African Fabrics

My older sister lives in Gabon with her husband and three kids.  They live a life in which every weekend they are here:


Yeah, rough, right??  My twin sister, Cate, recently went for a three week visit. The country is amazingly beautiful. A good portion of it is a natural reserve and so she saw things like this:


Not to mention the jungle goes right up to the ocean so you see animals enjoying the surf.


But on to what we all really care about… fabric! My sisters were kind enough to gather a number of yards for their fabric addicted sister. It’s all so beautiful and inspirational!

Fabrics in Bag

Some that I think will have to be whole cloth quilts. I can’t cut into the amazing large scale designs.

Large Scale Pattens

Some home dec. weight:

Home Dec

Some great repeats:


And check out the selvedges:


I have done a bit of reading on how to lock inks in fabric but if any of you have any tips I’m all ears! Definitely going to be going against my usual no prewashing laziness with these. I want them to last and the colors to hold so please do comment if you’ve got suggestions!

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  • Rossie

    May 12, 2010 at 8:20 am | Reply

    My grandma gave me some scraps of african prints a few years ago. I mixed them in with some feedsacks for a pretty cool result. Can’t wait to see what you make!

  • Molly

    May 12, 2010 at 9:21 am | Reply

    Wow! You got some beautiful fabrics. Your sisters are the BEST!! My mom used to die things frequently and she always washed them in cold salt water when done to set the dyes. I don’t have any proportions though ….

  • diane

    May 12, 2010 at 9:44 am | Reply

    Wow…I want sisters like that! And that fabric…..nice.

  • jennifer

    May 12, 2010 at 9:52 am | Reply

    My sister brought me some lovely yardage from Ho, Ghana this spring. Your loot is wonderful! Like you, I can’t bear to cut into mine.

    So jealous of your sister’s locale, by the way.

  • Megan C.

    May 12, 2010 at 9:58 am | Reply

    I use batiks and to wash them I use a product called Retayne. It sets the colors and I never have a problem with them. You can get it at

  • Megan C.

    May 12, 2010 at 9:59 am | Reply

    And since my brother travels to Africa I may have to have go looking for this. I’m sure he’ll love it.

  • Pepper Cory

    May 12, 2010 at 10:05 am | Reply

    Oooooh! These are beautiful. Wholecloth–OK. But some would be super in larger quilts with bold solid strips between them. Very cool-lucky you.

  • Tracey J

    May 12, 2010 at 10:07 am | Reply

    My best friend’s husband grew up in Gabon (His Dad runs a hospital there)… and I have visited Kenya… I wish I had known to get some fabrics while I was there (maybe I will have his family pick some up for me)! Those are beautiful. I especially love that tree.

  • Amber

    May 12, 2010 at 10:37 am | Reply

    What sweet sisters! And the photos are lovely…what an amazing place for your nephews and nieces to grow up in!

  • Alison Marie

    May 12, 2010 at 11:10 am | Reply

    You can also add white vinegar to the salted rinse water – about a cup per load. And if you go to ‘Wild Fiber’ in Santa Monica, ask them for advice – they sell a product called ‘Synthrapol’ or ‘Retayne’ (I can’t remember which) which helps to set dyes and prevent bleeding.

  • Cheryl Arkison

    May 12, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Reply

    The cold water and vinigear works usually, but you might have to do it a few times to make sure. I’m a fan of Synthrapol myself. Chemicals, I know, but it works.

    I just picked up some more African prints from Pippa Moore. Lovely. And they are working quite well with my De Gama indigos.

  • lily boot

    May 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Reply

    Oooh I’m so glad you have lots of advice above ’cause I’ve seen customers wash their african fabrics and oh it is a sad story when they don’t do anything to fix the dyes first! The fabris are wonderful!!!! And using them will create such a magical story of surf and wilderness and the bustling of the market. Have fun!

  • Ruth

    May 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Reply

    I worked in South Africa and fell in love with all the beautiful textiles and crafts. I have a bunch of coveted wax prints and am constantly searching for more…

    What does your sister do in Gabon? Professionally, I’m interested in working on Sub-Saharan Africa issues. Always nice to hear about people doing similar things!

  • Munaiba

    May 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Reply

    I love African fabrics. So vibrant. Lucky you!

  • Terriaw

    May 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Reply

    What a beautiful place! I can’t believe your sister and her family live there – looks amazing. These fabrics you got from her area are gorgeous! They would make such beautiful skirts and scarves.

  • CitricSugar

    May 12, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Reply

    SCORE! That’s a beautiful haul!

    I would second the vinegar – but I would try simply washing them first with no soap and a cup of vinegar in cold water. Then check a small piece for colour-fastness.

  • cheryl

    May 12, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Reply

    wow, these are amazing! lucky you!

