African / Dutch Wax Fabric Exhibit

Just popping in to give a plug for a wonderful textile exhibit I saw last week on African Wax Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art  with Carolyn, Andrea and Claudine.

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Philly is an easy two-hour drive from Baltimore and has one of the few remaining costume collections on the east coast. While no Met / Brooklyn Museum of Art collection, it was a phenomenal exhibition and worth a visit.

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The Vlisco: Fashion on a Global Stage exhibit is part of their season long Creative Africa focus.

Smartly curated, the Vlisco exhibit shows clothing made up in the wax prints. But, also highlights the history and meaning of various prints along the walls. In addition, they give a history of the company, how the wax trade worked and how the fabrics are made.

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Briefly, the fabrics we know today as ‘wax prints’ were originally made in Holland for the Indonesian market. The Indonesian batik process was labor intensive. So, the Dutch tried to speed up the process with mechanics.

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While the Indonesians rejected the prints, the global slave/commodities trade  brought it to the African continent and they fell for the bright and bold colors.

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I, as a confirmed magpie, will wear ALL the wax prints. Years ago I went to Ghana and must have brought home 60 – 100 yards of wax prints. I didn’t buy any fabric when I went to Bali. Turns out I was totally underwhelmed by Indonesian batiks. But, I highly recommend a textile tour if you do go to Bali. It’s worth it to see the process.

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Yet, when I look at Dutch wax prints, it’s easy to see the roots of the Indonesian batik process.

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You know, I generally don’t like saying ‘African’ because Africa is a continent made up of 54 different countries. I imagine it’s correct to say Dutch Wax Prints as the most famous line is Vlisco and they are made in the Netherlands. But, there are companies in Africa who also make prints like GTP.  I try to say Ankara which is how a lot of the West Africans I know refer to it and it shows up on Instagram.

Let’s close with some of my favorites:

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Shirtdress. This is going to happen this year. I promise.

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Cape Dress. It’s so gorgeous I weep.

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I just want to wear it and dramatically walk out of a room.

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Overall, a totally satisfying exhibit.


More photos from the exhibit with a few from my textile tour in Bali.

Some further reading if you’re interested:

Africa’s Fabric is Dutch, the New York Times

When West Africans Dress, the Fabric is the Message , The New York Times


Finally, I’m slowly working on altering some of my mom’s clothes for my wardrobe. This dress was made for my mom by my Aunt Judy when she visited Ghana.


I’d like to thank the Ghanian women who made my mom’s two piece dress for their 4 inch seam allowances. I was able to let the top out and wear it to the exhibition. I’m about six sizes larger than my mom.

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The bust is woefully unflattering (smooshes me into a pear vs an hourglass). But, it was my mom’s so I kind of don’t care 🙂 You can read more about the dress here from when I first altered it to fit her.

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  1. OK. So I need to go to Philly! It looks wonderful, and the cape dress? Swoon! The top looks fabulous on you!! By the way, the Met exhibit was incredible. I was tempted to risk jail and touch some of the fabrics, but I didn’t. Uniformity was a bit of a disappointment.

    • That makes me sad re: Uniformity 😦 But, we can still go back to NY and see the Gilded Age exhibit at the NY Museum and the Issac Mizrahi exhibit at the Jewish Museum in NY. I think you would have LOVED this one. It’s small, but incredibly interesting. And, I accidentally touched a garment here. At the Met they have guards everywhere and it’s all set so far back. Here it was up close and personal and I just totally forgot myself. Eep.

      On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 10:45 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  2. There used to be a blog, Treading in Benin, written by Cathy Wu. She used a lot of the local fabric over the year she blogged. But the stuff in Philadelphia is spectacular. And great pic of your Mom. I’d forgotten how pretty she was.

    • I remember that one! And, when in Benin she sewed a little bit using a treadle, right? Thank you re: my mom. I look at this photo and I can’t believe she was 62. Makes me very hopeful for future Renee.

      On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:04 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  3. This exhibit looks so fascinating. I’m in love with the key hole on the back of the dress in the first pictures. I love all types of batiks and I didn’t realize that the different types were done differently.

    Also, your mom’s top looks great on you and from the pics you can’t tell it’s boob smooshing.

    • Thank you for the boob smoothing validation 🙂 All the dresses there were designed in house my Vlisco. They do it for their catalogue. Just incredible work.

      On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:07 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


    • Thank you for reading (and commenting)! I love these things so much and am jump out of my seat excited when I get to see them.

