Cloth is the big shopping item in Ghana. It is given as gifts to graduates, new brides, and is the best way to show reciprocity. You do not go to the market to buy clothes; you go to get your own fabric to take to the local tailor. Or, if you are really cool, you can make your own cloth.
Batiking, or stamping fabric known as adinkra cloth, was one of my favorite activities on the mid semester retreat. We learned this traditional craft from a little picturesque shop on the beach at Cape Coast called Emma and Elli’s. These two women were very helpful and friendly, ensuring no one ruined their fabric, and also gave us a group discount! With their help and expertise we were able to design unique fabric patterns of our own.
Here is how it works:
1. Choose a piece of plain cloth the color that you want your design to end up being. The main color of your fabric will change depending on what color you dye it later.
2. Choose two symbols. This was hard for me and my apprehension. There are so many symbols in Ghana, so choose wisely! These symbols were found on sponges. The designs were carved into the sponge by using a razor blade cut in half on a diagonal. Traditionally they used cassavas instead of sponges.
3. Fold your cloth symmetrically so that the folds create lines to mark where you will stamp.
4. Swish your sponge into hot paraffin wax, shake it off a lit bit so that it is not clumpy, and then stamp.
Make sure you are wearing long pants that are okay to get dirty so that you do not burn your legs. Set the sponge down level to the cloth. Do not press too hard (as Nate discovered), or your will get a big wax blob.
5. After you have finished stamping, put on a pair of gloves and get a bucket. Mix together your preferred color of dye, hydrochloric powder, and another chemical that will make the pores of the fabric open up to take in the dye. Work the cloth like you are doing laundry for several minutes to make sure the coloring is even. It is a lot like dying an Easter egg. Just a tip, if you select a dark cloth to begin with, make sure you pick an even darker dye.
6. Once you have dyed your cloth, transfer it to a cauldron of boiling water. Do not panic if your cloth is not the color you selected. The color comes out in the drying process. The hot water will cause the wax to melt off and float to the top. Scoop off the wax and you can reuse it for another day.
7. After the wax has been removed, move your cloth into a bucket of cold water, stirring it until the dye is set.
8. If you want a more intricate design, you can stamp your cloth again. This is how you get the three-color tones on most Ghanaian fabrics.
9. When you remove your cloth from the cold water, move it onto a line to air dry for a few hours. Here your colors will start to pop out. (The one below is mine!)
10. For best results, wash your fabric in some vinegar so that the colors do not bleed into your other clothes. It also helps your batiked fabric stay bright and vibrant.
I am excited to try this again at home. It is a long process, but well worth it when you take the cloth off the line. It is why Ghana is known for such unique fabrics, particularly their beautiful funeral clothes, and it puts tie-dye to shame. This and kente cloth weaving are the two main traditional crafts that are still very popular today.
Photo credits go to Myra. Again.
(Field Notes 51.1)