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African Print Fabric – How Does the Wax Protect It


African print fabric

African print fabric is beautiful, both for its patterns and colors, as well as its unique cultural and historical ties to the continent of Africa itself. There are a wide variety of techniques used to create these fabrics, although African print fabric is typically associated with the mass production industry. How did they make it to a larger audience? The history of this fabric involves countries, continents, and a technique that had its start in Africa in the 4 th century.

Part of the process for creating some of these amazing wax prints starts with the wax being used during the dying process. Here is how the wax protects the fabric and helps to create the amazing patterns that we love, as well as the history behind the process.

What Is Batik?

First, you need to understand that African print fabric is generally a term used to describe a category of textiles made from 100% cotton fabric in vibrant colors that have prints added using wax resins and dyes. The effect is called batik, because both sides of the fabric showcase the beautiful patterns and colors.

Why are wax resins used? It reflects the fact that wax resists the dye, essentially protecting areas of the cloth from receiving different colors. The wax allows you to dye sections of the cloth but not others, thus creating a colorful pattern. You trace out the pattern with the wax, then dye the cloth. After it dries, you wax it again, and dip in the next color. The wax itself can crack, thus allowing color bleed, making every piece of fabric slightly unique. The fabrics that are created using this technique also tend to a somewhat glossy or waxy feeling surface.

Batik first started by using an etching tool, known as a canting, to hold a small amount of hot, liquid was. This tool allowed for intricate patterns to be created on the cloth. When done by hand, the process is painstaking and time consuming, but the result is amazing. Most wax African print fabric today are created using a machine, yet wax resins are still a critical part of the process.

The History of Batik

The truth is that this technique did not start in sub-Sahara Africa or even Holland. It actually began in ancient Egypt , as they used it to decorate cloths for the mummies. In the 6th century, the technique started being used by the Javanese. Then it moved to Indonesia. It was there that Europeans were introduced to batik. Western African soldiers also brought home Javanese fabrics to their wives.

The Dutch and English saw an opportunity to mass produce these popular fabrics, allowing more people to enjoy them. The industry of mass-produced batik was born, but the targeted market didn’t appreciate the patterns created by the wax. However, those in the industry did have a customer base. Who were they?

Making the Move to Africa

Although the idea of mass production was targeted to Indonesia, the truth was that the fabrics were more popular in Africa. The result is the fabrics’ colors and patterns were adapted to African preferences and a new market for batik was born and the production of quality African print fabric.

What made them really special to the Africans was the beautiful unique patterns that were created from the crackle effect of dye bleed. However, as the popularity of these fabrics soared, cheap imitations started to also flood the market. While shops see the profitability of these lower quality fabrics, they have also become a second-generation removed from the original idea of batik.

The Print Tells a Story

The use of wax in the dying process also helped the African print fabric maker to create a beautiful story, reflecting the history and culture of their specific tribe or region. In fact, when batik is done by hand, the process is seen as part of a larger artistic tradition. It is also a process that can be localized, allowing a shopkeeper or artisan to create a connection with her local customers’ beliefs, traditions, and desires.

Keep in mind, the tradition was not localized to West Africa, but other parts of the continent also had their own wax dying traditions, as well as weaving and the creation of kente cloth. No matter what type of African print fabric you enjoy wearing, there is uniqueness to the process that makes it special.

If you are looking for quality African print fabrics, then contact our team today to learn more about what we offer and to explore our latest selection.

With 20 years of experience in the African fabrics market, AKN Fabrics guarantees you the best product, selection, price and overall service. We are specialists in the finest fabrics from Holland, London, African Gambia, West Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, and India. We specialize in Jacquards, hand embroidery, silks, seersuckers, cottons, quilting fabrics various other West African fabrics.


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