      On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:14 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  4. wao, me encanta el colorido y los modelos. el modelo que le cosió tu tia a tu mamá es espectacular. me alegro que lo hallas podido alterar para que lo utilises. un abrazo desde el Mar Caribe

    • Ahhh! Muchas gracias Migdalia! Your words are beautiful!

      On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:15 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  5. OMG. thanks for this public service announcement. i love that vlisco.

    • I only know about it because in April I was trying to kill time in Philly and went to the museum. If you can go, go! And, next time, I’ll actually let you know if there’s something nearby. Maybe we could go together!

      On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:57 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  6. OMG the cape dress! have you watched the sewing bee episode where they sewed wax prints? amazing! my cousin (in scotland) married a ghanian man and they had a traditional white wedding but then in the evening they had all had traditional wax print outfits made.

  7. Thank you for letting us into the exhibition – such lovely clothes and prints. I really like the remake and don’t see the smooshing.

  8. Your Mom’s top looks great on you! Very flattering! Thanks for the exhibition visit!

  9. AHHH! This was so cool! Thanks for sharing pictures! THAT CAPE DRESS IS STUNNNNNNNING OH MY GOD!!!! Now I think I might be obsessed with finding a vintage pattern to replicate the look (I know I have come across a similar silhouette before in my estate sale travels so it’s only a matter of time, right?) Also thanks for the information about “Ankara” vs. “African wax print” vs. “Dutch wax print”. So much good information, and I am excited to read more.

    • JASIKA, my new in real life friend: Is very similar and was used in the no-longer-on-YouTube Sewing Bee episode from season 4. Also, I still have your fabrics to send. And, snapped a photo of one of the prints I’m sending and it’s explanation from the exhibit. It’s on my phone though so it’ll be coming to you with no other context.

      On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 1:38 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  10. So awesome that you could remake something of your mother’s and wear it–it looked lovely on her, and equally lovely on you. I’ve never seen this Dutch Wax fabric in person, but I’ve never felt compelled to buy any because I don’t like stiff/crisp fabrics (yes, I am weird). The prints though, 😍.

    • I know. you can’t do just anything with them. But, I love a shirtdress. And, I like a lot of what I made with them before. Some were most definitely stiffer than others though. I need more, more, more!

      On Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 3:15 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  11. Such a great exhibit! I have to see it sometime too! I love the fact you’re wearing your mom’s beautiful top! What a great tribute to her by her lovely daughter!

  12. Stunning exhibit! How long will it be available? It’s lovely that you are wearing your mother’s clothes. I don’t have any of my mother’s clothing, but I have a cookbook that I treasure and some dresser scarves, that I love to touch because I know she touched them last.

  13. I wish I could get to Philadelphia to see the exhibit. Jill Biden wore a dress of Vlisco fabric to an event maybe an inaugural event . Stunning!

  14. When I saw you in your top on Carolyn’s blog, I thought you looked stunning. Now that I know it was your mom’s it is even more fabulous! I don’t see the boob smooshing you speak of.

  15. Indonesian here, Bali is not actually famous for it’s batik, maybe ikat and other type of fabrics (which I can’t remember right now lol)
    If you want Indonesian batik, Java is the place to get them …

    • I think those are Bali ikats in your pictures of lots of fabrics hanging … Not batik …

      • Oh, yes. I think you’re right. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the completed batiks in the place they took me. And, these were from the market where they had ikat and another woven fabric that I can’t recall the name of. Thanks for the correction.

        On Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 11:06 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


    • Good to know! Thanks! I also can’t remember the other fabric. It’s something that the design is double woven and very expensive. No idea what it was called though….

      On Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 11:05 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  16. zowie your mom looks adorable, thank you for sharing the picture. Clearly you have some good genes to draw on a few decades out!

    Hopefully you can find a project for the skirt part of the dress, such lovely colors and patterns. Like other commenters I don’t notice the boob squashing you mention about the top, perhaps its one of those things you notice looking down? I find that happens with things I think are alarmingly low cut that don’t look so extreme from other angles.


  17. Renee, you definitely have to do that shirtdress with the waterfall effect! Can’t wait! And then you will have to let us know how to do the waterfall, tee hee! It is so nice that you are doing projects with your mother’s things, she would be so happy. Thank you for the pictures of the exhibition. I wish I lived closer by to go and take a look but Toronto is too far away up here in Canada ! Take care and all the best.

  18. SO GOOD. That exhibit makes me swoon. And the company wasn’t too shabby either ;). I’ve been saying African wax print since I tried to teach a homesick gal from Ghana about the Dutch origins (a forest for the trees moment), but Ankara. Yes. There it is, of course.

    I love that you’re recreating your mother’s garments. Truly, wearable heirlooms.

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