What is Adire Fabric? History and How It’s Made

What’s Adire fabric? What’s its history and how is it made? Have you ever found a shirt, a blouse, dress – whatever- that made you pause and look again? A cloth so peculiar that you cannot help but wonder how it ended up where it was? That, is the beauty of Adire fabric. This Nigerian textile art is like a beautiful snapshot of creativity captured in cloth, and artistic combination of deep blue color with crisp white that reflects a rich tradition, dexterity and pride of tradition.
However, Adire is not just a beauty Queen ‘Pretty’ to look at. It has a tradition in its production, the method of creation which is unique and is passed from generation to generation. Therefore, it is time to unwrap the story of Adire fabric: where it comes from, how it is produced, and why it remains popular in the modern world of fashion.

What is Adire Fabric?

Adire for example is not just a beautiful cloth that one can wear, it is much more than that. It is a living example of people’s creativity and the presentation of their cultures. ”Adire” originated from the Yoruba language of south west Nigeria and translated literally as “tie and dye”. And true to this name, it is a fabric that has been tie and dyed.

Adire fabric on display

Adire fabric on display

Now picture yourself having a white piece of cloth then turning it into art-work full of swirls, dots, lines? That is what makes Adire , Adire. Some commonly known techniques that the artisans use when making the pattern is to ensure that specific areas of the cloth are not exposed to the dye. The result? A harmonious use of color and design, as beautiful as it can get, which has elements of Nigerian influence.

History of Adire

Everyone is aware that Adire is not some contemporary clothing style. It went as far back as the mid 19th century though it was instituted in Nigeria. This type of textile art is pioneered by the Yoruba speaking ethnic group found in the southwestern part of Nigeria.

Once upon a time, Adire was not merely an outfit; it was so much more than that. To an extent it was non-verbal communication. A pattern over another represented a message pertaining to family history, the status or what was happening in the current society. This was as if you personally had the news or were the part of the family history narrated by the garment.

First, Adire was a cultural craft noted for women, particularly, which is inherited from one generation to the other, specifically through the female line. This is in cantonments they will sit and share on how they do it and gossiped as they dyed clothes. However, the involvement of men in this act also began after some time.

Adire fashion was most prominent in the early 20th century. By and by new dyes and fabrics became imported which helped the craft magnificently in the process. Adire, however, was not only becoming popular and mostly part of culture, but soon it was trending not only in Nigeria but across the whole of West Africa.

How Adire is Made

Now, let us go deep in looking at the specific details of Adire production. It is not a piece of cake to do, but anyone can do it with little amount of effort and a good eye for design.

Step 1: Preparing the Fabric

Okay, first of all, you have to start from scratch, and this means that you need a clean slate. Traditionally, this referred to locally produced cotton fabric weaves made by hand. Today, artisans employ factory-spun cotton very much to make the cloth. The fabric is washed so that any dirt or chemicals likely to interfere with dyeing is washed out.

Step 2: Creating the Resist

This is where it gets interesting. The resist patterns can be introduced traditionally but there are three approaches that can be used to achieve the above mentioned goals or steps of photolithography:

  1. Tie-dye (Adire Oniko): This is done by pinching it or folding it and then tying it with raffia or string to create a secure knot.
  2. Stitch-resist (Adire Alabere): Patterns are sown on to the fabrics with broad thread material.
  3. Starch-resist (Adire Eleko): Cassava paste is spread over fabric through stencils or direct drawing on the material in whatever design desired.

Step 3: Dyeing the Fabric

Once the resist is set, it is time to soak. The cloth is submerged naked into a dye container, more often than not an indigo one. This is not a five second submersion – the cloth can spend hours or days in this solution to get black like that.

Step 4: Revealing the Pattern

After this, the cloth must be rinsed and treated to see the final result that the dye creates. Loops are loosened, the knots unwound or, in the case of the starchy garments, the stiffening cleaned off. Just like magic, the patterns that have been hidden are revealed in white, clear against the blue color of the background.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

This final wash helps to fix the dye on the fabric and at the same time conditions it. Certain artisans may use bleach to etch a few more designs, or paint other colors over the fabric.

Adire Fabric Today

Adire is not a patriarchal or a slave to tradition in any way. It is not dormant and is very much active in contemporary Nigerian fashion. It was observed that designers are giving new looks to conventional prints, and they are opting for different shades of the fabric. Today you might see Adire in fashion shows in Lagos or in shops in London.

Adire fashion

Adire fashion

However, the idea is not confined to style and beauty alone. Adire thus, enables Nigerian people to put on their histories, and it symbolizes culture. It is also giving people employment opportunities and sustaining crafts in an ever-shifting culture.

Well the next time you run into some piece of Adire fabric then you please take the time to marvel at it. Just as it is not merely a fabric material but a story wound with threads and coloured with dye, I feel a part of me or arguably, at least, a small piece of Nigeria.


About Mfonobong Daniel

Daniel is a seasoned content writer and the content manager at Ankara. He is a lover of books, creative writing, with a penchant for poetry and music. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

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