This post has been guest written by Adaku Parker – a designer and seller of African Wax Print fabric and products. Read her author bio and visit her shop at the bottom of this post.
What Is African Wax Print?
African print is a term used to identify a category of textiles using 100% cotton fabric in vibrant colours, which are printed by machine using wax resins and dyes so that they have a batik-like effect on both sides of the fabric. This is what makes it unique. The method is called wax-resist dyeing because the wax ‘resists’ the dye from penetrating the entire cloth, which is how patterns are made. It also goes by the names of super wax, java, and Ankara. ‘Wax’ named fabrics have a somewhat glossy, stiff, waxy feeling surface even though they are roller printed. They have detailed ethnic patterns and colours and are often named after sayings, personalities or occasions. The producer, name of the product and registration number of the design is printed on the selvage, protecting the design and displaying the quality of the fabric.
How To Care for African Wax Print:
The fabric normally sells in 6 yard ‘pieces’ although the fabric is sold by the yard from Dovetailed. If you purchase the full 6 yards available, it may have the manufacturer’s sticker on the fabric. These stickers are easily removed using the following method:
You will need an iron and ironing board. Make sure the part of the fabric with the stickers attached is FACE DOWN on (touching) the ironing board. DO NOT IRON DIRECTLY ONTO THE STICKERS. Use another part of the fabric (or another piece of fabric or pressing cloth) so that it forms a layer between the piece of fabric which has the stickers attached and your iron: This is how the fabric should be laid out, from bottom to top:
1. Ironing board, 2. Part of fabric with stickers attached. 3. Another part of the fabric (or a pressing cloth or a different piece of fabric preferably a light coloured cotton), 4. Your iron.
Use your iron (medium heat setting) to press directly over the area where the stickers are. What will be happening is that the glue used to attach the stickers will slowly begin to melt/soften and, as it melts, it makes it very easy to remove the stickers. Make sure the iron is not too hot, press area for 20 seconds initially and try removing the stickers gently. If they don’t come away easily, then try for 15 seconds, test stickers again, try 10 seconds etc., Once glue warmed sufficiently, stickers can be easily removed by peeling them away. If the sticker tears and/or any piece of the stickers do not come away cleanly, then they probably needed a little more heat from the iron. Any glue residue that may remain can be removed using chalk (blackboard chalk) as opposed to the waxy chalk which will mark. Your fabric is then ready for washing.
Please click the image below to see this YouTube video in which I demonstrate how to remove the labels:
In order to remove the waxy finish and soften the fabric before sewing, simply wash on a cool wash in your machine (after removing any fabric stickers). Once the fabric has been washed, give it a good press on the ‘wrong’ side. You can identify the ‘wrong’ side by reference to the selvage. On one side of the selvage the writing can be read clearly (this is the ‘right/fashion’ side) and on the other side (the ‘wrong side’) the writing on the selvage reads as though you are reading backwards, upside and in a mirror! Once washed and pressed the fabric will feel much softer very much like a medium weight quilting cotton and has been described as a ‘dream’ to sew with. If you wish to keep the waxy finish, for example if making a bag or covering book, then simply do not wash the fabric before sewing.
Some fabrics have a ‘super’ wax finish and before washing / pressing have a feel similar to oilcloth. However, once washed and pressed even the fabrics with a super wax finish will become much softer and feel like a medium weight cotton. If you wish to sew with the ‘super’ wax finish and not wash the fabric, I would recommend using a Teflon / oilcloth foot on your machine.
The History of the Fabric
The process involved in making wax print is originally influenced by batik, an Indonesian (Javanese) method of dyeing cloth by using wax-resist techniques. For batik, wax is melted and then patterned across the blank cloth. From there, the cloth is soaked in dye, which is prevented from covering the entire cloth by the wax. If additional colours are required, the wax-and-soak process is repeated with new patterns.
The term ‘Dutch wax’ and ‘wax hollandaise’ is also common as the prints’ predominant country of origin is Holland. During the Dutch colonization of Indonesia, Dutch merchants and administrators became familiar with the batik technique. Thanks to this contact, the owners of textile factories in the Netherlands obtained samples of batik textiles by the 1850s if not before, and started developing machine printing processes which could imitate batik. They hoped that these much cheaper machine-made imitations could replace the original batiks in the Indonesian market, affecting the look of batik without all the labour-intensive work required to make the real thing.
Unfortunately for the Dutch, these imitation wax-resist fabrics did not successfully penetrate the batik market. Among other obstacles, the imitations lacked the distinctive wax smell of the batik fabric. Starting in the 1880s, they did, however, experience a strong reception in West Africa when Dutch and Scottish trading vessels began introducing the fabrics in those ports. West Africans had been recruited between 1831 and 1872 from the Dutch Gold Coast to serve in the Dutch colonializing army in Indonesia. The success of the trade in West Africa prompted other manufacturers, including Scottish, English, and Swiss manufacturers, to enter the market. Today, over 90% of the wax print fabric made in Holland is made for and sells in the African market.
Thank you so much to Adaku Parker, the author of this guest post. You can visit her Etsy shop and use her discount code below:
The author, Adaku Parker, is a barrister turned designer who learnt to sew after taking evening courses in clothes making, pattern cutting and African fashion. Her shop, Dovetailed, sells a range of African wax print fabric by the yard. Currently offering 10% of your first order. To take advantage, either sign up to the monthly newsletter at http://www.dovetailed.co.uk or you can use the code WELCOME10 by visiting my Etsy shop: http://www.dovetailedlondon.etsy.com.