Last summer I was at an event hosted by Abjel Communications. The aim of the evening was to network, brainstorm, think and hear stories with the goal of getting a better story of Africa out there. A story of rich diversity, creativity, beauty, strength, struggle and hope among other things. Rather than just the hackneyed story of sameness, poverty and corruption.
I was a bit of an intruder as I don’t work in communications. I was there to support my friend who had organised the event and because I was interested. It was an enlightening evening. As I listened I thought “what can I do as a Ghanaian, a tutor and homeschool mum who likes to sew in her spare time?” As a teacher, my first thought was “educate”. As a hobby sewist with a love of Ankara fabric, my second thought was “wear your story “.
The dress I wore that evening was a Colette Patterns Peony dress that I made from some gorgeous Ankara fabric I got online. I made it 5 years ago for a wedding. My daughter and I were the only people of colour at that wedding, and I was the only one dressed in bright red and yellow! I got a lot of comments, all nice, none patronising. I was surprised.
I remember a time when, to my shame I was too embarrassed to wear anything that could mark me out as African. I didn’t want to stand out, I dreaded the comments people would make.
Why? Because there was a time before Fuse ODG, a time before Waka Waka and the FIFA world cup in South Africa. A time before Jollof rice was common parlance. A time before Chinelo Bally and Juliet Uzor brought ankara to the Great British Sewing Bee! There was a time when it wasn’t cool to be African. I remember that time painfully and I’m sad that the open teasing, bullying and discrimination my family and I received back in the 70s and 80s and the more subtle forms of the 90s, initially made me ashamed of who I was and then fed up of always defending and explaining who I was.
But not anymore! I grew up and shook off the discomfort of being African, I embrace who God has made me and where he’s placed me. However, it’s only been within the last decade that I began to appreciate ankara. For the past few years I have been collecting, wearing and sewing ankara, wax print, cloth, wrapper whichever you chose to call it. Even though I have lived in England for all but the first 2 years of my life, I love that this fabric connects me to the land and people that are part of me. I love to hear the stories behind, around and within the fabric and I love to share those stories with others.
A little word about cultural appropriation as it has been highlighted in the sewing world recently. Ankara is especially popular amongst West Africans but the wax print technique obviously doesn’t belong to Africa. The influences are from batik, a method of dying cloth first used by Indonesians, I believe. I love that there seems to be a new found love of wax print and it’s great seeing so many people using the fabric so creatively. Go for it, I say. Even wear a kaba and slit if you like! My hope is that an appreciation of the fabric will lead to a respect for the people who have made this fabric their own.
But when it comes to Kente, the traditional cloth of the Ashanti people, now that’s a different story! 😊😊 I’ll write a blog about that another time.