ETHIOPIAN CROCHETED HATS
Hats in Ethiopia come in all shapes and sizes – straw hats, baseball caps, old Italian army kepis, French berets – but none are as cheerful, colourful or creative as the crochet hats worn by the men of the Southern Highlands. The Dorze region has long been famous for its fine woven cotton cloth shamma (shawls) with decorated borders (tibeb) and ceremonial trousers with geometric patterns and broad stripes. Women spin and the men weave, but now a new fashion has taken over. Started in missionary schools, crochet has gradually replaced the old basket-woven straw hats. Boys as young as 13 make hats for sale using a crochet hook or an adapted safety-pin. The yarns used are cotton, wool or acrylic, often mixed together in dazzling stripes, chevrons and checks. With time the colours fade to a softer almost edible palette in contrast to the original strident hues. The young choose close fitting skull caps; the older men adopt brims and considerable height, topped with a 'stalk' just like the decoration on top of the houses. This region is famous for its dramatic tall beehive houses made from inset (false banana). These have a clear bearing on the shape and meaning of the hats. "The person is the pillar supporting the hat like the
pillar supports the house". The hats are an outward symbol of this culture, identifying the wearer as from this particular region. At the same time each hat is the individual expression of its maker and owner. The technique allows the more skilled to incorporate lettering and slogans but now this region is opening up to tourism, the designs are becoming less adventurous and, predictably, more commercial. Joss Graham travelled to the Dorze region last year, photographing and researching this tradition. An exhibition in his London gallery will display over 75 stunning examples of these hats displayed against a backdrop of contemporary weavings produced by Dorze weavers from the Shro-meda cooperative in Addis Ababa. Dorze Hats from Ethiopia, Joss Graham Gallery, London T: 020 7730 4370 email@example.com, 9 May-30 June, 2007.