The Habesha Kemis is a traditional Ethiopian garment made from white hand-woven cotton material known as shemma.
This attire is crafted by sewing together long strips of woven fabric. Typically, the shemma is hand-woven by skilled artisans called Shemane, resulting in a fabric with an approximate width of 75cm. Intricate patterns, referred to as Tibeb, are hand-designed on the Habesha Kemis using shiny woven threads, embellishing both the waistband and the garment’s edges.
However, the style of the Kemis varies among different communities and ethnic groups in Ethiopia. For instance:
- In the Shewa version, the embroidery can be placed on the bottom, cuffs, or waist of the dress. Sometimes, it may appear on all three areas.
- In contrast, the Gondar version typically features embroidery only on the bottom hem, specifically at the back of the dress. Traditional Kemis garments are ankle-length and predominantly white in color.
Creating this intricate dress is a labor-intensive process, often taking up to three weeks to complete one Habesha Kemis. During Ethiopian traditional weddings, women commonly pair the Kemis with a gauzy shawl or scarf known as Netela. The Netela often features tibeb patterns along its edges, which often match the design on the Kemis. These tibeb patterns can consist of single or multiple colors and various intricate designs.
Women may wear multiple fabrics to complement their Kemis attire. In addition to the Netela, there are:
- Shoulder Shawl: This shawl covers the shoulders and adds to the overall elegance of the ensemble.
- Head Shawl: Another shawl is worn on the head, which serves both functional and aesthetic purposes.
- Doncho: A lengthy cotton sash, approximately 26 feet in length, is typically reserved for married women. It features a colored border and is worn as part of the attire.
- Fota: A colorful shawl with a checkerboard design detail, adding further layers of color and texture to the overall look.
The Habesha Kemis and its accompanying accessories are not only a reflection of Ethiopian culture and tradition but also a symbol of the rich history and artistry of the country’s textile and garment craftsmanship.