Some symbols are so ancient that pretty much every culture on earth has some variant. The hourglass shaped symbol at the bottom of our Leone Blanket is one of them:
I've always associated it with Turkish and Navajo rugs, but what I didn’t realize is how ubiquitous and old this symbol is. In many cultures it carries the same meaning: a symbol of unity, either between men and women, or between heaven and earth, or even the continuity of time (the link between past, present, and future).
After doing a little research, I found at least 13 cultures all over the world, past and present, that have used the symbol in their weaving traditions, writing systems, and religious symbolism.
— Africa —
First and foremost is Sierra Leone, as this is the country currency the Leone Blanket is based on. The Mende people have used the symbol in their Kpokpo blankets (aka, “Country Cloth”) for hundreds of years. For them the symbol represents unity and marriage, an important symbol for a country recovering from decades of civil war.
Mende Kpokpo cloth from Sierra Leone. Notice the small hourglass shapes.
The Akan people incorporate the symbol into their prized Kente cloth. For them it represents the union of man and woman (woman above, man below) to produce a third person, a child, represented by the horizontal line that passes between the two triangles.
*The Golden Stool - The Golden Stool is a symbol of absolute power in Ghana. According to legend, it was sent down from the heavens 800 years ago. It is solid gold and accompanies the Ashanti king for public events, though he does not sit on it, but rather next to it on a separate throne (bottom right). The Golden Stool is the throne with a throne of its own. To each his throne.
The Golden Stool is a common motif in Kente cloth (below).
The ceremonial beaded Oba's crown (known as an ade) from the Yoruba people of Nigeria has the motif at the bottom. Once the supreme leader of the Yoruba (the oba) is consecrated, the leader can no longer show their face in public and must wear the crown. The bird at the top represents the ruler's mediation between heaven and earth the balance of male and female power.
— Europe —
In Anatolian society weaving is performed primarily by women. For them this symbol is the Sacbagi (hair band) which is used to express the the weaver’s desire for marriage and union. If she weaves some of her hair into the rug, she desires immortality as well.
— North America —
For the Navajo tribe of North America, the triangles can represent the wings of the butterfly, a symbol of everlasting life. They can used as a series of prayer feathers or songs.
For the Lakota tribe, the symbol is Kapemni, the sun-earth connection. It is so important to their cosmology that it is often referred to a simply the Lakota Symbol.
The inverted triangle on top symbolizes the stars and/or the Sun. The triangle on the bottom symbolizes earth sites. The Lakota strongly believe that there is a powerful connection between the Sun and the Earth. Much of their culture has been directly influenced and shaped by centuries of solar observation.
For the Zapotec Indians of southern Mexico, the shape it is found in the Ono de Dias (Eye of God) motif. The centre of each figure includes two triangles that look like a butterfly which represents freedom.
The diamond encapsulating each butterfly represents the community and the strength of the Zapotec people.
— Asia —
In the Kutch region of India, the symbol is the shape of the dholak drum which is played during wedding festivals representing unity and marriage.
In the Punjab region of India, the phulkari weaving style uses the hourglass shape is used as a motif in the traditional chope wedding veil the bride's grandmother weaves for her on her wedding day. The shape represents a flower and is a sign of unity.
For the Ta Oi people of Vietnam, the Zeng textile is used as a sign of wealth and carries religious significance.
— Alphabets & Symbolism —
The symbol wasn't just used in textiles though, in fact it shows up all over the place, especially in alphabets and religious symbolism.
The Akan people of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire use the Adinkra symbolic system to represent important concepts and aphorisms. The symbols are printed on cloth to form elaborate patterns.
Boa Me Na Me Mmoa Wo
"Help me and let me help you"
Symbolizes cooperation and interdependence.
Symbolizes change and life's dynamics. (Looks like an hourglass right?)
Ink is brushed onto the cloth to make the Adinkra cloth.
In the Bantu script from southern Africa, the symbol is an insect or bee representing diligence.
The symbol also shows up in the runes of the vikings where it can represent divine union, and the passing of days.
Hermeticism & Alchemy
In hermeticism, the symbol is part of is the visual representation of the saying "as above, so below," representing the unity of heaven and earth, the cosmic symmetry of the macrocosm and microcosm.
In medieval alchemy, a form of hermeticism, alchemists used symbols to denote the classic elements of Aristotle in their recipes.
Historians believe that the Seal of Solomon (aka Star of David) shares a common origin with the hermetic symbol, both having emerged in late antiquity (3rd century CE).
There are so many more examples, but I would like to end with an example of the triangle/hexagram thing from the world of mathematics that also happens to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen.
Behold the "Koch snowflake" :
It's named after Swedish mathematician Helge von Koch and is one of the first fractals ever described. Here's what it looks like when you zoom in (or out):
So now you know what to say when someone asks you about the weird double triangle things on your Leone Blanket.
— Hiller Dry Goods