Philadelphia and African wax prints

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while you know I have the greatest job in the world. I work with wine and I get to travel to science conferences in all sorts of interesting places. This year has been exceptional.

My latest trip was to Philadelphia.

I managed to squeeze in an afternoon at the Creative Africa Exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The textile exhibits and the African wax print fashions were wonderful.

Love the use of the border print up the side of this princess line dress, and through the yoke.

And how can you not love a coat with enormous balls of wool, a chicken family dress or a dress featuring huge shoes?

Embellishment details

The fabric designs are so clever, and fun!..

Love these sewing related ones! And the hand bags.

I came home with some African wax prints of my own from Fabric Row (4th St).

An Angelina print, for my very own dashiki dress perhaps?

and another yellow ‘plaid’ design

My fashion critics at home have already named this one ‘ghost fish’.

Have I convinced you that wax prints are awesome?

The Creative Africa exhibition is still on for a few more days until September 25. If you’re in the area, don’t stop to think about it…. just go!

And then visit the Thinker afterwards. He’s just down the road from the exhibition.

21 thoughts on “Philadelphia and African wax prints

  1. Wow although I am far away to make a stop at this exhibition, I won’t miss to see your pictures! Love the dynamite fabric most! Thank you very much for showing.
    Bye Philo

  2. These prints are just amazing! I love the first dress especially! And believe it or not – I just finished a wax print dress yesterday! Unfortunately we seem to have gone from sun straight to neverending rain, so no pictures for the time being…

  3. I LOVE wax prints! Gosh I love them. I have yet to buy or make anything because I’d want to be careful to not be too appropriative. I don’t think I’d make an actual Dashiki dress, for instance, I wouldn’t feel comfortable as a white person wearing one. But I used to live in a street with a lot of African immigrants and boy their outfits were just always so great. One of these days I’ll get my hands on some of that fabric and make the most amazing dress or skirt. One day!

    I’ve read that the different prints often mean specific things – I’ve seen that chicken one mentioned as one that newly married women often wear (I think?) did the exhibition say anything about that? I found it so fascinating.

    1. Yes I’m a bit worried about cultural appropriation too. I don’t think I’ll make a traditional dashiki tunic from my fabric, but a western style dress with that motive could be just as wrong?? This stuff is not easy.
      There was information at the exhibition about the prints. Very interesting stuff. The print with the chickens is called Happy Family and it’s been around since the 50s. It’s a hen surrounded by her chicks and chicks-to-be (eggs). The rooster only get his head shown: He is not the important part of the family…

      1. I’ve been thinking about this. I think the line for me is, would a reasonable person assume I was wearing a costume/on my way to some kind of ceremony? Then it’s too much. Of course that’s a pretty subjective and porous line but at least it gives me a way to think about it.

        I used to live in a suburb with a lot of African immigrants and I did ask a couple of people and they seemed kind of surprised that I would be worried about wearing the fabric, as distinct from a traditional type of top etc. Many of them wore modern style dresses and tops out of the fabric as well as the more traditional. I kind of feel like, well, we’re all in this weird colonial history together… which I think honestly is part of the reason I love wax prints. Their history is so interesting and sometimes awful and convoluted in that specific colonial way. Possibly that is not the correct way to think about it, though? Idk. It’s very tricky.

        I LOVE the way that Happy Family print is keeping the rooster in proper perspective! 😛

        1. I’ve been thinking that appropriation and African wax prints and garment sewing and wearing by non Africans could be a blog post on its own. But you’ve covered it so well, so, my work is done 😜

          I’m with you on the custom versus clothing aspect. I won’t make a loose t shirt style top because that would look like a dashiki. I do want to use the motif on the neckline though, like its used on a dashiki, because it’s such a cool feature. Is that too close? Where does inspiration end and appropriation begin?

          At least at my glacial speed of fabric transforming from stash dweller to garment, I’ll have plenty of time to think about this.

  4. All right…those big balls of wool finally convinced me of the beauty of wax prints. But since I don’t wear bold graphic designs I’ll admire this print from afar. 🙂 😉

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