Batik cloth has been important in Africa for nearly two thousand years. Batik is a method of applying pattern to fabric. A resist-dyeing technique, batik involves coating fabric with a dye-resistant substance and submerging the fabric in colored dye. Typically the dye-resistant substance is made of the cassava root or rice flour and the chemicals alum, a type of salt found in the earth, or copper sulfate, a naturally occurring mineral. The substance is boiled with water to make a thick paste. Women paint the paste on the fabric by hand to make flowing designs or men press the paste into stencils to make accurate repeated patterns. The patterns and methods for applying designs have been handed down through families for generations. Once the paste is dry, the fabric is submerged in dye in large clay pots or pits dug in the earth. When the dyed fabric is dry, the paste is scraped off to reveal a white or pale blue design. Indigo is the most common dye used to produce batik cloth. Indigo is made from a plant that grows in Africa. Most often cotton is used for the base fabric.
The popularity of batik patterns as an item for trade has encouraged factories to produce masses of machine-made batik cloths for sale. These fabrics are made in Europe and in some African countries. However, the best examples of traditional African batik cloth are made by the Yoruba in Nigeria. Batik cloth is made into a variety of wrapped clothing, as well as stitched tunics, robes, and trousers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Blauer, Ettagale. African Elegance. New York: Rizzoli, 1999.
Kennett, Frances, and Caroline MacDonald-Haig. Ethnic Dress. New York: Facts on File, 1994.