It is a tradition in Ghanaian culture to gift your wife-to-be something that will be useful to her in her new family life. Mine was a sewing machine, with lots of African print fabric. I started using my sewing machine shortly after the birth of my daughter, making beautiful clothes for her. (Yes, I did this running on 3 hours sleep and a crying baby). In all of my creations, I incorporate some aspect of African print, also known as Ankara fabric. I often get asked about the significance of the prints and colours, and so thought I’d share with you a bit about the fabrics I use in my work.
What is African print (Ankara)?
Ankara is a 100% cotton fabric with vibrant colours and patterns. Wax resins and dyes are used on the fabric so it has a batik-like effect on both sides. The wax ‘resists’ the dye from penetrating the entire cloth, creating beautiful pattern. Ankara is primarily associated with Africa because of its tribal-like patterns each of which holds individual meaning.
Even though Ankara fabrics are associated with the African culture, it originates somewhere else. It all begins in Indonesia, where the locals use the technique of wax-resisting dyes to make batik. In the mid-19th century, a group of West African men, both slaves and mercenaries were enlisted to strengthen the army in Indonesia. While there, the African men took a liking to the fabrics and brought them back to their home countries. This led to a taste emerging in West Africa for these Indonesian designs, and Ankara was born.
The patterns on Ankara fabrics were named by the African women, allowing the fabrics to communicate messages between them. The textiles were the major form of expression that Africans use to define themselves. There are many Ankara fabrics used by various tribes across West African countries. With some of the more well-known African tribal textiles being the indigo cloth from the Yoruba tribe of SW Nigeria (Adire). The stamp printed cloth from the Asante tribe of Ghana (Andinkra), and the painted (Bark cloth) from the Buganda tribe of Uganda.
Each line, weft and mark of the textiles in Ghana (where my family is from) and in other parts of West Africa, carry lots of memories and meaning. This is why I use them in my creations. The connotations behind each memory quilt made, go far beyond just a quilt holding together pieces of long-loved baby clothes. The traditions of African culture can be read through clothing, and the use of Ankara. The designs of the fabric have meaning containing wisdom, philosophies and lots of histories and memories.
The symbols and patterns used, are directly related to historical proverbs and events. They represent a form of storytelling, replacing written words, and convey messages of importance for an individual, family or tribe. One famous pattern that shows a bird cage with an open door and a little bird escaping from it is called “you fly, I fly”. It is generally worn by newlywed women, as a bit of a threat to their husbands!
Each of these Ankara prints reflect different meanings to the tribes and the people. In the same way every piece of clothing on a memory quilt, or each custom made piece of children’s clothing, reflect different meanings to the person wearing or using the item. On Ghanaian Ankara, a tree-like print known as Nyame Nti (by God’s grace) is a symbol of faith and trust in God. Whilst a print called Dwennimmen, three circles inside each other similar to a target, is a symbol of greatness, charisma and leadership.
Knowing the history of the fabrics I choose, and the significance in each pattern makes Shomsa Creations just that little bit more special. I enjoy matching the colours of Ankara cloths to blankets and quilts composed of baby clothes filled with special memories, and I also incorporate the symbols on the Ankara for another level of significance and sentimentality. So the next time you pick up a Shomsa piece, know that it wasn’t just made with joy, it was made with pride and love.
If you want to see more beautiful Ankara print, head over to www.shomsacreations.com for baby products inspired by Africa.