Thursday, July 31, 2014

African Batiks Quilt

51.5" x 55.5"
Designed and made by Jamie

This is a quilt I made to commemorate my trip to Ghana, Africa. I was fortunate enough to travel to Ghana in 2005 with my BYU Nursing class for an international health class. We stayed a glorious 5 weeks and it was the experience of a lifetime. Although most of the time I was there I was involved in nursing-related activities, I was able to do some fun tourist things. I was simply captivated by the craftsmanship of fabrics there! I saw how batiks are made by the locals in Ghana. The artists apply wax to portions of the fabric where they don't want a particular color to adhere, then dip the fabric into dye. The fabric then goes through a super-hot wash to melt the wax and those portions then only show the raw fabric color or whatever color was underneath. This process can be repeated several times with different colors to create a layered, vibrant work of art.

I scanned in some photos from my trip since I didn't own a digital camera back then!
These are some of the ladies dipping the batik prints into dye buckets. 

Here is an artist applying a layer of wax to a work in progress. Look at the finished pieces behind him. I absolutely loved the style of the images, the vibrant colors, and the fact that it was all handmade. As an artist myself, I enjoy seeing evidence that technology isn't totally replacing the art of creating beauty by hand.

Not only did they do batiks by hand, the people at this fabric market in Ghana also did woven fabrics by hand. Here is a loom I got to try out! Every vertical strand was tied on to the frame of the loom and the horizontal strands were made by passing a wooden spool containing thread back and forth (by hand!) between the layers of vertical strands.

You can see underneath the fabric that there are foot pedals, similar to an organ. The foot pedals would move different combinations of the vertical strands to the upper or lower position during weaving to create the beautiful pattern. I can't remember exactly how it all worked anymore, since this was 9 years ago, but it was quite impressive! I do remember after a few passes of the wooden spool, the weaver would take the wooden crossbar and pull it forward sharply to beat the threads in tight to each other. (I'm sure I'm botching all the technical language for the actual parts of a loom.) Watching them work, the wooden spool would fly back and forth, their feet would be working the pedals, and their arm would grab the crossbar and pound it into the fabric: zip, zip, BANG! Zip, zip, BANG!

A lot of Ghanaian women wore handmade clothing, either they made themselves or had made by a seamstress or tailor. Their outfits for church were stunning! I met a few seamstresses and loved to learn about their equipment and admire the gorgeous prints they had everywhere. My friends and I were able to go to a huge fabric market while we were there. If I had known then what I would be doing now with quilting, I would have bought SO much more fabric! It was very inexpensive too, compared with retail fabrics in America. I don't know the quality of the manufacturing process of all of their greige goods in Ghana, but the prints and colors were unbeatable. In fact, if I had known more back then, I would have asked more questions about types of fabrics I was purchasing, and the recommended care for them. That is one of my only regrets about my trip there.

 Interesting little tidbit: I wasn't even considering a career in midwifery at this point, but I was able to attend a birth in a country hospital, owned and operated by Dr. Emmanuel Kissi. It was a magical thing, which stayed with me the rest of my schooling and was partly the reason I chose to become a midwife myself. The laboring woman walked a dirt road a few miles from her house to check herself into the birthing room, which was probably about 15x20 feet. She snapped her fingers and breathed whenever the contractions came, otherwise I would not have even known she was having a baby. The Ghanaian women I saw in labor were very stoic, and accordingly very majestic. Even the newborn baby was wrapped in beautiful fabric just after being born.

Here is a little sampling of some of the prints I brought home from Ghana with me. I had some batiks (not pictured below) made of a heavier fabric that coordinated beautifully for a quilt. If any of you readers have tips about washing/care of unknown fabrics, I'd be happy to hear them! A few of these prints have a waxy sheen pattern overlay them that adds another dimension to the fabric (kind of like quilting does for a quilt) and I've been too scared to wash them or iron them for fear they will be ruined. I did actually rinse some artistic batik prints I had bought (just in cold tap water) and the colors bled significantly. When they dried, they were about 50% the opacity they had originally been. It was sad.

So anyway, with this batik quilt I wanted to venture away from patchwork squares, since that was all I had ever done up to this point. I decided to do half-square-triangles, or HSTs as I've now learned they're called. I cut a ton of right triangles out of each of my three coordinating fabrics and came up with a pretty cool diamondback pattern. It reminds me of the diamondback snake, actually. I still hadn't tried to look up how to bind a quilt, so I did my own haphazard version by folding a store bought bias tape strip at the corner and hand stitching it to the joining edge. It looks so ugly to me now, but hey, you live and learn, right?

I was working as a midwife full time in Butte, Montana when I made this quilt. I wanted it specifically to hang on a wall in my house because I had some other African memorabilia and I thought it would look great in my living room. So, in my haste to get it up to display, I didn't quilt it. I guess you could say I basted it, since I used some quilting thread to tie a small tacking stitch into about every other corner. I knew I didn't want to tie the quilt and have any yarn or string showing, but I didn't have the knowledge or skill set yet to machine or hand quilt.

Another big oopsie was using the store bought bias tape as a binding. Well, I suppose it would have worked alright if I had a walking foot on my sewing machine, but I didn't. I didn't even use pins. I hadn't pressed any of my seams, and was still using a 1/2" seam allowance, so the whole quilt to me has a slightly "wonky" appearance. The bias tape wasn't 100% cotton either, and had too much stretch to it. You can see how it rippled on the underneath side as I stitched it together. Some might say, "What a shame! You should go back and fix it with the new quilting techniques you've learned." And that's a valid point. I'm never going to find this fabric again. But for now I am just letting you see my first few quilts, and hopefully you learn from some of my mistakes and regrets and don't make them yourself. I might go back and pick out this binding one day and do a different quilting method, but for now, I'm looking forward to making the next projects with fewer mistakes.

Here it is hanging on the wall in my apartment in Butte. Do you like the bright green armchair I found at the thrift store? I put another one of my African prints on the back of the chair because it was missing a button. Ah, good times. Single days, living on a budget, catching babies. This quilt will always remind me of Ghana and Montana.


  1. This is such a fun idea for a blog! I love reading the stories behind the quilts you have made and what you have learned. I have made a few quilts and am sure I have made lots of mistakes (or there was just an easier way). I'm excited to see what else you've made and learned!

  2. I love batik Indonesia too.
    now I'll develop the Batik Bekasi motif to add the motif Batik Indonesia collection.
    greet from Batik Bekasi