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Kola & Indigo Hand-dyes

Hand-dyed cotton prints from The Gambia

The simple graphic depictions of African imagery have a wonderful naif feel. They are all created by our friend Musa Jaiteh in his family compound in Sukuta. Musa uses stitching, tying and wax stamping to create a resist before hand-dyeing with kola nut and indigo. All fabrics are 100% cotton, either damask or a light plain weave, as indicated. 

Note about colour: Because Musa's fabrics are all hand-dyed, there may be slight variations between batches and patterns. See also: Washing African Fabrics

Ordering lengths: Musa dyes in small batches of about 4.5 metres long. Therefore, the longest single uncut length we can offer is 4.5 metres. If you order more than 4.5 metres, your fabric will come in more than a single piece. If in doubt, please contact us.

Plain weave: 100% cotton. 80 cm / 32 in wide, approximately. Fat Quarters are 50 x 40 cm / 20 x 16 in.

Per Fat Quarter: £4.10     Per metre: £16.40  

Damask fabrics: 100% cotton, damask weave. 110 cm / 43 in wide, approximately. Fat Quarters are 50 x 56 cm / 20 x 22 in. 

Per Fat Quarter:  £4.60     Per metre: £18.40

More: About Musa's kola and indigo fabrics

About Musa's kola and indigo fabrics

We've been working with Musa Jaiteh in the village of Sukuta in The Gambia since 2001.

As far as we know, Musa is the only dyer left who still dyes fabrics using the traditional, natural dyes of the Senegambia region: kola nut and indigo.

Musa learned his craft from his father, who comes from the Fouta Djallon highlands of neighbouring Guinea, which is famous for its indigo cloth. In 2016, Musa travelled with us to Guinea to help us research local indigo techniques and buy indigo textiles.

Musa's dyes: kola nut and indigo

Kola nuts are culturally important all over West Africa. Fresh kola nut is chewed as a social activity. It shows great respect to give a handful of kola nut when you are received as a visitor. Old kola nuts that are too dry to chew are pounded with a mortar and pestal into a grainy paste, then mixed with water to create a dye stuff.

When he can get it, Musa prepares his indigo vat using the leaves of local indigo plants like the few he has growing near his compound. When indigo leaves are scarce, he augments his indigo vat with synthetic indigo from the local market.

Now here's a little known fact. Synthetic - or manmade - indigo is chemically and molecularly identical to the natural indigo obtained from indigo leaves. They do their job of dyeing fabric in exactly the same way and you can't tell the difference between them.

Wax resist batik

Many of Musa's designs are based on a simple process: wax + dye = batik.

Applying melted 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.

Musa melts wax in a pot over a charcoal fire and uses hand-carved wooden stamps to apply the wax to his cloth: this is a lot harder than it looks!

If he's mixing kola nut and indigo, he stamps in an alternating checkerboard pattern, then dyes with kola nut. After drying, he stamps a second time - this time in the blank spaces of the checkerboard - then overdyes with indigo.

If he's dyeing only with indigo, he only stamps once before dyeing. However, to achieve a deep depth of indigo, he'll perform numerous dips into the indigo vat - even as many as eight or ten times!

Tie and dye techniques

For many of his most complicated and appealing designs, Musa uses various tie and dye techniques to create a resist before dying, either in indigo alone or with kola nut as well.

To create his striped designs, he carefully pleats and ties up to 5 metres of fabric lengthwise before dyineg. He also ties the fabrics in numerous ways to create starburst and sunburst motifs, as well as stunning marbling effects.

Life in Musa's compound

Musa works and lives in his family compound in Sukuta, a village next to bussling Serrakunda, The Gambia's biggest town.

Life in the compound is never dull - or quiet!

Musa, his brother Osman and his extended family are always busy preparing or dyeing fabrics. As soon as school is out, the compound fills up with children playing tag, chasing footballs or picking up scraps of fabric and dyeing them in an old tin of discarded kola nut or indigo.

Using Musa's kola nut and indigo fabrics

Musa's fabrics are all 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 of our customers use them for patchwork and quilting.

With freshly dyed indigo, you can expect a ruboff of excess indigo, leaving you with blue hands. However, because of its unique chemical characteristics, indigo will not bleed into other fabrics. Over time, indigo will fade - just like your favourite pair of bellbottom blue jeans.

Fabric dyed with kola nut takes on varying shades of burnt orange. However, kola nut is not a very robust dye and will fade with excess washing and exposure to the sun. It is also a dusty dye, so you should clean your sewing machine after stitching.

Musa Jaiteh wax stamping in The GambiaMusa applying wax resist using a carved wooden stamp.
 
Musa Jaiteh tieing fabric in The GambiaMusa tieing a resist pattern into a 'rope' of fabric.
 
Pounding kola nut in The GambiaPounding kola nut for dyeing in Musa's compound.
 
Musa dipping fabric into indigo vatAfter first dyeing with kola nut, Musa dips his fabric into the indigo vat.
 
Musa unpicking kola nut and indigo fabricMusa unpicking kola nut and indigo fabric.
 
Young kola nut apprentice in Musa's compoundYoung kola nut apprentice in Musa's compound.
 
After school in Musa's compoundAfter school in Musa's compound.
 
Musa Jaiteh untieing kola nut fabricMusa Jaiteh untieing kola nut and indigo fabric: Sukuta, The Gambia

Kola Nut Adventure Pack Stamped Motifs
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from £19.50AKN100
Kola Nut Adventure Pack Stripes etc
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from £19.50AKN101
Kola and Indigo Inspiration Pack
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£19.30AKN102
Stamped Indigo Adventure Pack New
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from £22.00AKN103
Indigo Inspirations Large
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£29.60AIP001
Indigo Inspirations Small
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£21.90AIP002
Kenoo Tiles Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN210
Mansabaa Tiles Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN211
Muru Tiles Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN212
Bulloo Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN213
Fufu Tiles Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN214
Fufu Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN215
Jiyo Tiles Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN216
Suba Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN217
Kuntu Tiles Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN218
Kuntu Indigo Damask New
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£4.60FKN219
Indigo Stripe Damask
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£4.60FKN016
Indigo Damask
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£4.60FKN015
Greek Key
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£4.10FKN201
Five Spiral
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£4.10FKN202
Small Cowrie
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£4.10FKN203
Large Cowrie
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£4.10FKN204
Basket
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£4.10FKN205
Village Huts
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£4.10FKN206
Gecko
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£4.10FKN207
Ammonite
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£4.10FKN208
Virtually Black
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£4.10FKN125
Marble
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£4.10FKN130
Marble Cowrie
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£4.10FKN131
Marble Stripe
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£4.10FKN133
Kola and Indigo Stripe Plain Weave
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£4.10FKN128
Kola and Indigo Banded Stripe
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£4.10FKN129
Indigo Plain Weave
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£4.10FKN132
Indigo Stripe Plain Weave
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£4.10FKN127
Indigo Tiny Ties Panel
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£8.60FKP124
Indigo Tie-dyed Panel
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£9.90FKP128
Kola and Indigo Stripe Damask
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£4.60FKN014
Six Sunbursts Marble Panel
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£14.70FKP114
Small Ties Marble Panel
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£9.40FKP123
Large Sunburst Marble Panel
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£9.50FKP109
Large Diamond Panel
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£9.20FKP127
Six Sunbursts Panel
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£12.70FKP113
Stripe and Circles Panel
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£14.30FKP110
Small Ties Panel
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£11.90FKP111
 
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