Ghanaians clothed in lively colours and complex patterns are an essential part of Accra’s landscape. There are numerous forms of fabric printing, though one of the most popular forms in Ghana and other parts of West Africa is Batik.

In trying to spend my unemployed days doing varied activities, my friend and I decided to do something arty and booked a Batik Making Workshop through TasteMakersAfrica (the same company I used to book my Mountain Biking in Shai Hills).

Grace next to the bowl of wax used to Batik

The word batik originates from the Javanese tik and means to dot. It is both an art and a craft, which is becoming more popular and well known in the West as a wonderfully creative medium. The art of decorating cloth in this way, using wax and dye, has been practised for centuries. In Java, Indonesia, batik is part of an ancient tradition, and some of the finest batik cloth in the world is still made there.

The workshop we attended was held at Gracia’s Fabrics in East Legon. Gracia’s is owned by Grace who has been designing and creating colourful pieces of fabric for nearly 30 years.

Sponge blocks stamps to decorate cloth

After a brief introduction to batik, we were each given 2 yards of 100% white cotton cloth to decorate. The patterns are made using sponge blocks which have various images and symbols carved out. We were given the freedom to choose the patterns we liked the best from the countless options available.

Thereafter, we had to dip the selected sponge block(s) in a large bowl of steaming hot wax. The excess wax was then shaken off and the sponge pressed firmly on the white cloth to create our desired pattern. This was repeated until the cloth was covered with design. Being novices, the actual pattern was different to our desired pattern 🙂 . It’s a lot harder to get each imprint aligned, as well as making sure that the pressure applied on the cloth is constantly the same.

Cloth with completed design before dyeing

Once we were completed with our design, the next step involved waiting for the wax prints on the fabric to dry. While waiting, we selected the colours of dye we wanted. Grace told us that when dyeing the fabric more than one colour it is necessary to do so from lightest to darkest.

After the wax had dried, the cloth was then dipped in the first bath of dye after which it had to be left to dry again. Once dried, the next application of wax printing began on areas where we did not want the second dye colour to cover. Thereafter the fabric was dyed in the second colour we chose.

We only did a two-colour-dyeing process, though the above complete sequence (waxing, dyeing and drying) can be repeated numerous times to create more elaborate and colourful designs.

After completing our two-colour dyeing and drying process, the cloth was then dipped in boiling water to remove the wax. Before allowing the cloth to dry again, it was necessary to rinse it in clear hot water one final time. It was rather exciting to see the colourful patterns which we had created on the cloth!

Marbling technique to decorate fabric

To pass some time while waiting for the final drying of the cloth, Grace, provided us with a third yard of cloth to decorate using another decorating technique called “Marbling”. We had to scrunch the fabric tightly into order to create a tightly rippled dying surface that produced a pattern. The colour dye was then poured on the fabric and allowed to dry.

It was a lovely creative afternoon spent in the company of Grace, discovering the art and beauty of batik and getting a glimpse into the life of a local artisan.

My friend and I left the workshop with our one-of-a-kind fabrics to later sew into a finished product.