Ankara, also known as African print, and Dutch wax is a 100% cotton fabric with vibrant patterns, known for its tribal-like patterns and motifs. It is a very versatile fabric most often associated with Africa.
The story behind African print fabrics and prints might interest you whether you need to tell a story with your African print outfit or take your style to a new level.
Despite its reputation as an African fabric, Ankara was neither first made or designed in Africa. The Dutch had full control of its production from the beginning and they manufactured the print for the Indonesian market.
Due to chance or design, these prints attracted significantly more interest in West African countries like Ghana and Nigeria than in Indonesia. Recognizing this opportunity the Dutch decided to focus on West Africa. During the 20th century, African countries gained independence and built their own textile factories to produce textiles with traditional African designs. The prints have since evolved to what you see today and have truly come to reflect African culture and lifestyle.
Following are the steps involved in making African print fabric industrially today by African artisans:
Cotton yarn is first spun and woven into grey cloth that is stiff and dirty. Bleaching is then performed on the cloth to clean it and remove impurities. Once the cloth has been bleached it is strengthened and stretched to suit your needs.
CAD software is used to design the prints in black and white. At the end of the production process, two or three colours are added to the cloth. There are usually a number of different colourways for each print design.
Melted, molten wax is used to print the design onto both sides of the cloth after engraving it onto copper rollers. The wax used is a natural product derived from pine tree resin.
Next, In an indigo dye bath, the exposed parts of the cloth are dyed, and the resin-covered parts are resisted. In addition, this process can cause fine cracks to form in the wax, which can allow a small amount of dye to penetrate.
After that, specific machinery is used to crack the wax accordingly to produce desired effects like bubbles and marbling.
A large, industrial printing machine is used to add solid colours to the design either before or after the wax is removed from the cloth.
Some designs are carved onto wooden blocks and then hand printed on fabric (block printing).
This colouration process is key to producing the highly distinctive and vibrant colours of the Ankara print.
In order to ensure colour fastness, the cloth is then washed to remove all wax residues and excess dyes.
The type of finish applied to the cloth depends on the intended outcome. Sometimes, the fabric can appear shiny, but this disappears after the first wash.
Fabrics with certain finishings can be more expensive because of how they are finished at the end of the manufacturing process.
The wax printing process makes it impossible to make every piece of cloth look exactly the same, so each piece is truly unique.