating trend, textiles have effectively been used to define a culture as well as one of their most impressive art media.
For more information, please view: http://www.museumofafricanart.org/en/collections/textiles.html