The Bold and Colorful World of African Print Fabric

African print fabric is very popular not just in Africa but around the world too. Several fashion designers, celebrities, and personalities have included this unique fabric design in their collections. These fabrics possess a certain degree of boldness, richness, and lively appearance that complement one’s look on any occasion.

The African print fabric is hugely popular, owing to its many intricate yet lovely patterns and designs, which we commonly see. 

It’s no wonder fashion designer Belinda Compah-Keyeke said in a CNN interview that African print serves as a first introduction to African culture for many people. 

Overview of African Print Fabric

African Fabrics

African print fabric is 100% cotton with a bold and vibrant color pattern. This fabric comes in different styles and patterns, and the designs printed on this fabric could be flowers, geometric patterns, plants, birds, shapes, and many others.

An interesting feature of the African print fabric is its vibrant colors. The fabric is instantly recognized due to its bold solid colors, patterns, and motifs.

The print designs on these fabrics are created with a certain level of uniqueness, and newer patterns are introduced from time to time so fashionistas can have more stunning prints to look forward to.

African print fabrics are also extremely versatile; you can use this fabric to make various clothing items. It also helps that these fabrics are made of 100% cotton, a natural fiber that makes you look and feel good.

African Print Fabrics Through The Years

Surprisingly, the African print fabric was first made in Indonesia. However, African fabrics have been around since the ancient Egyptians started growing flax and weaving it into linen.

When the Dutch colonized Indonesia, Dutch merchants discovered batik fabrics and took samples to the Netherlands. In 1846, there was an extreme increase in demand for printed cotton, so a Dutch entrepreneur, Pieter Fentener Van Vlissingen, quickly made up a mechanized method to make prints on batiks to increase its availability.

Vlisco, Pieter’s company, introduced these cotton fabrics to Ghana, which made the fabric gain its African identity.

Over the years, technological advancement has made the African print fabric readily available. Many African designers have contributed and still contribute a lot to the evolution of these fabrics by adding modern touches making them more popular daily.

How is African Print Fabric Made? 

The process involved in producing African print fabric involves; Firstly, preparation.

Preparation is the first step involved in the production of African print fabric. Raw cotton fibers are used as raw materials in this step and spun into yarns to weave a gray cloth. The gray-colored cloth is then bleached to get rid of all its impurities and become white.

Next comes designing, where the desired print you would like on the fabric is designed first on a computer in a black and white form using CAD software. Generally, each print design is made in a variety of different colorways.

After designing, is the wax printing. This step involves engraving the print design gotten in the earlier step on a pair of copper rollers. After that, the design will then be printed on the already-produced white cloth.

Typically, this design printing uses natural molten wax from pine tree resin.

After wax printing on the cloth, then the cloth is inserted into an indigo dye bath. The resin-covered sections of the fabric will resist the dye, and the remaining exposed part will be dyed.

Next is the crackling effect stage, where a machine is used to intentionally crack the wax to create different effects, such as marbling and bubbles.

The fabrics are later colored by printing machines used to add two or three solid colors to the print design. At this stage, the vibrant and energetic colors of the African print fabric are created. 

In some cases, part of the design might require block printing, and with this, the design will be carved onto a wooden block and applied to the fabric using hands. 

After all that, the fabric is gently washed to remove the wax residues and extra dye and ensure the proper color standards are met.

Finishing comes after washing and drying the fabric. There are different fabric finishes, and the type applied to African print fabric largely depends on the desired outcome. 

Some African Print Fabric Types You’ll Commonly See 

These are some of the different African print fabric types out there. We will discuss some of them below.

  • Ankara

You could almost say that Ankara is the most popular type of African print fabric. It is also known as African wax print, Dutch wax print, and Kitenge and comes with different colorful and vibrant prints, some of which represent African culture and tell different stories.

This fabric print has been popular in the U.S since the 1970s when hip-hop culture became a thing. You can use the Ankara fabric to create different fashion items, from dresses, scarves, bags, and shoes to many others.

  • Adire
Adire fabric

The Adire fabric is another type of African print fabric. It’s commonly identified with the Yoruba people of Nigeria. “Adire” means tie and dye in the Yoruba language.

