Kasaï velvet (velours du Kasaï) is a kind of textile made in the Kasai province (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Traditionally, the weaving is done by men of the Shoowa from the Kuba ethnic group, while the embroidery is reserved to women. Ideally, the embroiderers should be pregnant. The technique is still practiced. It requires a highly skilled artisan and it’s a very time consuming process. The shoowa were used as currency as well as tribal offerings.
In Shoowa fabrics, the alternation of geometric designs is extremely complex and takes shape during the weaving work. To achieve the velvet effect, one or more raffia fibers are inserted between the wires of the warp, so that both ends come out of the surface; then with a special flat-blade knife, the threads are cut in satin, creating a relief layer emerging from the base for a few millimeters. The operation is repeated infinitely until all the fabric appears covered with different color spots. The designs are completely abstract, based on a complex series of symmetries.