African Quilted Armour

Quilted horse armour from Sudan (late 19th century). Quilted horse armour from Sudan (late 19th century). © Trustees of the British Museum, London, acc. no. Af1899,1213.2.

Quilting is not widely found in Africa. However, there is a significant exception, namely the quilted armour found in parts of sub-Saharan and eastern Africa. In particular, the practice of quilted armour seems to cover an area as far west as the Djerma people of the middle Niger and as far east as Khartoum in Sudan. The armour was made for both warriors and their horses.

Quilted armour was made by sewing together several layers of locally woven cotton cloth. The stitches were frequently carried out in a decorative manner to give a textured pattern to the garments. In addition, sometimes pieces of coloured cloth were applied.

There is an example of a quilted horse armour from Sudan in the British Museum, London (acc. no. Af1899,1213.2), which is quilted and decorated with patchwork triangles in black, blue, red, and yellow cotton cloth. The armour consists of four large pieces of cloth with designs worked in a diamond patchwork pattern. The armour is made with a cotton textile and padded with raw cotton fibres. Because of its colourful nature, it is likely that this example of quilted horse armour was used for ceremonial occasions rather than for battle. The armour was acquired by the British Museum in 1899 and it was probably taken during or shortly after the Battle of Omdurman (2nd September 1898), which marked the end of the Mahdist state in Sudan.

The British Museum has another example of Sudanese quilted armour, which dates to the late nineteenth century (Af1904,1015.72). It is made in a similar manner, but with a less colourful choice of materials and a simpler, square and diamond pattern.

See also the TRC Needles entries on Mahdi tunics; Mahdi army flags and Mahdi army quilted garment.


  • PICTON, John and John MACK (1979). African Textiles, London: British Museum Publications Limited, pp. 173, 181.
  • SPRING, C.J. and J. HUDSON (1995). North African Textiles, London, The British Museum Press, pp. 104-105.

British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 8th June 2016).


Last modified on Friday, 05 May 2017 13:08