October 12, 2021 - Fabric & Sewing

Everything You Need to Know About African Print Fabric

Authentic African wax print fabric designs by Kitenge Store

Let us introduce you to our colourful world of beautiful African print fabric! Their unique patterns and vibrant colours help you feel instantly happier, which is why we love using them to make modern Afrocentric clothing.

These versatile fabrics can also be used to add touches of African interior design styles to your living space. They are fun to wear and can add warmth, texture, and a cosy feel to your home décor. In fact, they can be used to make pretty much anything!


Continue reading to learn more about African print fabric including its history, hidden meanings, production, designs, uses, wash care advice, and more.

What is African Wax Print Fabric 

African wax print fabric is made from 100% cotton cloth, which is commonly used to make clothing, accessories, and other products in Africa. It can also be referred to as Kitenge or Ankara fabric.

The method of producing the fabric is called batik, a wax-resist dyeing technique and ancient art form that originates from Indonesia.

The print design and colours look the same on both the front and back sides of the fabric. The quality of the fabric depends on the type of cotton cloth and the manufacturing processes used.

A ‘whole’ piece of kitenge fabric is 12 yards in length but can be purchased in ‘half’ pieces, 6 yards in length. The width of the fabric varies between different manufacturers; it is usually 46 to 48 inches.

The History of Ankara/Kitenge Fabric

When the Dutch colonised Indonesia, their merchants discovered batik fabrics and brought samples back to The Netherlands.

Dutch textile manufacturers developed ways to print the fabric in bulk by machine and started to produce cheaper batik-inspired imitation fabrics.

These new fabrics were not popular in Indonesia, as the original batik fabrics were preferred. However, they were well received when imported into West Africa in the 1880s.

West African soldiers brought batik fabrics home after serving in Indonesia and this made the fabrics popular. Several different manufacturers in Europe, including the British and Dutch, produced the fabric for many years before manufacturing expanded to African countries.


Grey fabric inspection at African wax print fabric factory


Grey cloth inspection before ankara fabric production

In recent years, there has been a surge in manufacturing of the fabrics in Asia (mainly India and China). The fabrics they produce are lower quality and cheaper compared to authentic fabrics produced in West Africa.

Learn how to tell the difference between authentic and counterfeit African wax print fabric.

Traditional batik-making techniques are still practiced in African countries such as Ghana. Small-scale workshops, usually run by entrepreneurs, create beautiful fabrics by hand with no machinery involved.

They carve the designs onto sponge blocks before printing the wax onto the fabric.


A traditional batik sponge block design from a factory in Ghana West Africa  Traditional batik fabric design handmade in Ghana West Africa


A batik sponge block design from a factory in Ghana and the finished fabric

The fabrics worn by African women are sometimes used as a way of non-verbal communication due to their well-known hidden meanings. The colours and symbols used in each print design can symbolise a tribe, marriage, and social status of the wearer.

After the fabrics are designed, printed, and distributed to markets, particularly in West Africa, the women who wear the cloth create the stories and hidden meanings behind them. This information is then passed back to the manufacturer who gives the fabric a new catchy name.

For example, there is a popular Ghanaian print known as ‘Speed Bird’ with multiple birds flying in the same direction. This pattern means you can be ‘rich today, poor tomorrow’ as money can easily fly away.


Speed bird African wax print fabric by Vlisco   Record African wax print fabric design by Vlisco


The ‘Speed Bird‘ design (left) and ‘Record‘ design (right) by Vlisco

Another popular print in Ghana is called ‘Nsu Bura’, which is an Akan word for ‘water well’. The ripples of water that are visible when water is collected from a well are represented by the tiny dots in the design.

It symbolises how whatever you do, good or bad, can have an impact on those around you. In Nigeria, this print is also known as the ‘Record Disc’ as the round patterns look similar to old vinyl records.

How is African Wax Print Fabric Made? 

The basic steps of African wax print fabric production include:

The manufacturer may also add one of the colours by block printing part of the design onto the fabric by hand.

Each batch of the same fabric design can look slightly different due to the varying colour tones and random cracking effect.

African Print Fabric Styles & Designs

There is many different African print fabric styles and designs, which change frequently at the markets in Africa. It can be difficult to purchase the same fabric twice unless you purchase from a physical shop or online.

