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In today’s blog we are going to talk about Kitenge Fabric! It is a West African fabric and we are going to dive right in! Check out all of the puctures and the table of contents below to see everything we cover!
Kitenge is an East African, West African and Central African fabric often worn by women and wrapped around the chest or waist, over the head as a headscarf, or as a baby sling. Kitenges are usually colorful pieces of fabric.
There is a festival in Kenya, called the Kitenge festival, it is a popular event held periodically and is meant to highlight the varied uses of Kitenge fabric. Kitenges are usually given as gifts to young women.
Kitenges can be used on occasions and in many ways either symbolically or for practical reasons.
- In Malawi, Kitenges are customary for women at funerals.
- The Maasai wears dark red kitenge garments to symbolize their love for and their dependence on the earth.
- They are used as a sling to hold a baby across the back of a mother. They can hold the baby at the front as well, particularly when breastfeeding.
4. They are sometimes tied together and used as decorative pieces at dinner tables.
5. When women go to the beach, often the Kitenge is wrapped around the bathing suit for modesty or to shield cold air.
6. Kitenges can be framed or otherwise hung up on the wall as a decorative batik artwork.
7. Kitenge cloth is also used to make a variety of clothing for women and in recent times men.
Raw cotton yarns are woven into grey cloth that is stiff and dirty. The cloth is then bleached white to clean and remove any impurities before being strengthened and stretched to its desired width.
The prints are designed on a computer using CAD software in black and white form. Traditionally two or three colors are added to the cloth at the end of the production process. Each print design is usually produced in several different colorways.
The design is engraved onto a pair of copper rollers before being printed onto both sides of the cloth using melted, molten wax. The wax used is a natural product that comes from pine tree resin.
The cloth is then put into an indigo dye bath where the exposed parts of the cloth are dyed and the resin covered parts are resisted. This process can also cause naturally formed fine cracks in the wax, which can allow small amounts of the dye to seep through onto the cloth.
The wax is then deliberately cracked using specific machinery depending on the desired outcome such as marbling and bubbles.
Large, industrial printing machines are used to add solid colors to the design either before and/or after the wax is removed from the cloth. Sometimes part of the design is hand carved onto a wooden block and applied to the fabric by hand (called block printing). This coloration process is key to producing the highly distinctive and vibrant colors of all of our garments from African Dresses to African print trousers.
The cloth is then washed to remove all the small residues of wax and excess dyes ensuring that color fastness standards are met.
There are different types of finishes that are applied to the cloth depending on the desired outcome. The fabric can sometimes look shiny which disappears after the first initial wash. Certain fabrics are more expensive due to the type of finishing used at the end of the manufacturing process, which can be costly.
Due to the nature of the wax printing process it is impossible to make each piece of cloth look exactly the same so they are truly unique. Furthermore because tailors cut the fabric used to make the clothing by hand, the print positioning is different on each item meaning each one is even more one of a kind!
Add 8 tbsp (120 ml) of salt to 1 quart of cold or lukewarm water. Make sure the fabric is completely covered by the liquid and leave it to soak for two or three days before washing according to instructions. When you do wash it, it’s worth adding some fabric softener just for that extra helping hand.
White vinegar (and it must be white – dark vinegar may stain fabrics) naturally softens the fabric. Simply add 8tbsp (120ml) to a load of laundry before the final rinse cycle or put it in the fabric softener dispenser at the beginning of the wash. Make sure to run your garment through on a vinegar-free cycle afterward though: you don’t want to smell like a bag of chips!
Baking soda helps to soften water, which in turn will help to soften fabrics. Depending on the size of your load, add 8tbsp (120ml) to your normal wash cycle.
One thing it is important to remember is to stay away from excessive heat. When looking for advice on softening fabrics, more often than not you will be told to ‘put the item in the tumble dryer.’
However, for the majority of African print fabrics, this is not advised. It’s vital that you read the care label on a garment (or check out the manufacturer’s care instructions) to check what is recommended.
Steaming can also help to soften the fabric but if you decide to employ the iron, again make sure you are following care instructions to the letter: you don’t want to risk spoiling your fabric or garment.
If a garment is a steam iron friendly, it’s a good idea to put paper towels or a tea towel both underneath and on top of the item before starting to iron, just to give the fabric a little more protection from the direct heat and to catch the odd, rare wax remnants. You should also always iron your African prints on the inside.
If a piece of clothing is dry clean only – and steam cleaning is an option to help soften the item – make sure the dry cleaners you use has experience with African print fabrics: you don’t want to end up regretting your decision!
Also remember: whatever method you choose to soften your African print fabrics, or even simply when you wash them, it’s important to lay them flat or hang them up to dry naturally. Wringing or twisting the fabric will only compromise the opulent colors and cause them to fade much faster.
When washing the was fabric, the timing is all up to you. It is not like other clothes in the needing to be washed all the time. It has a nice, crisp finish. When you do wash it, make sure to wash with cold water. Warm water will make the colors bleed and fade faster. Air drying is the best, but if you are going to use a dryer, dry on a low-tumble setting. This will keep it from having any heat damage, shrinkage, or more fading and bleeding.
Today we went over what kitenge fabric is and all of the creative ways it can be used! We also went over the Basic steps in African Wax Print Fabric Production, and how to wash and soften the fabric!
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