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Hand-dyed African Batiks

Hand-dyed in West Africa

Most of our hand-dyed  batiks come from Ghana and The Gambia. Over the years we have developed wonderful friendships with many talented local dyers and batik artists.

We try to identify each fabric with the maker's name and many of our customers come back looking for fabrics by specific dyers.

All fabrics are 100% cotton. Some are a subtly woven damask; others are plain-weave cotton, as indicated.  Dressmaking/craft weight: 150 grams per metre, approximately.

Fabrics are 115 cm / 45 in wide, approximately. Fat Quarters are 50 x 55 cm / 20 x 22 in, approximately.

Hand-dyed batiks: Per Fat Quarter: £4.80     Per metre: £19.20

More: About hand-dyed African batik

About hand-dyed African batik

Hand-dyed batiks are produced in many countries in West Africa. We source most of our batiks in Ghana and The Gambia. Occasionally we buy elsewhere on our travels.

We buy directly from the makers - mostly women - who create their stunning fabrics in sometimes basic conditions in their family compounds. The work is hot and hard, but the fabrics are delicious!

Wax + dye = batik

The batik process in Africa - as elsewhere in the world, notably Java - is simple in theory, but complex in practice.

First, the theory. Wax + dye = batik. Applying wax to fabric creates a resist which dye cannot penetrate. Where there is wax, the fabric stays the colour it was before going into the dye vat. Where there is no wax, the dye colours the fabric.

Now, the practice. African batik makers use a variety of techniques and tools to apply their wax, including carved foam rubber and wooden stamps, sticks, combs, feathers and various brushes. They might drip wax from on high or splatter it with a whisk broom.

One layer of wax would be simple and so would the design. Add more layers of wax - sometimes as many as five - with a different coloured dye-dip between each waxing and the cloth becomes more complicated and appealing. That's the art of batik, African style!

The dyers use other techniques as well, including tieing and stitching to create a resist.

Meet some of our favourite batik makers

Esther Amate is a talented and experienced batik artist in Accra, Ghana. We've known Esther for more than ten years and her designs and colours are consistantly amazing. Esther uses foam rubber stamps in many of her designs: her wall of stamps just grows and grows! Esther's workshop is a family affair, with her daughter and son-in-law closely involved in production.

Grace Adover has been on the Accra batik scene for at least as long as Esther and has an equally devoted following - including The African Fabric Shop. Grace's workshop employs several skilled dyers and apprentices who are constantly innovating - under Grace's close scrutiny, of course.

Neneh Jallow in The Gambia is another of our favourite batik makers. She makes very special painted batiks, as well as wonderful tied stripes and marbled fabrics in colour combos that are both subtle and incredible.

Great for clothing - perfect for patchwork

Our batiks are all high quality, 100% cotton. Some are on plain weave cotton, others on a subtle damask weave. In Africa, these fabrics are used mainly for clothing and tailoring. Many or our customers use them for patchwork and quilting.

Esther Amate stamping batik Accra GhanaGhanaian batik: Esther Amate applying wax using a foam rubber stamp.
Batik dye vat Accra GhanaOut of the dye vat: African batik fabrics dripping with colour.
Grace Adover batik Accra GhanaGrace Adover in her batik emporium: Accra, Ghana.
Neneh Jallow batik maker The GambiaNeneh Jallow: stunning batiks from The Gambia.
Batik jacket by Brett de JagerBatik jacket © Brett de Jager.

Handpainted batiks: Per Half Metre: £16.00     Per metre: £32.00

More: About handpainted African batiks

About Neneh's handpainted African batiks

Many people - including us - consider Neneh Jallow the best batik artist in The Gambia. We first discovered Neneh's fantastic fabrics in 2001 and we've been working with her ever since.

Around Neneh's compound in the village of Lamin, painting batik fabrics is a family affair. Alongside Neneh, the buzz of creative activity includes her husband Modou and several apprentices drawn from her extended family.

