August 10, 2017 - Fabric & Sewing

African Wax Print Clothing – The Story Behind The fabric

Pile of our brand new African wax print fabrics at the market in Tanzania

We are often asked how the ankara fabric we use to create our modern African print clothing are made, so we thought it would be helpful to share the process in detail with you.

The African print fabric we use is sourced in Tanzania from a family-run small business and is made in Nigeria using locally grown cotton. The whole process is highly respected as a craft and a labour-intensive art form.

In this blog we’re going to take a look at the complex and time-consuming production process involved in creating these incredible textiles.

Basic Steps in African Wax Print Fabric Production


Raw cotton yarns are spun and woven into grey cloth that is stiff and dirty. The cloth is then bleached white to clean and remove any impurities before being strengthened and stretched to its desired width.


Raw cotton yarn African print fabric factory


Raw cotton fibres


Cotton spun into yarn to make ankara fabric


Spinning the cotton to make yarn


Grey cotton fabric being produced to make African print fabric


Using the yarn to produce grey cloth


The prints are designed on a computer using CAD software in black and white form. Traditionally two or three colours are added to the cloth at the end of the production process. Each print design is usually produced in several different colourways.

Wax Printing

The design is engraved onto a pair of copper rollers before being printed onto both sides of the cloth using melted, molten wax. The wax used is a natural product that comes from pine tree resin.

Indigo Dying

The cloth is then put into an indigo dye bath where the exposed parts of the cloth are dyed and the resin covered parts are resisted. This process can also cause naturally formed fine cracks in the wax, which can allow small amounts of the dye to seep through onto the cloth.

Crackling Effect

The wax is then deliberately cracked using specific machinery depending on the desired outcome such as marbling and bubbles.


African print fabric crackling effect



Large, industrial printing machines are used to add solid colours to the design either before and/or after the wax is removed from the cloth.

Sometimes part of the design is hand carved onto a wooden block and applied to the fabric by hand (called block printing).

This colouration process is key to producing the highly distinctive and vibrant colours of all of our garments from ankara dresses to African print trousers.


The cloth is then washed to remove all the small residues of wax and excess dyes ensuring that colour fastness standards are met.


There are different types of finishes that are applied to the cloth depending on the desired outcome. The fabric can sometimes look shiny which disappears after the first initial wash.

Certain fabrics are more expensive due to the type of finishing used at the end of the manufacturing process, which can be costly.


Abdallah pattern cutting a Kitenge men's long sleeve shirt at his workshop in Tanzania


Due to the nature of the wax printing process it is impossible to make each piece of cloth look exactly the same so they are truly unique.

Furthermore, because our tailors cut the fabric used to make our clothing by hand, the print positioning is different on each item meaning they are one of a kind!

To see examples of the finished garments, all lovingly handmade by our tailors using kitenge fabric, visit our African boutique online.

If you have any questions or for more information about the production process please feel free to get in touch!

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