Black Art Studio - fine African textiles and contemporary art

 Adire eleko uses a starch resist.  The method is a comparatively recent innovation effective on the tightly woven, smooth surface of machine-made cotton broadcloth which became available in Nigeria in the 19th century.  A high quality brocade known as "Guinea brocade" is currently favored for the finest adire cloths.

Sieving the cassava starch
The paste must be free from lumps and foreign matter.  It needs to be loose enough to apply fine detail but thick enough to adhere to the cloth when dry and form a resist against the indigo dye bath.

Applying the starch resist
Straight lines are made using a broom straw. Curves are done with a feather plucked from under the wing of a chicken.

Preparing the cassava resist
The large, starchy tuber of the cassava plant is grated and boiled in water until it becomes a thick paste.

Applying the design

The cassava starch is just the right sticky consistency to apply the detailed patterns.  The traditional designs are organized into square blocks. The cloth is folded to the width of one square and then unfolded as each row of blocks is completed.

The completed design
is hung to dry thoroughly.  In the humid Nigerian climate this may take several days for the resist to become strong enough to go into the dye pot.

A fine example of a completed hand-painted adire eleko  called "Olokon" after the Goddess of the sea.  The traditional pattern in each individual square has its own name and significance.

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