African Wax Print Clothing Beginners Guide

What Is African Wax Print Fabric?

African Wax Print Fabric is also known as Ankara or Dutch Wax Prints. It’s commonly produced and used in West Africa. The fabrics are characterized by their bold use of bright colors and eye-catching patterns within the fabrics.

It’s traditionally used in celebration clothing, and previously was a type of nonverbal communication among African women. The prints are named after different aspects including personalities, cities, sayings, events and buildings.

African wax print clothing

Where Is Wax Print Fabric Popular?

Wax print fabric is popular around the globe, but is particularly popular in parts of West Africa like Ghana and Nigeria.

What’s Special About African Wax Prints?

A feature of African wax print is that the color is as intense on both sides, there’s no difference between the ‘front’ and the ‘back’ of the fabric.

Usually the name of the producer, product and registration number of the design is printed on the selvage of the fabric, earmarking its design and quality.

Genuine African wax print is usually printed onto 100% cotton, making it breathable and cooling as well as protecting the body from the sun and other weather elements.

How is African Wax Print Fabric Made?

The process of African wax print was inspired by Indonesian batik, a method of dying cloth using wax-resistant techniques. To do this, wax is melted and patterned across blank cloth. This cloth is then soaked in dye, which the wax blocks. This is repeated on the cloth to create additional patterns and designs. 

How is African Wax Print Fabric Made

African Wax Print fabric is now often made industrially. The fabric is sorted into categories of quality depending on production and usage. Some African-inspired prints are now printed digitally. These are not, strictly-speaking, true wax print fabrics and will usually be much cheaper as they do not require the same craftsmanship.

How Is Wax Print Fabric Sold?

Normally, the fabrics are sold in lengths of 12 yards (11 m) as "full piece" or 6 yards (5.5 m) as "half piece". People may decide to club together to buy a larger piece of fabric to create multiple different outfits from the same cloth.

The History of African Wax Print Fabric

The technique of African wax print fabric is based on batik from Indonesia. It was brought to Africa by Dutch settlers who had previously been in Indonesia. The settlers then worked to create machines that could replicate the traditional designs of batik quicker and more cost-effectively. 

wax printing fabrics

These were not successful in the region but became popular in Africa. The success and popularity of the fabrics led to them becoming integrated into African apparel, used as a method of communication and expression. Some patterns were a shared language with widely understood meaning and catchy names.

Traditionally the fabric traders were women from fairly humble beginnings who went on to become self-made women as a result of their success in the industry.

Over time, the prints became more African-inspired and owned by African people. The patterns started to become worn as formal wear by leaders, diplomats and wealthy African people.

Modern African Wax Print

In Ghana, many people wear wax print fabrics on Friday as the government began a campaign to get people to wear national dress to support the local textile industry. One of the challenges is that many of the fabrics are not made in Africa, and are instead cheaper imports from overseas.

Modern African wax prints

Supporting African-made fabric that is actually traditional wax print is important as it protects the expertise and skill in the manufacture process and ensures that traditions are kept alive.

Today, wax print clothing can be worn in any style and any clothing or accessory time. There are no limitations to how the fabric is used to create fashion items. Dressmakers, designers and hobbyists across the world use wax print fabric to create their garments - it’s even used in interior design and on toys.

How to Wear Wax Prints?

The great thing about wax prints is that they’re extremely beautiful as well as versatile and easy to wear. They make the perfect statement in any outfit, home or accessory. You can even mix and match prints and different wax print designs for a bold, traditional look.

African material

Wax prints look amazing for celebrations (such as weddings, parties or graduation) and work really well as a dress, top, skirt or jacket to add color to an otherwise neutral outfit. They can also be worn as a range of accessories including belts, bonnets, scarves, purses and tote bags.

They work perfectly for more casual outfits too including pyjamas or sleepwear, dressed-down tops, sweats and caps. It really is as versatile and multi-purpose as that.

Because there are so many different fabrics, styles, patterns and color combinations available you can really create a bold, unique look with wax print fabrics so that you can showcase your own sense of style.

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