What Exactly is African Wax Print Fabric?

What Exactly is African Wax Print Fabric?

I have always been a fabric person. I took my first sewing class in junior high school. I was mostly a dismal failure. But I persevered and kept experimenting. As a high school theatre teacher, I sewed costumes for years. I made curtains for my house, a blanket and matching pillowcase for my daughter, Grace. I had always owned a sewing machine, but was only a sewing dabbler.

Then something magical happened. I discovered African Wax Print Fabric!

One of my very first pieces of African Wax Print Fabric.
One of my very first pieces of African Wax Print Fabric.

 

I know that sounds a bit dramatic (even for a theatre teacher), but African Wax Prints sparked something I didn’t know was hiding inside me! My love for sewing exploded. I felt happiest when I was sewing up blankets made from these amazing fabrics.

My baby boy, JoJo, wrapped in a blanket made with African Wax Print and minky fabric.
My baby boy, JoJo, wrapped in a blanket made with African Wax Print and minky fabric.

In a great big nutshell, African Wax Print fabrics are the fabrics of choice in West and Central Africa. And they have been for generations. They are intensely colored, bold prints that tell stories and commemorate events. They celebrate cultural traditions and reflect contemporary themes. And they are stunningly beautiful!

Wax prints originated at the turn of the century, as England’s attempt to mass produce the very popular Java Batik Prints of Bali. Through a process call “wax resist” printing, a design is pressed onto the fabric in wax and then dyed. Where the wax stuck to the fabric, a design was left behind. Additional layers of wax and then dye were applied over and over to create designs that in some cases are not far from the designs we see today on the streets of any big city in Africa.

If you are a fabricaholic like me, the history African Wax Prints is fascinating. For a more detailed account of the wax print history, I would highly recommend the book, African Wax Print: A Textile Journey by Magie Relph and Robert Irwin. It is filled with amazing photographs and a more thorough history of wax print than any other source I have found.

African Wax Shop in DRC
An African Wax Print shop in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo courtesy of Karina Kiah Photography .

In upcoming posts, I will be discussing more about how wax prints are made, where they are manufactured, what some of the more common design themes mean, and how to care for your wax print fabrics.

So come join me on this magical fabric journey around the globe at More Love Mama Global Textiles and Gifts.

 

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