Know Your Adire History

If you’re here reading this, we would want to believe you are familiar with this textile but let’s have a little intro.
Adire, is a Yoruba (a tribe in Southwestern Nigeria) word for tie and dye. It was first made by Yoruba women of old by using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques.
As the direct Yoruba meaning suggests, the earliest pieces of Adire were probably simple tied designs on cotton cloth handspun and woven locally.
According to Wikipedia, the origin of Adire might be traced to the archaeological discovery in some Tellem burial caves of Mali. Among the archeological findings, is a cap bearing the extant and popular Osubamba motif common in the Adire art of the Yoruba people.

First set of Adire prints traceable to the Tellem cave of Mali.

The tradition of indigo dyeing goes back centuries in West Africa. The earliest known example is a cap from the Dogon kingdom in Mali dating to the 11th century, dyed in the oniko style. However, by the end of the 1930s the spread of synthetic indigo and caustic soda and an influx of new less skilled entrants caused quality problems and a still-present collapse in demand. Though the more complex and beautiful starch resist designs continued to be produced until the early 1970s, and despite a revival prompted largely by the interest of the US Peace Corps workers in the 1960s, never regained their earlier popularity. In the present day, simplified stenciled designs and some better quality oniko and alabere designs are still produced, but local taste favours “kampala” (multi-coloured wax resist cloth, sometimes also known as adire by a few people).

In the early decades of the 20th century new access to large quantities of imported shirting material via the spread of European textile merchants in Abeokuta and other Yoruba towns caused a boom in these women’s entrepreneurial and artistic efforts, making adire a major local craft in Abeokuta and Ibadan, attracting buyers from all over West Africa.
Abeokuta is considered to be the capital of adire making in Nigeria, however some suggest that the large cities of Ibadan and Osogbo (Yorubaland) are more important in Adire making because Adire dyeing began in Abeokuta when Egba women from Ibadan returned with this knowledge.
The first Adire material was made with Teru (local white attire) and Elu (local Dye) made from elu leaf which is planted in the Saki area of Oyo state. There was an increase in tie-dye makers and artistic endeavours in the 20th century when more fabrics imported from European merchants became available for dyeing.

Production process of some of AdireLounge prints

The cloth’s basic shape became that of two pieces of shirting material stitched together to create a women’s wrapper cloth. New techniques of resist dyeing developed.

Interestingly, there has been a recent revival of the Adire art by Nigerian artisans with the likes of Nike Davies-Okundaye, who has inspired a younger generation of designers including Amaka Osakwe (and her label Maki-Oh), Duro Olowu and even us at Adire Lounge. Political figures and celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Lupita Nyong’o have worn adire-inspired clothes recently.

Michelle Obama at an interview in an Adire shirt

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