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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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Nigerian Adire Cloth | 3 Ways to make it at home with paper & cloth

Adire is a traditional method of resist dyeing white cloth in indigo used by the Yoruba in Nigeria. The word adire translates as tie & dye, and it's thought the earliest form would have been simple tied designs on woven cloth. In the early decades of the 20th century, new access to large quantities of European imported factory produced cotton shirting gave rise to new designs and techniques - like cassava paste resist. 

Adire Oniko - the midle cloth has three baskets indicating money, education and power.
Photo Credit: Eugene Kim (CC

Adire was traditionally made by women. Designs are created by "painting" or tying the cloth - these areas keep out the dye. The cloth is then dipped in the large earthenware indigo dye pots, partially sunk into the ground, multiple times to get a dark color. 

Indigo dye pitsPhoto Credit: Eugene Kim (CC)

To make the indigo dye, indigo leaves are pounded and mixed with water and ashes (made by burning cocoa pods). This mixture is left to ferment in the sun for 7 to 10 days to turn blue and become a dye.

There are several methods of resist: 

  • Adire oniko is made by tying seeds or rocks with raffia
  • Adire eleko is made by painting with cassava paste and a chicken feather or with a metal stencil
  • Adire alabare is made by folding and stitching patterns with cotton thread
  • More recently, adire eleko is commonly made with wax, similarly to batik

Adire was an everyday cloth worn as a wrapper on women, and though it was produced until the 70s, it was most fashionable in the late 30s with different patterns highly requested from one year to the next. It was considered a dying tradition, though in the past decade or so a famous Nigerian artist & chief has revitalized it by offering free workshops & courses in centres opened to preserve and update this, and other, traditional arts. 

Watch a great 2 min introductory video of modern day artisans creating adire cloth in its different forms here.

This adire cloth was made using a stencil over the fabric, and filling in the openings with cassava paste.
Find this, and other examples of adire cloth at Hamill Tribal Textiles

3 Ways to Make "Adire" at Home

For inspiration to use in the following projects, find examples of adire here and here. And you can find a great chart of different adire patterns and their meanings here.

Paper Adire Eleko

Our other West African textile crafts so far have been with paper, so I wanted us to try these out with cloth. But I wanted to include a paper version for anyone who wants a quicker activity. I immediately thought of our Miao Batik inspired crayon resist, which is similar. Then I came across the following paper project inspired by Adire Eleko, and loved the idea of getting a darker, indigo like color.

Inspired by this post at Create Art with Me, this paper adire eleko was made with blue cardstock, white oil pastel crayon, and brushing over the design with a wash of watered down blue acrylic paint* and a drop of black india ink. A design is drawn in grids with adire inspired drawings before being brushed in "indigo".
*the original post uses blue liquid watercolor but I didn't have any on hand

Cloth Adire Eleko

The girls had a lot of fun with this, and want to try it again for other projects with different colored paint. This does take a few days - first the paste has to dry, then the fabric paint has to set. It's a project done in phases. We also learned a few things based on our mistakes and experimenting! We made our own "cassava" paste with all purpose flour and water, made designs over cotton with a squeeze bottle and when dry painted over it with slightly watered down fabric paint.

What you'll need:
  • flour & water
  • squeeze bottle
  • piece of white cotton
  • dark blue fabric paint
  • paintbrush
  • something waterproof to protect your work surface
First make your paste by starting off with 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water.Whisk and try to get as many lumps out. Fill a squeeze bottle with it.
*Running it through a sieve could ensure no lumps are in the paste
*Don't double the recipe - you'll end up with more lumps than paste, get frustrated trying to whisk them out, use it anyways and have very frustrated kids because you gave them a bottle with lumpy paste. And it might cause issues with final result... 

First create grids with your paste. Then have fun "drawing" designs with the paste. As long as the paste isn't lumpy and getting caught in the spout, your kids will really enjoy this :)

Let the paste dry - it didn't take that long to dry enough to paint over it, for us about an hour. We could tell it wasn't completely dry inside, but the outer edges "attaching" the paste to the fabric was good and hard. It would certainly be dry if left overnight.

