Adire – Yoruba resist dyed indigo cloth from Nigeria

Adire is the name given to indigo dyed cloth produced by Yoruba women of south western Nigeria using a variety of resist dye techniques. Adire translates as tie and dye, and the earliest cloths were probably simple tied designs on locally-woven hand-spun cotton cloth much like those still produced in Mali. In the early decades of the twentieth century the new access to large quantities of imported shirting material made possible by the spread of European textile merchants in certain Yoruba towns, notably Abeokuta and Ibadan, enabled women dyers to become both artists and entrepreneurs in a booming new medium.

West African Textile - Adire from Nigeria

Yoruba adire eleko cloth, Nigeria. circa 1960. Private collection.

New techniques of resist dyeing were developed, most notably the practice of hand-painting designs on the cloth with a cassava starch paste prior to dyeing. This was known as adire eleko (“adire with starch paste”.) Most of the designs were named, and popular ones included Jubilee (first produced for the jubilee of George V and Queen Mary in 1935), Olokun or “goddess of the sea”, and Ibadadun “Ibadan is sweet.” The cloth illustrated is an exceptionally finely drawn example of the Olokun design, with motifs including birds, leaves and stars. These complex and beautiful starch resist designs continued to be produced until the early 1970s, but tastes changed and today favours multi-coloured wax-resist cloth that is much easier and quicker to produce.

This is a guest post by Duncan Clarke.


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