© 2012 . All rights reserved. African Chitenge Fabric

Never Leave Town Without One of These in Your Bag

Only one thing could be better than owning a house at the beach, and that is having a generous friend invite you to stay at hers.  Opportunities like that motivate me to get my bags packed before you can blink an eye. Being the fashion trendsetter that I am, I thought I would share with you the secret to simple and stylish summer travel.

This woman is modeling my most essential travel accessory.

Zambian Woman

Photo by Jessalyn Claire Studios, http://jessalynclairity.wordpress.com


Yes, a nice hat is a great idea for summer travel, but I consider something else she is wearing to be an essential travel accessory. 

When it is time to hit the road I always pack one of these:

 African Chitenge Fabric


African Chitenge Fabric

Beautiful fabric chitenges like these are worn by the women in the rural areas of Zambia.  Wrapping the two meter length of fabric aroung their waist protects their clothing and provides a modest covering for their lower bodies.    Every mother carries her baby in one.  A chitenge can provide much needed padding between the head and a five gallon container of water carried from the well each morning.  They can even be used as a suitcase to hold personal items or goods to sell at the market. 

Zambian Women and a Child

Photo by Jessalyn Claire Studios, http://jessalynclairity.wordpress.com

Chitenge fabric is soft and lightweight, making it perfect for wrapping your head to protect hair from smoke and dust. 

Zambian Woman With Chitenge Head Wrap

Photo by Jessalyn Claire http://jessalynclairity.wordpress.com

Or to protect the world from a view of one’s almost-bald head.

 African Chitenge Head Wrap


African Chitenge Used as Scarf for Head

I’ve grown some hair now, but I still wouldn’t travel without at least one chitenge. 

 Chitenge fabric from Zambia

You can see that I have quite an array of choices. That is the most difficult part of the packing process. Once I’ve chosen one (okay, maybe two), I’m ready to pack a few more things and hit the road to be a beach bum for a few days.

I didn’t think the airline would allow me to check my hobo bag and stick, so I used a boring suitcase for the flight and the chitenge went into my carry-on bag.    Two meters of cotton fabric doesn’t take up much space, and it comes in very handy for a cold-natured gal like me on a chilly airplane ride, or rolled jellyroll-style tube it makes a nice little neck pillow for a nap.   

Once the plane is on the ground a couple of knots and a twist turns a travel blanket chitenge into a beach bag chitenge, a clever place to stash beach treasures.African chitenge tied into a shoulder bag

 Here’s a peek inside.

Sea shells in an African chitenge

 Tie the two meters of cotton around your waist and you have a sarong.  Double it, selvages together, knot the corners, and you have a short beach wrap for walking in the waves.

African fabric used as wrap

African fabric as swimsuit coverup

Untie the sarong and you have a beach blanket.

African fabric beach blanket

Plop yourself down and you have a comfy little napping spot.

Chitenge beach blanket

When it’s time to head back to the house a quick shake will get rid of most of the sand, and the lightweight cotton dries much sooner than a fuzzy towel.

An evening dinner with a beach view can be dressed up with a chitenge tablecloth.

African fabric used for tablecloth

Or give yourself some privacy with a chitenge curtain across a window. 

African chitenge fabric as curtain

On second thought, take down that curtain and soak up the lovely view.

 Florida Beach View

When vacation days are over and it’s time to drive away you might even be tempted to lay claim to the borrowed beach house like a pirate claims stolen treasure.

 Pirate ship at St. Augustine, Florida

Or do as the first European explorers did.  Just ignore the current owners, hoist a chitenge flag and claim the space as your own.

African fabric flag

What are the essential travel items that accompany you on your adventures?  Do share!



Signature in the sand


  1. Christina
    Posted 7 Nov ’12 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Well done and agreed with all uses you mentioned! My chitenjes were gold in Malawi with many practical uses for everyday life. Now that I’m back in America, the only purpose they serve is to look beautiful in a neatly folded pile in my living room. I cannot bring myself to cut and sew them into functional pieces for decorative items (since I know how BEAUTIFUL they look as a whole wrapped around my head or body). That being said, do you know of any creditable websites to order Zambian or Tanzanian chitenje’s from? If so, please share. I would gladly indulge in purchasing more! …Then maybe I will start chopping them for napkins and place mats ;-)

  2. Carla Crawford
    Posted 30 Oct ’13 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Hi Ms. Laura, I have been on line for quite a while now looking and hoping to find African textiles, beautiful ones. I must say that it is quite a task trying to locate a store to shop for such an item where I live. I stumbled across your website, but I am not sure if the Chitenge fabric is for sale, it was not readily apparent. But if it is, I certainly hope so, I would love to purchase a few pieces. If you have Chitenges available for sale, could you please direct me where to go on your site to select what I like and where to transact a purchase. I thank you so much, one way or the other for getting back to me. I love the one you’re wearing on your webpage, it’s really pretty. Again, many thanks!

    • Posted 3 Nov ’13 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      Dear Carla,
      I don’t officially sell chitenges at this time, but I could sell some of mine. Email me at laura@lauranell.com and give me an idea how many you might be interested in and I will get you some information.

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