Wait, Isn't Ankara the Capital of Turkey?
Yes, Ankara is the capital of Turkey. It is also a type of fabric made of 100% cotton fabric with a wax resin. Some people call it “Ankara print”, “African print”, ”African wax print” “Holland wax” and “Dutch wax." In other African countries, such as Tanzania and Malawi, they refer to it as kitenge or chitenge. In West Africa, we simply call it ankara. I have to be honest--I didn't start embracing ankara until probably my late 20s/early 30s. Prior to this "awakening" to the fabulousity and versatility of ankara, I had pretty much shunned it and ascribed it to the "what I would wear if I had nothing else to wear pile" of my suitcases of Nigerian clothes. I honestly think this was because I just hadn't been aware of how many vibrant colors they came in, and that they could be used for much more than being relegated as one of the many wrappers that my grandmas, aunties, and my mother would wear around the house. That it could be used as more than what we used to carry babies (i.e., my younger siblings) on my back to free up our hands.
Origins of Ankara
As "African" as they are, did you know that they did not originate on the African continent? The evolution of the ankara can be traced back to Indonesia. The actual storyline differs depending on the source. One popular account notes that indentured West African soldiers, who served in the militaries of the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia), were the ones who brought back the batik fabrics back to West Africa after they left the Dutch East Indies military. They were well-received by the African women--especially the market women, and that's how it became popularized.
How Ankara Is Made
Ankara designs are made using wax-resistant dying—applying wax to a cloth and then dying over that wax to create a pattern. The print designs often portray symbolic elements of the African culture. They are printed by machines using wax resins and dyes to have a batik-like effect on both sides of the fabric. They will often have a glossy, stiff, and/or waxy feeling surface once finished. Once the Dutch and English realized how popular the prints were in West Africa, they realized on the opportunity for mass production by using machinery to automate the dying process. It was actually a Belgian who invented a machine for making wax batiks to help commercialize and incorporate the much more vibrant colors and designs many Africans loved. This is how the names "Dutch wax" and "wax hollandaise" came to be; because they originated from Holland.
Versatility of Ankara
Today's ankara designs include anything from pop culture images, landscape, fables, symbols, geometric patterns, and even images of presidents and well-known figures. Additionally, it is such a versatile fabric that it can be used for anything from home furnishings to bathing suits as well as special occasion clothing for adults and children alike. There is even plenty of demand in using them for personal accessories such as purses, shoes, and even jewelry. I've compiled a top 10 list below for you to see just how versatile using ankara is. Note that this is not an exhaustive list—use your creativity! And before you leave, make sure to check out my Accessories pages to see the most current listing of ankara-inspired accessories. Enjoy!
My Top 10 List of Things You can Make with Ankara Fabric
- Dresses, pants, jumpsuits, skirts, and tops (girls and women)
- Tops and pants (men)
- Jewelry (necklaces, earrings, bracelets)
- Purses, totes, and other bags
- Shoes (sneakers, heels, flats)
- Home accessories (curtains, tablecloths, toss pillow covers, throws, other decorations)
- Bathing suits/trunks (men and women
- Head gear (hats, headbands, hair-ties)
- Furniture upholstery
- Bedding (blanket covers, duvet covers, pillow cases, etc.)