How to Make African Wax Prints

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Beeswax coats fabric so dyes don't penetrate.
Beeswax coats fabric so dyes don't penetrate. (Image: bees wax foundation image by Greg Pickens from Fotolia.com)

African wax printed fabric features colorful geometric designs. These designs also include symbols like clasping hands, flowers, human figures and even words. Originating in Indonesia, these wax-resist fabrics crossed Africa from east to west, eventually becoming popular over the majority of the continent. Today, wax print fabric often tells a story to the wearer. When making your own wax printed fabric, consider symbols that mean something to you and your family history.

Things You'll Need

  • Natural fiber fabric: muslin, cotton, wool, linen, silk
  • Dark graphite pencil
  • Beeswax
  • Wax warmer
  • Paintbrush
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Large stewpot
  • Fabric dye tablets
  • Large plastic tubs
  • Paper towels
  • Iron

Plan your design. Note that fabric covered in wax will not take dye. So, if you want a design with yellow flowers, orange suns and dark green people, plan to dye your fabric yellow and draw out your flowers in wax. Dye your fabric with red next to make orange and wax your suns. Dye your fabric blue last and wax out your people. Do a final dye in purple, blue or black to make the people stand out. Any white designs should be covered in wax the entire time.

Spread out your fabric on a flat, clean surface. Sketch your entire design in graphite pencil. Label each part of the design very lightly with the colors you want it to be in the end.

Break up about one-half pound of beeswax and throw it into a wax warmer. Melt the wax and use a paintbrush to paint it on the parts of your fabric you want to remain white. Allow the wax to harden for 10 minutes.

Bring about two gallons of apple cider vinegar to a boil. Pour equal parts of the heated vinegar into three plastic tubs. Drop a blue tablet into one, red into another and yellow into a third. This should work well for mixing any other colors you like.

Dip your fabric into your first color. Let it soak for about 10 minutes. Lift the fabric from the dye and let it air dry for about 30 minutes. Add any necessary wax to preserve the first color and dip your fabric into the next dye. Repeat until your design is complete.

Allow the fabric to dry overnight. Place paper towels over the wax on your fabric. Iron the wax on the cotton setting without steam. The paper towels will absorb the wax while the heat will set the dyes.

Tips & Warnings

  • Your colors will eventually become so dark that they look black. To make your waxed designs stand out, leave the outlines of the shapes bare of wax. Dye your fabric until the outlines are nice and dark before finishing. This gives your fabric nice definition.

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