Africans are known for their distinctive traditional attires and before the infusion of western fabrics, African-made fabrics were the norm. Western civilization brought along with it a shift in mindset which led many Africans to abandon their traditional fabrics in preference of Western ones.
However, African fabrics are slowly making a comeback as more people recognize their uniqueness, and consider it a symbol of African ingenuity. In this article, we will talk about the African dyed brocade, the different types and the dyeing techniques that have been passed down several generations.
What Is A Dyed Brocade And How Are They Made
Brocades are generally woven materials that come in different patterns, embroideries, and colors, making each one unique. It is often associated with high class, royalty, affluence and is mostly used for sophisticated upholstery and religious garments. African brocades are 100% cotton and soft to the touch. But perhaps the most distinctive feature of the African brocade is the finished product.
Many techniques go into making the finished product and the final cost of the material depends on the complexity of the process(es) employed in making it. Some of the processes involved are embroidering, knotting, folding, painting, wax-stamping, dyeing, and, finally, banging the cloth to a shine with clubs made from shea tree wood. In West Africa, the hand-dying process is prevalent and the hand-dyed brocade is sought after especially among the elites.
Common Hand Dyeing Techniques Used In Making The African Dyed Brocade
There are three hand techniques commonly used by African dyers. Here we will take a look at each of these techniques and their origin.
#1. Mud-Dyeing Technique
Mud dyeing is a technique that originates from Mali and is said to date as far back as the 12th Century. As one of the oldest dyeing techniques, the knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. And the process which is more of a ritual has to be followed precisely to achieve the desired outcome. In this technique, the fabric is first prepared by soaking in a dark-colored solution of Bogolon leaves a tree that is native to Mali. This will make the Mud dye adhere well to the fabric.
The Mud dye itself is prepared traditionally by fermenting iron mud for up to a year. The mud is carefully and laboriously applied on the fabric (repeatedly) using sticks or feathers when ready. After which the material is washed to remove the full yellow color of the Bogolon leave extract, leaving only the intricate mud designs, while the unpainted part remains white. The final step involves leaving the fabric to dry under the sun until the mud is properly baked.
#2. Resist dyeing
The second technique of dyeing fabrics in Africa is resist dyeing. This dyeing technique is popular among West African countries of Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Benin, and Sierra Leone. In Nigeria, resist-dyed fabrics are called Adire in the local dialect of the Yoruba people. As the name implies, the technique involves protecting parts of the cloth while the other part is being dyed. The different types of resist dyeing depend on the method used to protect the undyed part of the fabric. There are three methods commonly used and these are;
#3. Tie and Dye
In this method, strings are used to tying parts of the cloth to prevent it from being dyed. This method is very common among the Yoruba people in the Western parts of Nigeria. Tie and Dye is the technique used in making Adire, which is the term for dyed brocade.
#4. Sew And Dye
This method is similar to tie and dye except, in this case, designs are sewn on the fabric before dyeing. Once the dyeing process is completed, the threads are removed, leaving some parts of the fabric dyed while the part covered by the design will not be dyed.
#5. Batik And Cassava Paste
Both methods involve covering the surface of the fabric to be dyed with a mixture of bee and paraffin wax (Batik method) or Cassava paste. These substances are applied to parts of the fabric that are not to be dyed while the parts to be dyed are left uncovered.
Which Country Has The Best Dyed Brocade In Africa
Brocades come in different designs made with different methods like we’ve shown in this article. However, the quality and intricacy of the design vary significantly and are used by many trained eyes to determine a high-quality brocade.
Mali has one of the longest dyeing techniques in Africa where cotton materials are dyed using plants, mud, and natural soda ash as a water softener. Today the use of chemicals like caustic soda and chemically produced dye has made dying easier and lighter. The country also has the biggest dyed brocade industry with over 250,000 people working in it. The scale and popularity of the Malian Dyed brocade industry cannot be compared to any other in Africa.
Based upon this, it is safe to say they have the best-dyed brocade in Africa. The Malian brocade industry was resilient enough to survive the economic crash of 2012 and has since recovered at a commendable pace. Malian dyed brocades come at different types and prices. In the next section, we will take a look at some of the best-dyed brocades in Africa
Types Of Dyed Brocades in Africa That You Should Know About
#1. Polman Dyed Brocade
The Super Vanqueur is a name given to the plain white brocade from Mali. The Vanqueur is said to be one of the most expensive brocades and presently trending among brocade lovers. The fabric is made of 100% cotton and comes in different dyed designs. The Polman brocade is a Vanqueur with a distinctive purple-bronze dye design. This design is achieved by Wax stamping or Hand-printing the white brocade to give it a crisp, velvety feel.
#2. Damask Bazin Boubou
The boubou is native to the people of Senegal. While the boubou comes in different grades, the Damask Bazin is most sought after for its elegance and class. It’s considered the boubou for the rich. Made from pure cotton, the Damask Bazin is dyed and afterward, it is heavily embroidered. However, for the Damask, the most outstanding thing about it is the way it shines. The shinier the Damask, the more expensive and treasured it will be.
#3. Indigo Palmann Boubou
Another class of Senegalese boubou is the Indigo Palmman boubou. This fabric stands out for its simplicity and elegance. The indigo Palmann boubou is named after a dyeing technique that involves dyeing the fabric with indigo to give it a rich deep bronze color. Like the Damask, this boubou is reserved for special occasions.
Adire is the name given to the dyed brocade in the Western part of Nigeria. Like most other dyed brocades, Adire comes in assorted designs and colors. It is sometimes referred to as Tie and dye, a name derived from the technique used in dyeing the fabric.
#5. Guinea’s Dyed Brocade
Guinea is another West African country known for its unique dyed brocades that are simply called Guinea brocade. Unlike the bright and shiny Senegalese boubou, the majority of Guinea brocades are not so shiny. This shiny feature is peculiar to select dye colors like black and gold . The shine is believed to be a result of the surface preparation using Wax stamping (Batik dyeing method). Apart from its smooth and shiny surface, another way of identifying this class of Guinea brocade is by the way it looks. While many Guinea brocades do relax easily on the body, the wax-stamped brocades are more rigid. Similar to a fabric that has been starched.
Dyed brocades are popular in Africa. And while there are different reasons why people go for these fabrics, one thing is certain, and this is that African dyed brocades along with other traditional wears like Ankara and Kente are symbolic of Africa culture and traditions. This is why it is common to see these fabrics being won in different shades and styles during any traditional ceremony like Weddings, child dedications, and even parties. But even if you’re not fond of the African dyed brocade, perhaps you can appreciate the detail and craftsmanship that goes into making it.
What’s your take on the African dyed brocade? Is it a Yes or No for you? Drop your comments in the comment section below.