The details: African Wax Print – a Textile Journey by Magie Relph and Robert Irwin, ISBN 978-0-9566982-0-9, published by Words and Pixels and available from the African Fabric Shop.
I have long been a fan of African textiles, especially the bright, bold prints, but knew nothing of their origins until I read this new book by Magie Relph, owner of The African Fabric shop, the on-line business where I buy my fabric. I had noted casually in my mind that they in some ways resembled the Javanese batik fabrics, but didn’t have a clue that they were related!
As I pre-ordered the book, it came wrapped in a fat quarter of vintage African wax print. Having now read the book I know how to tell that it is authentic, that it was made in the UK and that the reason this is written in French on the selvage is that it was destined for the parts of Africa which speak French! By chance, the piece I got is also featured in the book itself.
For the dyers amongst us, let me first say what this book is not – it is not a dyeing manual. It talks about the processes used today, but not the details of the techniques. What it is is an explanation of the history of African wax prints, how they are made today and their place in African society. And if that sounds dull – far from it!
After an introduction, the book is divided into 5 chapters: from batik to wax print, the making of African wax print, wax print designs, wax print in Africa and Inspired by Wax Print.
Relph and Irwin wear their scholarship lightly. There is a wealth of facts and figures, but they do not get in the way of a narrative. The first part of the book traces the history of the prints from the Javanese batiks, via England and Holland, to Ghana and beyond. The interconnections between continents in the Nineteenth Century are fascinating! As the story moves to the late Twentieth Century, the place of the prints in politics is noted, along with many details of the lives of the producers and sellers of the cloth.
The final section of the book is a selection of articles, mainly quilts, made by textile artists in the West using the fabrics. Throughout, there are lots and lots of excellent photos of both fabric details and the cloth being worn in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa. I love this book. It is interesting, informative, funny, thought provoking. And most of all, it has got me looking out my own stash of these fabrics and my sewing machine….
This was the first time I had submitted a piece for this type of book, and I was therefore very interested to see the result. It contains a selection of knitted neck-wear, with examples of everything except scarves. Most of the designs are suitable for beginners, and they vary from the immensely practical to the quirky and fun. Having seen the design brief I was slightly surprised that there wasn’t more in finer yarns, but I have no way of knowing whether this is because such designs were not selected, or simply not sent in. For those of you interested in such things, here is the page I sent in.
It asked for a swatch, but as I was playing with such things, and the structure was important and not easy to show on a swatch, I made the whole thing:…
And the pattern? Well, Jamieson and Smith have officially launched their new chunky Shetland yarn, so I have put up a pattern for a set of scarf, hat and mitts in 4 sizes.