African print/Ankara fabric

The process to make 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 colors are required, the wax-and-soak process is repeated with new patterns.

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, received examples 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 outcompete the original batiks in the Indonesian market, effecting the look of batik without all the labor-intensive work required to make the real thing.

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. 

The Dutch wax prints quickly integrated themselves into African apparel, sometimes under names such as “Veritable Dutch Hollandais,” and “Wax Hollandais”. Women used the fabrics as a method of communication and expression, with certain patterns being used as a shared language, with widely understood meanings. Many patterns began receiving catchy names. Over time, the prints became more African-inspired, and African-owned by the mid-twentieth century. They also began to be used as formal wear by leaders, diplomats, and the wealthy population.

Shweshwe from South Africa

Shweshwe is manufactured with an acid discharge and roller printing technique on pure cotton calico.  The fabric is manufactured in various colours including the original indigo, chocolate brown and red, in a large variety of designs including florals, stripes, and diamond, square and circular geometric patterns.

Previously imported to South Africa from Europe, the trademarked fabric has been manufactured by Da Gama Textiles in the Zwelitsha township outside King William's Town in the Eastern Cape since 1982. In 1992 Da Gama Textiles bought the sole rights to Three Cats, the most popular brand of the fabric made by Spruce Manufacturing Co. Ltd in Manchester, and the original engraved copper rollers were shipped to South Africa. Da Gama Textiles has made shweshwe from cotton imported from Zimbabwe and grown locally in the Eastern Cape.

THERESA COTTON

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