How to Batik in Accra

This weekend, six of us decided to try our hands at batiking. If you don’t know what that is, batik is the process of decorating cloth using wax and dye.

The word batik originates from the Javanese tik and means to dot. And the style was brought to Ghana by Dutch merchants.

To make our batik, we chose areas of the fabric to stamp with wax and then the cloth was dyed. The parts covered in wax resist the dye and stay the original color. You can repeat this process over and over, layering the dyes. The woman who taught us, makes some of the most beautiful designs. Our first tries were much simpler!

We arrived at Esther’s compound around 9:30 in the morning (an in-depth interview with Esther can be found here). We were greeted with cold water and warm hugs, as Esther showed us around. In the past year, she has built a complex for bathrooms, as well as a dedicated lean-to to protect visitors from the sun.

While Esther has been creating her own batiks for the last 20 years, she would happily spend her days running these workshops and teaching others the skill.

First, you start with the stamps:

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From traditional prints to animals to the artist formerly known as Prince, Esther has a lot to choose from. I’m not kidding when I say our first hour was spent looking through the stamps.

We also needed to decided if we wanted to start with a white canvas or if we wanted to dye our fabric first. You’re more likely to get what you have in mind if you stamp on white, but dying first often gives a more textured look to the fabric.

I couldn’t make up my mind, so I decided to do multiple prints. For 120 cedis (approx $30 USD) you get the tutorial, as well as your first two yards of fabric. Each yard of fabric thereafter is another 16 cedis (approx $4 USD). I decided to start with two designs, both requiring a pre-dye: one raspberry, the other charcoal.

While I puttered around, choosing my colors and my stamps, Chandler had already gotten started (that’s right, I convinced Chandler to come with us!). Unsurprisingly, he chose a simple stamp, with a simple pattern, on white cloth.

It looked like this:

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Over the next hour, my fabric sat in dye, before being rung out and dried in the yard. The process is quite straightforward. Mix the powdered dyes to get the right color and stir it in the water. Esther was quite clear – despite your best efforts, coloring rarely turns out exactly as planned. Something we were going to learn soon enough!

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Five Minutes in Tafi Abuife Kente Village

To be fair, I once again didn’t quite do all my homework. I knew that the Tafi Abuife Kente Village was in the Volta region and I already knew we’d be in the area because of the location of the Wli Falls.

However, I didn’t take into account just how far the village was from our location: about a two-hour round trip. Which, isn’t really a big deal for a full outing, but in retrospect, was a bit far for the five minutes we spent there.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

My last post ended with the bruised and battered return of our friends from the four-hour hike to the upper falls. After a round of showers, we set off for the kente village around noon.

About an hour later we arrived at a small warehouse. While our driver talked to some men who, up until our arrival, had been sleeping inside, I walked around and snapped some pictures.

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It was interesting to see how much space was needed for these looms. Also, while the second and fourth photo show what I’ve come to consider as “typical” Ghanaian kente cloth designs, I had never seen the first design before.

We had assumed we’d arrive, see how the production of the cloth happened, and then browse through a store or market for the finished product. Wrong.

It was clear that Saturday is not a typical day to observe…given that the only people inside the facility were napping. We were told that in order to receive a tour, we needed to go to the head office down the road, pay, and then return. We were escorted out.

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