The making of cotton cloth was diminishing in the late 1960's due to an influx of machine made Dutch material that was being imported and used to make the typical lappa and docket. The making of cotton cloth was labor intensive. The cotton was grown in with the rice and was harvested at the same time rice was harvested. The cotton had to be picked, carded or cleaned, spun into thread, and then dyed either the brown color from the Kola nut, or blue (indigo) in various shades. Then the men's tripod looms so typical of the area (some called it the Mende Loom) had to be set up, and then the weaving commenced. After the lengths of woven material were produced they had to be sewn together and made into robes, or bed coverings. In addition styles were changing. More European clothing was being worn - less native dress was being worn except in the more rural settings.
The pieces below were collected in Kenema area. The first one was made for me by a man from nearby town of Daru. His name was Pa Brima Daru (there is a picture and story about him earlier in one of my postings). I do not remember but he may have made the second one as well. These are made in a more intricate so-called tapestry weave then the more rural and common man's coverings, which tended to be stripes sewn together of either various shades of blue and brown but no other styling. At a later date I will post pictures of the more common woven country cloth.
From The Peoples of Sierra Leone Part II by M. McCulloch - London International African Institute 1950: This section is specific to the Mende ethnic group - "two kinds of cotton, white and russet are grown as part of the general crop. The cotton is spun by women on bow-like implements, carded on a steel card (European), and reeled on a piece of wood rotated on a plate. Men weave and stitch the woven strips together. The craft often passes from father to son. There are 4 different sizes of gbali or local cloth: one 3 ft long used for women's clothes, one 9 ft long used for men's clothes, one about 14 feet long used as bed covering, and the double gbali about 20 feet long used for bedding, usually in a chief's home. The largest size takes a weaver about two weeks to complete, the smallest about two days....dyeing is a skilled trade whose secrets are guarded carefully by the women who know them. Knowledge is imparted to their children or to apprentices. The dye is prepared from surie roots (jasewi in Mende), which are boiled and placed out of doors in a large garra pot. The color obtained varies with the quantity of water added after the roots have been boiled, and the length of time the roots are left to soak after boiling. Blue is the most popular shade. The material to be dyed is put into the garra pot for several hours, then hung out to dry."