Wax + dye = batik

The batik process in Africa - as elsewhere in the world, notably Java - is simple in theory.

Wax + dye = batik. Applying wax to fabric creates a resist which dye cannot penetrate. Where there is wax, the fabric stays the colour it was before going into the dye vat. Where there is no wax, the dye colours the fabric.

Why are Neneh's batiks are so special?

This is where it gets complicated.

Each separate colour and each separate design motif of the batiked fabric requires it's own separately applied layer of wax.

Neneh starts with a length of plain, undyed cotton damask fabric, usually about 4 metres long. The process for each and every layer goes like this.

For more complicated designs, she sketches a general layout onto the fabric with pencil.

Meanwhile, a pot of wax is melting in a pot over the fire. When the wax is ready, Neneh uses a brush to apply molten wax to the fabric - literally painting wax to create her first layer of design.

Once the wax hardens, Neneh dips her fabric into the first layer of dye, usually the lightest colour.

She dries the fabric in the sun before moving on to the next layer and the next colour.

Returning to her wax pot, Neneh paints the fabric with another layer of wax, creating another layer of design on top of the first one.  Then, she overdyes her fabric in the second colour.

And so it goes: waxing, dyeing and drying - layer after layer - for up to five layers.

Once the fabric has been completely waxed and dyed, Neneh has to get rid of all that wax. She dips the waxed fabric into a vat of very hot water and swirls it around. The hot water melts the wax, which goes into solution in the water - more about that coming up. Then, she dips the fabric quickly and repeatedly into a vat of cold water, before hanging the now finished fabric to dry.

Finally, she fills and old fashioned iron with hot coals and presses her fabric ready for market - or for the African Fabric Shop.

As you can imagine, all of this takes a lot of time and patience, which is what handpainted batik is all about.

Recycling the wax

Batik making is an expensive business. Aside from the cloth and dyes, Neneh uses a lot fire wood and a lot of wax. She works hard to recycle as much wax as possible by boiling and cooling her rinse water to salvage what wax she can and also by scraping excess wax off of her work tables. Every little bit helps her save money.

Neneh's design techniques

For a few of her more simple designs, Neneh can save time by applying her wax through a stencil cut from old x-ray film. But the majority of designs are too complicated for that, so she paints every line freehand using a paintbrush.

One feature of Neneh's handpainted batiks that really sets them apart is the splatter effect. Neneh dips a broad brush or whisk broom into her wax, then holding the brush above the fabric she snaps her wrist, splattering the fabric with tiny droplets of wax - kind of like wax rain. Absolutely stunning!

Great for clothing - perfect for patchwork

Neneh's batiks are all high quality, 100% damask weave cotton.

The fabrics drape beautifully, making them perfect for tailoring and dressmaking. They're also great for table cloths, napkins, curtains and other furnishing applications.

Many of our customers use them for patchwork and quilting.

Handpainted batik: Neneh displays a finished piece featuring her splatter technique.
Handpainted batik: Neneh's husband Modou painting wax resist onto fabric.
Handpainted batik: Neneh splattering fabric with wax to create a resist.
Neneh mixing dyes.
Neneh dipping fabric into dye vat.
Neneh rinsing wax out of cloth using hot water.
Neneh removes finished handpainted batik from cold rinse water.
We always have a great Gambian lunch at Neneh's.
Grace Adover batik studio AccraApplying wax to batik at Grace Adover's workshop: Accra, Ghana

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Batik Adventure Pack Rainbow
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from £23.00ABA001
Indigo Stripe Damask
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Indigo Damask
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Batik Adventure Pack Sunset
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from £23.00ABA006
Batik Adventure Pack River
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from £23.00ABA005
Batik Adventure Pack Rainforest
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from £23.00ABA003
Batik Adventure Pack Savannah
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from £23.00ABA004
Batik Adventure Pack Indigo
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from £23.00AKN103
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