Hey there fabric lovers! Marcy of oonaballoona here, ready to enable your new African Wax Print obsession. Because once you start… you won’t stop!
This fabric has long been a favorite of mine, largely due to its colorful nature and wonderful patterns. It has an interesting history, originating in Holland, intended as a knockoff of Indonesian Batik print. The Indonesian market didn’t respond to the brighter, graphic designs of wax print, but it found a delighted reception in Africa. Therefore, you might hear it called Dutch Wax Print, African Wax Print, or Ankara.
Wax print is 48” wide, but, you get a whopping six yards in every cut. SIX. YARDS. So the possibilities in a single cut are fairly endless! I’ve actually made two garments from this single cut— one is a maxi skirt awaiting a waistband, and the other is this little yellow wrap dress of sunshine, a modified @McCalls 7246. And I still have decent sized remnants left!
Here are my tips for working with African Wax Print fabric, in no particular order:
Choose a simple pattern
Choose a simple pattern for your first foray, something that won’t break up the print too much. As you get deeper into this obsession, it’s loads of fun to choose patterns with lots of pieces, to incorporate all the scraps you’ll accumulate (like I said, six yards in a cut)! For example, I’ve used scraps from another garment to face my hem.
Embrace the print
Even with careful planning, you’re likely to get a circle, bird, or what-have you highlighting a place you didn't intend. Consider this when placing your pattern, but when working with a repeating print like this, it’s bound to highlight an area anyway!
Remove your stickers with care
Authentic wax print comes with a sticky label. Place your pressing cloth over the label, and use a hot iron to melt the glue. Then, you can easily pull the label off.
Use both sides
Another great thing about wax print is the wrong side— as you can see in the photo detailing the faced hem, the colors are almost as vibrant on the wrong side as the right side. If you’re working with a print that involves symbols, as many wax prints do, you can flip over to the reverse to get a mirror image.
To wash, or not to wash?
It’s your call! Wax print comes, as the title suggests, with wax embedded in the fabric. This gives it a crisp, stiff drape, great for structural styles that need shape. If you want to take advantage of the wax, it’ll need to be a “dry clean only” garment. If you’d like a softer cotton, simply give it a pre-wash, and it’ll soften right up (I like to wash on cold and dry on low heat, as that’s how I treat most of my handmade items).
Go against the grain
The skirt of this dress was cut on the crossgrain. I’ve made many wax garments cut on the crossgrain— just be sure you’re thinking about the stress you might put on the garment. You wouldn’t want to make a pencil skirt on the crossgrain, that’d be too much stress for the crossgrain! Here, the bodice of the dress, which takes more stress than the loose, wide skirt, is cut on the lengthwise grain.
Lastly, HAVE FUN. Though really, when playing with these candy colors, what other choice do you have?