Once the paste is dry, paint the entire piece with fabric paint that has a tiny bit of water in it. 
*try to avoid "cracking" the dried up paste by pushing down on it or the paint will seep into the cracks, giving it a batik look. 
*keep track of your ratio of water to paint so you can make a second batch should you run out.
*We did have a piece that was done with paint that was too watered down and it came out quite light.

Remove the paste
Wait until the fabric paint has dried and set for the time suggested on the bottle. There are two ways of removing the paste. You can just pick it off - our pieces were rather large, and it was a lot of paste to remove. Pea did it that way anyways because she liked the process :) It's easier and quicker to pick off if it gets a quick soak in hot water (3-4 minutes). Any longer than that in the hot water, and you're removing the paste the second way - rubbing off soaked and soft flour paste. In this way, rub the cloth together rinsing it regularly with warm to hot water. When most of it is removed, throw it in the wash (on a long cycle). 
*Do be sure to follow the paint instructions - 48 hours may seem long, but not as long as the required 72 hours and some of the color will wash off.  

Dry and iron it and you've got your own Adire Eleko!

Cloth Adire Oniko

I've been wanting to play with indigo dye for some time so when I read about adire, I immediately ordered an indigo dye kit. It created fantastic results we are all pleased with. I recommend this project for when it's warm enough to be outside - the dye has an incredibly foul smell (though washes out in the fabric, thank goodness) and your husband may well be displeased the whole house smells like sewage... your enthusiasm for the project might not be contagious.

What you'll need:
  • Jacquard Indigo Tie Dye Kit (Mini) (affiliate link) or any indigo tie dye kit - these come with the ash that needs to be combined with the indigo powder, as well as very useful instructions
  • white cotton fabric
  • twine or cording
  • beans (we used regular baking navy beans)
  • a large bucket with a lid for the dye bath
This is pretty straightforward, and most importantly follow the directions in the indigo kit. The mixture will have to sit for a minimum of an hour, and if kept covered, can be used for several days afterwards. I recommend setting up the dye in your bucket, and while it's setting, start tying your cloth.

Starting in the center of your cloth, place a bean, then pinch it and tie it tightly - the part of the cloth that is under the twine will resist the dye. This may take a few tries to get the hang of, but soon it'll be easy. Continue with lots of beans - Pea and I did ours methodically in rows, whereas Elle had a more random pattern. 

When you're ready to dye the cloth, follow the directions in the  kit. Essentially, you soak the fabric and place it in the dye being careful not to disturb it so as not to introduce oxygen in it. We kept our fabric in it for 2 minutes, set it aside for 20 minutes and then dyed them a second time for another 2 minutes. 
*I recommend purchasing longer gloves - while holding the fabric in the dye, some seeped into the cuff of the provided gloves and I had blue hands for days (the girls were oh so happy that didn't happen to them!)
*The cloth comes out looking green, but gradually turns indigo as it's exposed to oxygen (a fun chemistry lesson).

Let dry, then rinse and let dry again. Cut off or untie the strings, remove the beans and wash (on its own). Once clean and dry, iron and admire!

If you're interested in exploring other West African textiles with crafts, find all of our posts here.

Find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at
Photo credit for left photograph in title image credited to Eugene Kim (CC - Adapted by cropping into a collage with overlay)


  1. These are seriously, seriously good Marie! I love batik and used to do it a lot as a youngster (I realise this isn't exactly batik but close enough to make the comparison) I will definitely be doing all this when we get to Africa. Thank you once again for sharing your skills!

    1. These were a lot of fun, looking forward to seeing your interpretation of it!

  2. When you were first describing this I was totally thinking batiks. Glad to hear there are similarities.

    1. I guess I should write that right from the get go!

  3. Oh, cool! I would love to do this with my guys. I have learned so much from this post.

    1. I'm already looking forward to doing more - it was a lot of fun!

  4. Hi Marie, the technique similar to batik wax in Indonesia. But the Adire Eleko techniques can apply to kids as a batik learning and I think it's fun for children. in Indonesian handmade Batik canting, we use the waterglass to bind the color. so How to bind the color in Adire Eleko technique? just iron it or in cassava pasta must add the alum before?
    greet from Batik Bekasi Indonesia


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