Wax lyrical with Juliet
Winner of The Great British Sewing Bee series five, Juliet gives the lowdown on how to go big, bold and beautiful with Ankara wax fabric!
With interesting patterns, bold prints and an abundance of colours, African wax fabric have graced a growing number of home sewists’ tables. This bundle of colourful goodness, also commonly known as Ankara fabric or Dutch wax, is my go-to fabric whenever I catch the creativity bug. Could it be because of the endless ways the patterns can be played around with, co-ordinated, mixed, matched or clashed? Could it be because of the designs which are sometimes big and bold; sometimes delicate and subtle but always printed on both sides of the fabric? Could it be because of how easy it is to cut, sew and press the wax cotton fabric? Whatever it is, Ankara fabric sparks my creativity – all the time!
The most common questions on a lot of sewing enthusiasts’ lips includes where or how to purchase the fabric and how to handle them. So, I’ll be sharing some tips, advice and suggestions with you to successfully use Ankara fabrics.
There are a growing number of African wax fabric stores around the country. I purchase a lot of my wax fabric from fabric markets in London: Petticoat lane, Dalston, Brixton or Deptford high street. Whilst in store, I look out for how the fabric has been organised. The wax fabric merchants sort them into categories of quality due to the processes of manufacturing. The 100% cotton fabrics are pricier than those with a polyester mix. They (the merchants) are mostly willing to give customers a good deal if more than two bundles of fabric are purchased. It is worth noting that Ankara fabrics are normally sold in six-yard bundles in stores. You really have to feel the fabrics because those of a poorer quality have a starchy/‘papery’ feel to them.
Buying Ankara online
Even though I am yet to venture into the world of online Ankara fabric shopping, here are a few tips to bear in mind before reaching for your wallet.
Observe the drape of the fabric if it is laid out on a dress form. Poor quality Ankara fabric will not drape as well as one which is 100% cotton.
Pay attention to the props used in the product photograph to get a sense of the scale or proportion of patterns on the fabrics. Most online sellers use coins, rulers or measuring tapes to help buyers to grasp the sizing.
In this age of social media and YouTube, some sellers include videos showing off the drape and feel of their fabrics. This is always a great help.
Read customer reviews on the shop’s website or the comments on their Instagram page.
However, if you’re in doubt, ask. Drop a quick line to the seller to get more information about the fabric you want to purchase.
The internet, to most of us, could seem faceless but as we know, behind the websites are real people and most online sellers of Ankara fabric are small business owners who go above and beyond to serve their customers well. They just might send you a swatch or sell less than six yards of fabric to you, so do ask.
Caring for Ankara fabric
In order to take care of your Ankara fabric, you must remember to pick the correct temperature and the right detergent. The safest way to care for your fabric is to hand wash them in cold or lukewarm water. If washing machines must be used, opt for a cold wash setting on your machine; this should prevent your fabric from fading. Some wax fabric is well known for its characteristic ‘stiffness’ and shine so I recommend you wash before working with them.
Top tip: In order to remove the troublesome adhesive manufacturer labels attached to your Ankara fabric, use a warm pressing iron to glide over the label protected with a pressing cloth. The heat from the iron should enable the label to peel off with ease. For a detailed tutorial, search for this topic on www.sewsonatural.com where I shared a blog post on removing sticky labels from wax fabric.
Sewing with Ankara fabric is such a breeze and this fabric type is in style around the world. For sewists who are new to wax fabric, start with soft furnishings, tote bags, Obi belts, fabric-covered buttons or make up bags. But for those have the desire to incorporate wax fabric into their wardrobes, pencil skirts or gathered midi skirts are a great way to start.
I have a step-by-step tutorial on how to sew a stylish gathered midi skirt using exposed elastic bands on my YouTube channel. But for the more confident dressmaker, there are a fabulous range of commercial sewing patterns that work well with African wax fabric so don’t limit your options!
Start simple, get fancy later
It is very important to choose a simple pattern when starting out with sewing Ankara fabric; one which will not interrupt or break up the print a lot. The more experienced you get, the better you will be at working with the patterns. I often stay away from using very bold prints when sewing garments with princess seams, fancy darts, yokes or too many style lines. For those type of sewing patterns, select fabrics with smaller prints.
Remember that you might get fabric with large circles, birds, flowers etc so do pay attention to your pattern placement. It is also worth noting that both sides of the fabric can be used (especially with those good quality fabric bundles) because the colours are almost as vibrant on the wrong side. This is a great help for working with prints which involve symbols – just flip the fabric over to the reverse side to get a mirror image.
The commercial sewing patterns shown here are great for creating garments using Ankara. I hope my they inspire you to start sewing with this beautiful fabric!