Adire are indigo resist dyed cotton cloths that were made by women throughout Yorubaland in south-western Nigeria. It is a traditional Nigerian fabric that is used widely in fashion collections. Here’s the history of and symbolism of adire.
The process of creating adire consists of a process called resist-dyeing. This involves creating a unique pattern by treating certain parts of the fabric so that it won’t absorb the dye completely. In general, adire was worn by women as wrappers and by the mid 60’s, adire textiles were used internationally to create men’s shirts. In modern fashion, it is used in many different ways to strike a balance between the traditional and influx of modern fashion.
Adire cloth was usually prepared and dyed, by women. According to experts at the Victoria & Albert museum, the dying was done in large earthenware dye pots which were partially sunk into the ground. The dye used was made either from indigo leaves which grew locally or imported indigo grains. If leaves were used they would be collected into balls and allowed to ferment. The indigo was added to water which had been softened with caustic soda. The cloth would be dipped into the dye and then pulled out to allow it to oxidise and take on the bright blue colour. This process would then be repeated, the more times a cloth was dipped the darker it would become. Sometimes after it had been dyed the cloth would be beaten with a mallet so it took on a sheen.
Before dying cloths would be treated in a variety of ways to create patterns that would be revealed after dying. Raffia and starch were the two most common forms of resist used in the production of adire.
When raffia is tied around the cloth to act as a resist the cloths are known as adire oniko. A great variety of patterns can be produced using this method. For example, small circles can be created by tying small stones or seeds into the cloth and larger circles can be made by lifting a point of fabric and then binding the fabric beneath it tightly.
The term adire alabare is used when sewing has been used as a means to resist the dye. If the sewing has been done with raffia then it would be a form of adire oniko. Both machine sewing and hand sewing could be used to produce patterns. Although adire cloths were usually made by women the cloths that used a sewing machine were made by men.
Cloths decorated by using starch made from cassava flour to resist the indigo dye were known as adire eleko. The starch was only applied to one side of the cloth so the underside would be plain blue. The use of starch allows for a greater variety in the patterns that can be created. Starch could be applied through a stencil or painted on to the cloth freehand.