If you have jumped onto the fashion bandwagon for bold, vibrant African prints, you need to understand a couple of facts before buying Ankara clothing. Of course, the best way to be sure you are getting authentic African pieces is to only buy from African manufacturers. However, you can also buy from importers, or even purchase the fabric and have the clothing made by your favorite seamstress. You can also buy African tribal prints that are not Ankara if it is the design you want and you are not concerned with how it was made.
African Tribal Prints
The people in Africa often design a pattern for their cloth to represent a family or tribe. They tend to use vibrant colors with large, bold designs. They may choose from different methods to create the designs on or in the cloth. Mud cloth is made using mud to create the design. While it does not have the vibrant colors, it will still have the bold designs and patterns. The bold patterns of Kente cloth are made by weaving the different colored threads on a loom into the desired pattern. It is not "printed" but is referred to as a Tribal print. Cloth can also be tie-dyed to create vibrant colors.
Ankara is not necessarily the pattern or colors, but the method in which it is applied to the fabric. True Ankara is done on cotton, although some manufacturers are now making "chiffon Ankara," and using other fabrics as well. To get the design onto the cloth, a wax is used to mark the areas where the color is not wanted. Each color must be done separately, and it must be done from lighter to darker colors. In other words, yellow would be applied before orange, which would be applied before red, etc. If not done correctly, the lighter colors will not show up. Because wax is applied for each color, the material will have a smooth, waxy feel to it when completed. While you may purchase Ankara clothing in bold tribal patterns, it is also possible to have more modern, European, or American designs, however it may be called batik, or Holland-wax printing instead. It is the combination of the design and the technique that makes it true Ankara fabric.
You can order Ankara clothing online if there is not an African importer in your area. However, if you want to truly understand the difference in the feel of the fabrics, it would be a good idea to buy a few smaller items, or ask for a swatch of the material. This way, you will know exactly what you are getting. For more information on Ankara clothing, contact a company like Kaela Kay.