Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Adinkra Cloth | Make your own adinkra cloth craft

I have loved reading about and seeing the various textile crafts in West Africa. And we're having fun recreating them as well. This time we "recreated" Adinkra cloth, beautiful traditional cloth of the Ashanti culture.

Adinkra cloth
Photo Credit: 
© Cynthia Samake, Behind the Scenes Adventures
Adinkra (ah-DEENK-rah) cloth is a hand-printed and hand stamped traditional cloth made in Ghana. Developed by the Ashanti people at least two hundred years ago, adinkra cloths were traditionally made for royalty to wear at religious ceremonies. Through the years, it continues to be the main ceremonial cloth, as well as commissioned decorated cloths to tell a story or to express thoughts and feelings. Dark cloths (black, brown, dark red) are worn for sad occasions, and brightly colored cloths are worn for festive occasions.

It was also traditionally known as a mourning cloth, typically worn to funerals. Ashanti legend holds that the word Adinkra means "farewell" and that the cloth was introduced after the capture of a rival monarch, King Adinkra, who wore the cloth to express his sorrow on being taken. Special mourning cloths continue to be made and worn for funerals, worn by men as seen in photo above, and by women as a turban or skirt. Often in dark red, mourning cloth have adinkra symbols especially chosen to represent their respect for the departed.

"Cloth was typically worn to funerals, white cloth with symbols for funerals of old people who have had good long llives; black (now usually silkscreened adinkra cloth) is worn for funerals of younger people to show sadness at their early demise." - Cynthia Samake, BTS Adventures

Adinkra calabash stamps
Photo Credit: Art Prof (Dr. Carol Ventura)
Adinkra symbols each have a special meaning, some of which have been used for over 200 years. They are not only used on cloth, but also on pottery, walls and as logos. They represent the history and beliefs of the Ashanti culture, as well as universal concepts like harmony, peace and strength. They are often linked with proverbs, for example:

The stamps are made from calabashes (gourds) that are cut into pieces and hand carved with a design. Their handles are made from little pieces of raffia palm hammered into the back of the stamp and tied together.

You can read about the many uses of the calabash gourds in our earlier post here.

Calabash Adinkra stamps
Photo Credit: 
© Cynthia Samake, Behind the Scenes Adventures
The stamps are printed in black dye made from the bark of the Badie Tree. As seen below, the bark first is scraped off, soaked, pounded, then boiled with pieces of scrap iron for several hours.

Making ink for Adinkra cloth
Photo Credit: 
© Cynthia Samake, Behind the Scenes Adventures
A "comb" is dipped in the ink and pulled across the cloth to draw lines. These lines divide the cloth into rows of squares, into which the adinkra symbols are stamped repeatedly - using the same design in each square.

Photo Credit: © Cynthia Samake, Behind the Scenes Adventures
Adinkra cloths are screenprinted as well, but as you can see, the traditional way of hand stamping the cloth continues today. Isn't it gorgeous?

Stamping Adinkra cloth
Photo Credit: Art Prof (Dr. Carol Ventura)
Most of the gorgeous photos used in this post are used with permission by Cynthia Samake, who took them during specialized trips she organizes and offers through her company, Behind the Scenes Adventures. I would absolutely love to someday partake in one of these trips, visiting remote villages learning about, and partaking in traditional arts. You can learn more about these trips at www.btsadventures.com

Thank you Cynthia for your generous assistance in providing these photographs and interesting information about adinkra cloth making!

Now, time for you to explore the various adinkra symbols, choose those that resonate with you, and make your own adinkra "cloth".

Adinkra Craft

The girls made their own adinkra "cloth" on large, colorful paper. We are also in the process of making a family adinkra cloth, with actual fabric and fabric paint, where we each get a row for our symbols. 

To make Adinkra Cloth, you will need:
  • Adinkra patterns (see below)
  • Craft foam
  • Thick cardboard (we used a piece of a corrugated box)
  • Colorful card stock or paper*` (or cloth)
  • Cereal box cardboard
  • Black paint & paintbrush (or fabric paint)
  • Hot glue gun & glue
  • Scissors
*Remember that bright, vibrant colors are used for festive occasions, while red and darker colors are used either for mourning or somber occasions. You'll want to use either larger than average paper, or tape 4 pieces of paper/card stock together. 

Choose your symbols

The first step is to determine which adinkra symbols represent you. We decided to each choose 4 symbols. This great website offers an index of adinkra symbols, with their images and explanations - all images are available to save as a jpeg (right click and save). I initially put together dozens of them and their descriptions, and the girls took the time to look them over and chose the ones they felt either represented them or what they wish for. I've put together a printable if you'd like to do the same with select adinkra symbols - I chose the ones that are easiest to cut out and with less repetition in meaning. 

