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Woman wearing African wax clothing, dutch wax

100 Days of Tee Batik

The 100 Day Art Project

#The100DayProject is a free art project that takes place online. Every spring, thousands of people around the world commit to 100 days of exploring their creativity on a theme of their choice.

I had been following and enjoying the social media hashtag for years without taking part but with the 2020 project launch coinciding with the early stages of a worldwide pandemic and lockdown(!), I dusted off my pencils, felt tips and watercolours to join in!

100 Days of Tee Batik

I have been fascinated with the colours and shapes featured in Indonesian batiks and Dutch Wax fabrics for as long as I can remember, so choose this as my theme for daily inspiration.

What is Dutch Wax?

Dutch wax fabric, also known as Hollandais, Ankara or African wax, is a type of colourful printed cotton fabric that is popular in many African countries and the Caribbean. The fabric is made by printing a design onto the surface of the fabric using a wax resist dyeing technique.

The history of Dutch wax fabric can be traced back to the mid-19th century when the Dutch began importing Indonesian batik cloth to the Netherlands. The Dutch modified the traditional batik-making process to create a cheaper and more efficient method of producing printed cloth. They used a machine to print the designs onto the fabric rather than hand-painting them, and they used cheaper materials such as paraffin wax and inexpensive dyes.

The first Dutch wax prints were produced in the 1880s by the Dutch company Vlisco, which is still in operation today. The company’s designs were inspired by Indonesian batik, but they also incorporated elements from other cultures, such as Chinese and Japanese motifs.

Photo by Iwaria Inc. on Unsplash

Dutch Wax in West Africa

Dutch wax fabric quickly gained popularity in West Africa, where it was used to make traditional clothing such as dresses, skirts, head wraps and home decor, such as curtains and upholstery. The vibrant colours and bold patterns of Dutch wax fabric have made it an important part of the cultural identity of many African communities.

Photo by Iwaria Inc. on Unsplash

Dutch wax is unique in the sense that each design is created (originally in the Netherlands but now across the world), imported, and then bought to more vivid life by African traders and consumers who have given the designs compelling names, meanings and background stories.

The fabric when worn, then becomes a clear message or confirmation of status to those who view the wearer.

Dutch Wax Motifs

Some popular Dutch wax motifs and their meanings include:

Flowers are a common motif in Dutch wax prints and can symbolize beauty, femininity, and fertility.

Animals such as lions, elephants, and birds are often depicted in Dutch wax prints and can symbolize strength, nobility, and freedom.

Geometric patterns, such as circles, triangles, and diamonds, can symbolize unity, balance, and order.

Dutch wax prints often incorporate cultural symbols from West African cultures, such as the Adinkra symbols of Ghana or the Bamum symbols of Cameroon. These symbols can have a wide range of meanings, including spiritual or religious significance, or they can be used to convey social or political messages.

Read more

Choose a link to find out more about the motifs I focused on as part of the project.

What are your favourite fabric batik motifs?

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