Fashion • Lifestyle

Adire – Africa‘s gem at cloth dyeing

23 Oct, 2017 • by Anaïs Sánchez
Adire – Africa‘s gem at cloth dyeing
Anaïs Sánchez
Written by Anaïs Sánchez

Adire is a unique technique for dyeing cloth, which is produced in the south west of Nigeria by the Yoruba women. To achieve the look, they use the resist-dyeing method, by using substances that resist the dye (wax, mud, starch, some kind of paste) and this way creating beautiful designs. The earliest clothes did not have very sophisticated designs to them, however, after the large shipment of shirting material in the beginning of the 20th century has allowed for the designs to progress. Due to the spread of European textile merchants, the women of Yoruba could now be artists and entrepreneurs in a new growing sector.

New techniques for adire have been emerging since then, such as – using metal stencils to create the designs, gathered from a tin that was found in tea-chests. Other methods included using sewn raffia in the sections of tied cloth, while others were just folded repeatedly to achieve the look. Most of the designs were named and the most popular ones were: Olukun (stands for ‘goddess of the sea‘), jubilee pattern (first dedicated for the jubilee of George V and Queen Mary, 1935) and Ibadadun (translates as ‘Ibadan is happy or sweet‘).

The adire dyeing technique was thriving and attracting a lot of buyers from West Africa in the 1920‘s-30‘s, however, by the end of the decade adire‘s demand was slopping. This was due to the spread of the synthetic material, soda and the new entrants to the craft that have really affected the quality of the technique, from which it has not recovered. The more complex designs were being produced way until 1970‘s, however, despite the support of US Peace Corp workers, it did not make a comeback.

As for today, the adire dyeing technique still continues to exist, but it does not have the same popularity as it once had. Nevertheless, the quality has improved, as they now use better tie-dye and stitch-resist designs, together with simpler stencils. However, finding real and good examples of older cloth styles has become a challenge in Nigeria and in a few years time, these indigo clothing designs can disappear altogether.

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