There’s no question that Cait and I are textile-philes. And in some wonderful universe, we’d have some beautiful antique trunks filled to the brim. In reality, there’s a tiny carry-on suitcase and a bunch of plastic bags in the corner of my home office.
One of the most common types of material I’ve brought back are wax prints in its many shapes and colours. You might also know wax prints by their local names: batik (Indonesia), kitenge (East Africa), and ankara (West Africa). And they all share a common bond: Dutch colonialism. Originating from wax printing practices in Java, early globalization spread this printing technique all the way to Africa where local patterns, cotton weaving techniques and social hierarchies all intermixed to produce the textiles we now characterize with traditional African design (read more about it here). A few centuries on, I’m certain that I have some sort of pathological addiction to collecting these guys.
So after this most recent Kenya trip (I know I promised no more Kenya posts) a new bounty on my hands, and I knew I had to start making something of it before the pile got out of control. So I dumped out all of the wax prints I collected and started sketching out some ideas on my Wacom tablet. Just to warn you, these hands are not as skilled as Cait’s.
Most kitenge lovers in East Africa will tell you that they get their best stuff from Tanzania. Alissa brought back some mighty fine bolts for us from her sojourn to Dar-Es-Salaam this year. But when I was wandering through Toi Market and stumbled upon Maureen and her collection of cheaper quality (and priced for a steal), but wonderfully patterned Mombasa kitenge, I knew I could make something of it. While these bolts of fabric have a lower thread count and feel a bit rougher to the touch, they are still 100% cotton and oh so light in weight (they also get way softer after you throw them in the laundry). This means they’re perfect for hot season in south east Asia. And even better lithe, flowy tops I could throw onto a pencil skirt or pair of skinnies.
It was love at first sight when I laid my eyes on this Javanese birdy print at a kitenge vendor in downtown Nairobi. I’m a fan of fashion design that is simple andunderstated in cut, overstated in pattern, and always functional. Wrap dress this will be.
That same kitenge seller in downtown Nairobi also had a a huge supply of beauties from Nigeria. West African ankara are more likely to have motifs and colour patterns that make the print look and feel like its a living organism. I loved what I saw here and I’ve been beyond envious of this Lauren Winter wrap around jumpsuit that Molly’s been rocking. This is my “very hot weather” take on it.
I picked up this party of indigo and yellow on a trip to Uganda three years ago. And then it sat around, waiting to be turned into a strapless party dress. The poor thing is so loved. I think I just can’t bear to seal its fate. But then Cait started talking about dropped hems. Sorry babe, but it looks like you’re about to get cut up and stitched back together.
All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.