Tuesday, 26 June 2012

African Block Printed Fabric

Made in Holland!

A good friend of mine here in Hamburg is originally from Nigeria. Recently I found out that she used to work there as a dressmaker. This piqued my curiosity! Then one day we went to a special event and she wore one of her outfits. It was lovely, fitted and classic in a dark colour. I especially loved the long skirt.

So I asked her to make me an outfit in the same style and she agreed!

First things first... We had to buy the fabric.

In Hamburg near the Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) there are lots of ethnic shops where you can buy imported goods and food. So we went together to have a look in a shop in a basement. We got there at 10am and the owner, an Indian gentleman, was just opening up. He called us to come in, so we went down some steps into a dark Aladdin's Cave. The lights flashed on and revealed a treasure trove of bright patterns, different textures, lace, sequins, mirrors.

In the small front room there were piles of cotton fabrics covered with African style patterns. I was surprised to find out that they don't come from Africa, but from Holland! I didn't think to take pictures I was so in awe, but you can see an idea of the designs I'm talking about here.

Brief history

Originally wax resist dye techniques came from Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), related to Batik methods. Then the concept spread. One theory is this: In the mid-19th century, the Dutch enlisted a bunch of West African men—both slaves and mercenaries—to beef up their army in Indonesia. While there, these men took a liking to the local handicrafts and brought batik back to their home countries. And voila: A taste emerged in West Africa for these Indonesian designs.*

Meanwhile at home the Dutch tried to work out a cheaper mechanical system for Batik, hoping to undercut the expensive hand batik designers in Indonesia. The plan didn't go entirely well in Asia and the resulting cloth was adopted by Africa instead, resulting in a design collaboration with Europe.

Today this instantly recognisable cloth with striking designs, a complicated history and a nationality crisis holds strong cultural, social and economic importance in both Africa and Europe and is recognised throughout the world. I gotta get me some of that!

Do you like the bolt that I chose? It's 6 yards. Enough for an outfit for me and plenty left over... :)

*This article is well worth a read, delving deeper into the history of Dutch Block Print and its use in western fashion and as a status symbol on the African continent.

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  1. wow, it is lovely! And fab that you will have an outfit with such a n interesting story!

  2. I know! I had no idea how much I was going to learn... :) I love it!

  3. Beautiful fabric! I was in Hamburg last August, and purchased some organic cotton fabric there--not at the same place, though. Hamburg is a great city in which to shop!

  4. hi there! coming from the hop!

    visit nichollvincent.blogspot.com!

    have a wonderful day!

  5. Gorgeous fabric!! Found you through the blog hop and am following you now :)


    1. Welcome over. It is pretty stunning isn't it?! Can't wait to wear it :)

  6. what a lovely fabric you picked. can't wait to see your outfit when it's done!


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