This indigo-dyed textile was first developed in Mali in the 16th century, after which the Yoruba women in the southwestern part of Nigeria adopted it. Over the years, the craft has evolved, and different styles of Adire have been created.

Adire styles can be blended into custom-made or tailored clothes. No matter your pick, the print fabric turns out beautifully.

  • Bogolan
Bogolan fabric

Bogolan is also referred to as Mudcloth and is one African print fabric made using extracts of dried plants, fruits, and roots as dyes.

Weavers typically make Bogolan from the Bambara tribe in Mali. It is an environmentally-friendly fabric and is suitable for all skin types as it doesn’t involve the use of any dangerous chemicals.

Bogolan fabric is used extensively to make clothing items, home decor pieces, and upholstery fabrics.

  • Shweshwe
Shweshwe Fabric
Image by dea_ann_designs

The Shweshwe type of African print fabric involves using complex geometric patterns to make fabrics in different colors and print designs.

The fabric is popularly used as traditional clothing in South Africa and got its name from its connection with Lesotho’s King Moshoeshoe I.

This African print fabric is popular and used to create modern fashion pieces.

  • Kikoy
Kikoy Throw Pillows

The Kikoy African print fabric is uniquely handmade from cotton yarn by tribes in Tanzania and Kenya.

The fabric is used to make dresses, scarves, skirts, shirts, bedspreads, and home decoration pieces.

  • Kente
Kente fabric

Kente is another popular type of African print fabric, and the fabric originated in Ghana and is widespread across Western Africa. The Kente was produced by weavers from Ghanaian tribes using the strip weaving method.

The fabric used to be originally worn by kings and royals. It’s now used not only for clothing but also for accessories and home decoration pieces.

What’s The Cost of Purchasing African Print Fabric Per Yard?

The cost of African print fabric can be impacted by several factors like fabric weight, fiber type, design, colorfastness, etc. That’s why it’s important to understand these variables while shopping for African print fabric. 

You can get a yard of Ankara African print for as low as $4 and as high as $50. The average cost of Kente African fabric is $5 to $10.

Quality Adire print fabric costs about $10 per yard, and with $15, you can get a yard of the Bogolan fabric. 

How African Print Fabric Is Used

There are different users and applications for the African print fabric. Some of them are:

  • Clothing
Adire Kids Gown

You’ll commonly see African print fabric primarily used for clothing purposes. The different types of African print fabric are used in making dresses, skirts, shirts, and even pants and dungarees.

You can combine these beautiful African print pieces with modern ones to make a statement look.

  • Shoes and bags
 African Print Bag

Asides from clothing items, African print fabric is also used in making shoes and bags to complement your dresses or add a fantastic pop of color to your overall look.

They can be used in making a pair of heels and even clutches, depending on what you like.

  • Accessories
Ankara Headband

One advantage of African print fabric is its extreme versatility, and the fabric serves different fashion purposes. You can use this fabric for various accessories, such as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and scarves.

African fabric print can also be used to make belts and bow ties for men looking to add exciting colors to formal attires to complement their look.

  • Soft furnishings
Ankara Throw Pillows

The African print fabric is widely adopted as upholstery and soft furnishing fabric. Ankara, for example, can create an energetic and eclectic look around your home.

Caring For African Print Fabrics  

As versatile and useful as the African print fabric, it needs to be well taken care of properly for it to last long and maintain its elegance.

Some African print fabric care and maintenance tips you could try include:

  • While washing this fabric, you need to turn it inside out and avoid using extremely hot water to prevent damage to the dye or cotton.
  • Only use a mild detergent or bar soap while laundering the fabric and avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals.
  • You should only clean the part that needs to be cleaned. If the whole fabric does not require cleaning, you shouldn’t wash it. Overwashing causes the fabric’s fibers to become weak and results in ripping. 
  • Do not dry African print fabric under direct sunlight or any other direct heat source to prevent the material from fading or shrinkage.
  • You ought to store African print fabric in a cool, dry, and dark place to prevent moisture buildup on the fabric. 

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