Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country in East Africa. With over 109 million inhabitants as of 2019, Ethiopia is the 12th most populous country in the world, the second most populous nation on the African continent (after Nigeria), and most populous landlocked country in the world.

Ethiopian national identity is grounded in the historic and contemporary roles of Christianity and Islam, and the independence of Ethiopia from foreign rule, stemming from the various ancient Ethiopian kingdoms of antiquity. It is widely considered as the region from which modern humans first set out for the Middle East and places beyond.

The nation is a land of natural contrasts, with its vast fertile west, its forests and its numerous rivers, and the world’s hottest settlement of Dallol in its north. The Ethiopian Highlands are the largest continuous mountain ranges in Africa, and the Sof Omar Caves contains the largest cave on the continent.


Traditional textiles in Ethiopia have centred on the country’s reputation as a cradle of cotton. Cultivated and hand spun here for thousands of years, cotton has always occupied a central role in rural cultural life.

Ethiopian women will grow or buy unrefined cotton, card it by hand and spin it with the so called inzirt.

Omen twist the inzirt, essentially a free standing spindle, in one hand while pulling the cotton in the other to make yarn. The inzirt is topped with a kesem which acts
as a bobbin to spool the thread. The threads then given to weavers who are traditionally male. Ethiopian weavers use handlooms that are either raised or suspended in a pit. All weavings done by interlacing the warp threads with weft threads. Weavers operate the loom by pressing pedals with their feet alternatively up and down to interweave Keywords Textile.

Many historical references refer to cotton, cloth trade and the loom in this area of east Africa. Excavations at Axum in northern Ethiopia by a team led by DavidPhillipson show
indirect evidence for textiles. Documentation of specific weave structures and design vocabulary for the woven tibeb as well as other textiles remains sparse. Taboos associated with weaving vary in different areas of the country. Weavers in many areas of the country could provide a wealth of research information. In Addis Ababa today and the significant Diaspora outside of Ethiopia and Eritrea Yehabesha Lib’s or national dress with the woven tibeb is worn predominately by women but also by men for special occasions. It is considered to be traditional, elegant, comfortable, versatile and modest.


In some central and northern areas, women’s traditional clothes are often made from cloth called Shemma. It is basically cotton cloth, about 90 cm wide, woven in long strips which are then sewn together. Sometimes shiny threads are woven into the fabric for an elegant effect. It takes about two to three weeks to make enough cloth for one dress. The bottom of the garment or shirt may be ornamented with patterns.


Netela is handmade scarf-like two-layered cloth made of cotton worn by Ethiopian and Eritrean, exclusively intended for women. It is very well known and commonly worn by the women and men of Ethiopia and Eritrea. A neṭela is a handmade scarf-like cloth made of cotton. It is very thin and delicate, with the texture of gauze. The netela has only two layers and is quite large, measuring about 63 x 102 inches. It is white with colourful intricately woven borders called ṭibébé . The tibebe is between 1 and 2 inches at each end, with two variations: one composed of only one colour, and the other of multiple colours and patterns.

The netela can be worn in different ways. For general wear, the netela covers the back and shoulders and the border is folded up over the right shoulder, but when attending church the two layers of the netela are opened and the border goes over both shoulders. When the border is worn around the face or shoulders, it is a sign of mourning, but in moments of leisure the border goes over the left shoulder.


The ankle length dress is usually worn by Ethiopian and Eritrean women at formal events, holidays and invitations. But it comes in many forms nowadays. It is made of cotton fabric, and typically comes in white, grey or beige shades. Many women also wrap a shawl called a netela around the formal dress. Bracelets and necklaces of silver or gold are worn on arms and feet to complete the look. A variety of designer dinner dresses combining traditional fabric with modern style are now worn by some ladies in the cities.

The Qemisis formal wear for women regardless of their religion. The cloth for the Qemis uses machinespun cotton thread for warp and hand-spun cotton thread for weft. There is no standard for length or width of this cloth, and the woman orders her cloth from the weaver according to her form and height.

On the Qemis of Ethiopia, the areas around the collar, the chest, the back, and part of the skirt have embroidery. Moreover, the patterns embroidered on each part of the Qemis differ according to religion, the Ethiopian Orthodox use a pattern of the cross and Muslims use as tar and crescent pattern. Embroidery of the Qemis is done after the garment is sewn.


The Meqenetis a piece of cloth used as a belt twisted around the waist on the Qemis. The cloth is about 3 min length, and its width is approximately 70 cm. Once the woman has put on the Qemis, the Meqenetis folded in half lengthwise and twisted around the Qemis, and it connects in the front. Cloth for the Meqenet also features the thin stripes and simple geometric is widely worn irrespective of religion.


Gabi is a handmade cloth worn by Eritreans and Ethiopians. It is worn over the shoulders and upper body and is made out of cotton. Unlike the two-layered kuta (worn by men) and netela (worn by women), it consists of four layers. Both men and women can wear it. Most of the time, the elderly wear it. The length of the cloth used for the Gabi is 50Kind (about 25 m). The cloth for the Gabi is cut into 3 m and stacked, and these stacks are sewn together on one side for both men and women. Among the people of Amhara, the Gabi is widely worn irrespective of religion. Men wear the Gabias formal wear at funerals, during worship services, and as every day wear, and women wear them as winter clothing at home.


Article Written byKucherlapati Divya Bharathi Masters in Fashion Management
National Institute of Fashion Technology – Chennai
Intern at TVC