Examples of printed fabric designs include flowers, plants, animal print (particularly birds), tribal print African fabric, and geometric shapes…


Feather ankara fabric design printed in Ghana  Big Bang African wax print fabric design made in Ghana


The ‘Feather’ (left) and ‘Big Bang’ (right) ankara fabric designs printed in Ghana


Zing African print fabric design from Ghana  Bonsu ankara fabric design printed in Ghana


The ‘Zing’ (left) and ‘Bonsu’ (right) ankara fabric designs printed in Ghana

What Can African Fabric Be Used For?

African print fabric has many uses:


Kitenge Store founder Sian cooking Christmas dinner on open fire Tanzania wearing African print shirt and ankara fabric


Kitenge Store founder, Sian, wearing an African print shirt and a piece of kitenge wrapped around her legs like an apron when cooking in Tanzania

African Print Inspired Home Decor


African wax print fabric sofa cushion covers fabric for interior design  African print fabric curtains by Kitenge Store fabric for interior design


African wax print fabric sofa cushion covers and curtains


African wax print fabric napkins by Qasa Qasa UK fabric for interior design  African wax print fabric bunting African interior design


African wax print fabric napkins by QÄSA QÄSA and bunting by Kitenge Store


African print fabric lampshade by Tropikala handmade using yellow red blue fabric from Kitenge Store   African print fabric lampshade by Tropikala handmade using yellow pineapple fabric from Kitenge Store


African print lampshades handmade by Tropikala using Kitenge Store fabrics


African print fabric lampshade by Tropikala handmade using yellow cream fabric from Kitenge Store   African print fabric plant pot covers by Tropikala African interior design ideas


African print lampshade handmade using Kitenge Store fabric and plant pot covers both by Tropikala

Learn about the best African wax print fabrics for home interior design.

African Print Accessories

Pretty much anything you can think of can be made by using African print fabric; it’s extremely versatile which is what makes it so popular.

Tip: If you’re using the fabric to make clothing then you can recycle the fabric offcuts to make matching accessories.


African print bow ties and hairbands handmade using fabric offcuts from clothing production sustainable fashion    Turquoise African wax print fabric tote bag diamond pattern model wearing sewing project idea


African print bow tie, hairband and a reusable tote bag by Kitenge Store

How to Wash African Wax Print Fabric 

African print fabrics can be washed by hand or in the machine using cold water (30 degrees is best). Use a mild washing powder and a gentle machine setting such as ‘hand wash’. Line dry outside away from direct sunlight as it can cause the colours to fade.

Read our guide on how to wash African print fabric.


Washing machine with African wax print fabric inside


Colourful African print fabric inside a washing machine

Tip: Planning to use the fabric to make clothing or cushions? First, pre-wash the fabric in the machine to prevent shrinkage in future washes.

Shop African Print Fabric from Kitenge

In April 2020, we launched our colourful and unique range of African print fabric on our African boutique online! Our popular and quirky fabric prints are available to purchase alongside our fabulous range of made to measure clothing.

Kitenge Store’s authentic ankara fabric can be purchased in various lengths (1 to 6 yards). Simply choose your preferred fabric(s) and add how many yards you would like to your basket. There may also be some fat quarters available for quilters and craftspeople.

There is a broad range of gorgeous patterns, styles, and colours to choose from, including the following examples:


Red blue floral African wax print fabric made in Nigeria  pink orange flower ankara fabric printed in Nigeria


Red Floral and Pink/Orange Flower African Print Fabric by Kitenge Store


Yellow red blue peacock African print fabric made in Nigeria  Blue purple green African wax print fabric made in Nigeria


Yellow/Red/Blue Peacock and Blue/Green/Purple Flower African Print Fabric by Kitenge Store

Kitenge Store’s authentic, high-quality fabrics are printed in Nigeria, West Africa, using locally grown cotton. They are sourced from a family-run, small business in Tanzania, East Africa.


Kitenge Store founder Sian with African wax print fabric supplier


Kitenge Store Founder, Sian, visiting our fabric supplier in Tanzania

All fabrics are shipped promptly from Tanzania (within 1-2 business days) to worldwide destinations by recorded post or courier. Delivery takes up to 10-14 days by recorded post or within 2-5 days by courier (DHL).

Get in Touch

We’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have regarding African print fabric. Please do get in touch by emailing info@kitengestore.com.

Follow us on social media to keep up to date with all the exciting projects and fabrics we’re bringing out for you to try.

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