Make a stamp

Once you've chosen your symbols, it's time to make a stamp. We tried two different ways of making the stamps, one of which in an effort to emulate the calabash stamps, but all three of us preferred the simpler stamp of foam over a square of thick corrugated cardboard.

Cut out your symbol from the printable and trace it over craft foam. In order for it to be easier to cut, don't be afraid to cut through the symbol - it will be glued back together on your stamp afterwards.

The symbols in our printable are large, and that is because when smaller - which is what we first tried - they were too difficult to cut and became very discouraging for the girls. We opted for larger symbols on larger paper.

The photos above and below give an example of cutting through the symbol, and easily cutting out the negative space (holes). The pieces are then glued back in place.

Using hot glue, carefully glue the foam pieces back together onto a piece of thick corrugated cardboard. I recommend trimming the cardboard so that it just fits the stamp - that way when stamping onto your paper, you'll know exactly where the symbol ends making it easier to gauge how many you can fit into your space, creating an even pattern. 

The slightly more complicated "handle" on the stamp to the left was our attempt at emulating the use of calabash stamps. The two stamps to the right (one on top of the other) are simpler and preferable to use. 
Print your "cloth"

For Elle's blue "cloth", we used thick paper that is approximately 14" x 18". Despite it's size she was only able to fit a pattern of two symbols in each quadrant. For Pea, we used four sheets of regular sized cardstock, taped together in the back. The seams were covered with the stripe painting around the edges of the quadrants. 

Before stamping, you need to paint your stripes. This was a bit tedious, and I ended up helping the girls out a bit with this part. We tried a couple of different ways, and the way that worked out best was with a cereal box cut out (see below, top right). The teeth were dipped in the paint, and dragged along the edges of the paper. Best to practice this first on a scrap piece of paper, just to get an idea of how to pull the paint, and how much pressure to apply. Do this along the edges of the paper, and as a cross inside, created 4 equal blocks of space. 

There is a comb pattern in the printable adinkra sheet above that can be used as a template if you'd like. 

*It didn't occur to me while doing the project, but I wonder if using a thin paintbrush and just following along a ruler would be easier and work out well....

Once you have your quadrants, it's time to stamp your adinkra. For an even stamp, we painted the foam (rather than dip the foam in paint) prior to stamping. Place down carefully, and firmly apply pressure making sure to get the entire symbol. Create an even pattern with the stamps. 

The girls were quite pleased with the final results. On the back of their "cloths" they wrote what each symbol represents. 

Elle's adinkra symbols mean:
  • Top left - Asase Ye Duru "The Earth has weight" - this symbol represents the importance of the earth in sustaining life.
  • Top right - Nsoromma "Child of the Heavens" - this is a symbol of guardianship, and is a reminder that God watches over all people.
  • Bottom left - Nkonsonkonson "Chain link" - this is a symbol of unity, and is a reminder to contribute to community, because it is unity that strength lies.
  • Bottom right - Ananse Ntontan "Spider's web" - this is a symbol of wisdom, creativity and the complexities of life. 

Pea's adinkra symbols mean:
  • Top left - Akoko Nan "The Leg of a hen" - this symbol represents nurturing and discipline, the ideal nature of parents.
  • Top right - Funtunfunefu "Siamese Crocodiles" - this is a symbol of democracy and unity. The siamese crocodiles need each other to survive, as they share one stomach, reminding us that infighting is harmful
  • Bottom left - Asase Ye Duru "The Earth has weight" - this symbol represents the importance of the earth in sustaining life.
  • Bottom right - Ese Ne Tekrema "The Teeth and the tongue" - this is a symbol of friendship and interdependence. They may come in conflict, but they need to work together. 
I hope you have the chance to make your own adinkra cloth. We'd love to see a picture if you do, be sure to share it on our Facebook page

You can find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at

You can find more creative and kid friendly activities at the following linkups:


  1. Oh, I really love this!!! They turned out so well, and I bet the family cloth will be incredible!! Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. They turned out great! I love all of this, it's so interesting to learn.

    1. Thank you Ticia, it really is so interesting!

  3. I love those bold bright prints! They both turned out great!!

    1. Thanks Resh - I especially like the contrast of the black over a bright background.

  4. I wondered if you would make this! I had it saved as an activity on my African pinterest board. Yours are all so good! And I agree with Phyllis, I bet the family one will be something to behold!
    (ps. This post didn't come through to my email but I got your next one (your weekend post) twice! What's that all about?!)

    1. Thanks Claire - now to plan the next textile....
      (I really don't know about these email issues! So annoying!)


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