The True History Of Dashiki

Dashiki Of Africa 

The history of dashiki is symbolic of its rebellion and anti-mainstream fashion which is what gives it's Dashiki pride identity for many as it represents having a strong sense of independence. The dashiki pattern was first designed by the Vlisco textile designer Toon van de Manakker in the late 1950s. Manakker explained that he took inspiration from the styling of the tunic worn by Ethiopian noblewomen in the 19th century.

The history of the dashiki is meaningful to many as it was the chosen fashion of both prominent members of the 1960's  American civil rights movements and the members of the hippy counter-culture community. This is because wearing the dashiki shirt became a form of communicating to mainstream America.

A dashiki shirt is the name of the traditional shirt style worn by African men. Throughout the history of the dashiki as an African fashion, dashiki fabrics have never been made in Africa, despite the fact that we commonly identify the  'dashiki' African print or African waxed prints. In the majority of  Africa and particularly West Africa, the dashiki material is commonly called the 'Angelina fabric'.

The Dutch-based textile giant Vlisco was the main fabric printer and distributor for the  African print textile market for several decades. Vlisco printed dashikis and 1000's of other African prints patterns that are commonly called Ankara in Nigeria, ntoma in Ghana, kitenge, or chitenge in Eastern Africa which are also a few of the common names for the 100% cotton print fabrics referred to as African prints.

These days, dashiki fabrics are printed mostly in China, Indonesia, or Thailand who also have created and added much newer and vibrant colors to the original limited number of dashiki colors.

You can find dashiki fabrics in cotton, polyester, lycra and several other textile mediums however the two most popular are the heavy 100% cotton dashiki fabric from China often sold in 6 yards or the lightweight rayon blend cotton from Thailand or Indonesia. This is commonly used to sew dashiki Tee shirts. The rayon cotton is a lightweight material that is slightly see-through and feels like viscose or silky when rubbed. Rayon cotton prints often tend to run with the first few washes.

A common misconception held by many is the association of fair trade with dashiki fabrics that are not printed in Africa despite its African identity.  There are no fair trade dashiki fabrics although an atelier may choose to employ under privilege seamstresses to make dashiki cloths who they, in turn, pay fair wages to.

As all modern African prints are digitally printed, you can wash dashiki in the washing machine at normal temperatures without the worry of the dyes running like every normal clothing. In the past, most African print fabrics were hand block printed with a dye that would run with washing and also fade in when dried in the sun. This has left previous generations with the wrong idea that African print fabric should not be washed in order to avoid fading to occur.

Apart from a few dedicated small scale textile makers who still print fabric by stamping or dying by hand, The few African print fabric companies in Africa now all print using digital systems. Technically African print fabrics are not waxed either anymore as many people wrongly state online with references such as African wax print.

Some other African names of the Angelina fabric are 'Miriam Makeba' in South Africa or 'Addis Ababa' in Ethiopia. My aunt tells me that when she was in vocational school as a seamstress in the 60's, students received extra merits for cutting shapes around the pattern. This method of sewing remains just as important now too when sewing with the dashiki fabric to ensure that the pattern shows correctly.


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