Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Textile Tools of the Baoulé Peoples


by Emily Radomski

Uncovering mysteries and making connections are two of the many exciting occurrences I encounter every day that I work at The Design Center! My job here is to catalogue the large Textile Tools collection — assigning accession numbers to objects that do not have them, conducting background research on the objects themselves, and linking any cultures or manufacturers that are credited with the creation of the tools. Basically, illustrating the objects and the stories behind them!

Two items in our collection that are quite remarkable are a weaving shuttle (1996.65.2) and beater (1996.65.3).

Weaving shuttle, T&CC 1996.65.2

The shuttle is a hand crafted wooden boat-shuttle 29cm in length and housing a small bobbin of yarn in the carved out center. Shuttles are used in the process of hand-weaving to deposit the weft (horizontal) yarn between the warp (vertical) yarns, interlacing them to create a fabric. On the surface of the object are gestural carvings on either side of the ends of the bobbin. In wonderful condition, the shuttle shows only signs of usage and no further damage.

Beater for hand-weaving, T&CC 1996.65.3

The beater, also a hand crafted tool, is made from wood, straw, and yarn. A beater’s purpose in the process of hand-weaving is to bring the inserted weft yarn, put in place from the shuttle, forward towards the weaving structure to lock in the yarn tightly — creating the fabric. The beater consists of two large wooden sections with rounded peaks and hollowed out bottoms for the insertion of the reed slats in which every slat would house a warp yarn. The sides are held together by connecting dowels wrapped in straw. Also in remarkable condition, this reed shows normal signs of wear.

What makes these two paired objects special is their story of origin and donation. The original file we have for these two objects gave the country of origin as Africa. Also provided was the donor’s name, Mr. Robert P. Oberly, who indicated that his father brought the objects back from Africa in 1934. Helping to pinpoint a more exact location for these artifacts, the file also stated that Robert’s father was a psychology professor in Liberia.

Determined to narrow down the objects’ specific cultural origin within Africa, I started with the location of Liberia where Mr. Oberly’s father obtained the objects. After a couple searches of “weaving cultures in or near Liberia,” I found it! Liberia is bordered by a country called Côte d’Ivoire where the Baoulé or Baule peoples reside. The Baoulé are well known for their hand- woven textiles, with some small towns in Côte d’Ivoire, like Sakiaré, having 95% of the population as skilled hand-weavers. Weaving, using tools such as the ones we have in the textile tool collection, is still practiced there today.

At left: From our collection, object 1988.12.2, man’s prestige cloth, Baoulé peoples, Africa, mid-20th century


For more information about the Baoulé peoples, visit: https://

Auction display of beater and shuttle pair:

The Art of Making The Baoulé Fabric:

Collection Intern, Textile & Costume Collection, The Design Center, Thomas Jefferson University

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