  • Elizabeth

    May 13, 2010 at 1:10 am | Reply

    It’s been a really long while since I’ve worked with African fabrics, but my recollection is that they were prone to really deep-set wrinkles from pre-washing (maybe because of the wax not being all washed out?). Anyway, if you’re just prewashing to set the dye, I would suggest that you don’t machine dry. 🙂

  • Debbie - Esch House Quilts

    May 13, 2010 at 7:40 am | Reply

    What a lovely location and beautiful fabrics too!

  • wintu nancy

    May 13, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Reply

    Wow! Gabon! My husband has been there twice on medical mission trips and has brought back fabric and clothing he had made there. I haven’t had anything fade or run, maybe just lucky? I did wash things alone first though. I am jealous, you got neat fabric. I have not done anything with mine yet. Unfortunately I was give HUGE prints and was supposed to make clothing for myself…not with my big butt! Anyway, I too have been thinking about doing something whole cloth or maybe the four patch posy type pattern with one of the bigger prints. Have fun.

  • Kate

    May 14, 2010 at 5:50 am | Reply

    Lucky you! Those are gorgeous!

  • Bryna

    May 15, 2010 at 7:15 am | Reply

    i lived in congo last year and bought some veritable wax fabrics for home and clothing projects. everyone uses it for clothing and i’ve never seen any bleeding or fading… well, except that most women have only 1 or 2 outfits and so wear them until they fall apart and by that time they are quite faded!
    if you are nervous you can dry a salt pre-soak but *in my experience* i’ve pre-washed in the washing machine and had items washed many times (including a dog bed that gets rough treatment) and the colors stay just fine.
    can’t vouch for the other printed fabrics… those are generally of lower quality than the veritable wax.
    agree with a previous post on the dryer though… if you dry in the machine, take it out the second it is dry and get it nice and flat and folded. otherwise the creases can be tough!
    congrats on the awesome collection and have fun!

  • Andrea in Vermont

    May 15, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Reply

    Very extremely wonderful. I love the elephant and house repeats. A lot. So…when are *you* going to Gabon to visit your sister and her family?? Looks like you might need to ship home a couple of boxes for your admiring fans… Have fun with it!!

  • jacquie

    May 15, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Reply

    whoa baby! those are fabulous! and the beach…look at that beach.

  • wishes, true and kind

    May 15, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Reply

    So fabulous! Have fun with them!

  • Jackie

    May 17, 2010 at 4:40 am | Reply

    Ack!! How on earth did I miss this post????? I am an avid African Fabric collector!! Love everyone that you received especially the one with the circles, to die for… I do wash mine, but just normally and have no problems. I do however throw in a Shout Color Catcher and not much dye runs. I so look forward to seeing what you will do with them. I will be doing another post soon on my African fabrics. If you need more, there is a source that I get mine from and would be happy to share the link. The prices are great too!

    • Loree

      November 12, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply

      Hi Jackie, I have recently become interested in African Wax print
      textiles and came accross this blog about the very same fabrics,
      your reply to one of the bloggers questions about the colorfastness
      of the prints included a reference about sharing a link where you
      purchase the African fabrics and they are well priced, would love
      to have that link to check out purchasing some of these beautiful
      fabrics! your quilts are very beautiful!! many thanks, Loretta

  • Little Lizard

    May 17, 2010 at 9:51 am | Reply

    I’ve heard that soaking fabric in salt water helps lock the colors. Good luck, and great giveaway!

  • Laurie

    May 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Reply

    I went to Uganda 2 years ago and came back with over 200 yards of fabric a lot like what you have here. It’s such awesome, unique stuff. I have only cut into a few pieces so far because it’s so precious… I will really love to see what you make.

  • Greta

    May 18, 2010 at 4:38 am | Reply

    Your precious fabrics are wonderful but your sisters are more wonderful. Lucky, lucky you! And lucky us out in blog land waiting to see what you create. I like to imagine the women who created your fabric also seeing where their handiwork emerged. Wouldn’t that be fine?

  • Christine Hansen

    May 18, 2010 at 9:27 am | Reply

    Those are beautiful, I would also have a very hard time cutting into something like that;-) You are a lucky sister!

  • Krista - Poppyprint

    May 18, 2010 at 11:07 am | Reply

    I pre-soak my quilting cottons with Retayne, especially reds, blues and blacks. I have some African fabrics, but only in small squares, so haven’t pre-washed them. For some great ideas of how to use them, check out my friend Pippa’s shop and her Kitambaa designs.

  • Mary P

    May 19, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Reply

    There are some washing tips here:

    I got some of their fabric at a quilt show and I LOVE it. I am not sure if it is the same process for the fabric you got though.

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