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How is African Wax fabric made?

Updated: Jan 26

I explain to you, today, the technique of manufacturing this African fabric so colorful

A shop with African wax fabrics

African Wax fabric is the fruit of a long history between Europe, Africa and Asia. Originally, wax draws its history from Javanese batik, a fabric from Indonesia. At the end of the 19th century, English and Dutch settlers were inspired by it to print it on cotton fabrics with different patterns and bright colors, which would become wax. Then it will be imported first to Ghana and then to the rest of Africa.

Since then, the wax has become a true emblem of African culture and fashion which is more commonly called: "the loincloth". It has been used for decades to make the everyday outfits of millions of men and women.

A production between Europe and Africa:

The vast majority of wax is printed in Europe precisely in the Netherlands. With a production of more than 64 million meters each year, 90% of which is sold in West Africa, particularly in Benin, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Congo, and also in Central Africa. There are 4 qualities of wax: In order of best quality to worst quality: super wax, wax, java and fancy.

But how is the traditional wax fabric made ?

A fabric in production at Uniwax- Ivory Coast
A fabric in production at Uniwax- Ivory Coast

African Wax Artisanal Manufacturing:

The process of making authentic wax by hand is based on the use of wax, and it takes place in several stages.

1- Drawing or printing patterns on the initially white fabric. 2- Application of the wax along the patterns drawn on the fabric, using copper impression cylinders, in order to delimit the color during the coloring stage, and thus to bring the prints to life. 3- Coloring of the fabric which was initially white, by soaking it in a dye bath. 4- Drying of the fabric for a period that varies according to the dimensions. 5- Application of an industrial glue to fix the color, then drying of this glue. 6- Washing the fabric by soaking it in hot soapy water, to melt the wax and remove it from the fabric. It is then that the delimitations made before appear, and that the drawings come to life. 7- Air dry the fabric.

The manufacturing process uses a “reservoir” working technique: The wax protects the printed areas of the fabric, so that they are not affected by the color.

Thus, by applying the tint to the entire fabric, the parts "reserved" by the wax remain with their original color. It is by melting the wax that the patterns reappear.

Industrial Manufacture of African Wax :

White cotton fabric rolls - ready to print - Uniwax - Ivory Coast
White cotton fabric rolls - ready to print - Uniwax - Ivory Coast

The industrial wax manufacturing process is exactly the same, but the wax is deposited using large copper rollers on which the patterns are engraved (one for the back of the fabric, and one for the front of the fabric).

The fabric then passes through dye baths and then solvent (to dilute the wax).

Roll of printed wax fabric - Uniwax - Ivory Coast
Roll of printed wax fabric - Uniwax - Ivory Coast

The quantity produced is thus enormous ! 28 million Yards (approximately 25 million meters) per year, for the Uniwax factory located in Côte d'Ivoire.

I hope this article has taught you a lot about the manufacturing process of African wax fabrics ? Feel free to like and comment on my articles !

If you want to learn more about African fabrics, it's here :

And if you just want to discover the rest of my blog, it's here :


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