The Art of Adire: Adire Oniko

Adire Oniko:

Adire oniko is a surface design technique which employs either raffia or thread to achieve the dye resist. This resist technique is not unique to the Yoruba of Nigeria or the continent of Africa. Areo et al in the discussion of adire oniko, considers the Yoruba of Nigeria as the starting point for the cultural dissemination of the technique, stating that it “must date back several centuries ago, considering the fact that Adire at its peak was exported to Senegal, Congo, Cameroons, Gold Coast (present day Ghana) and probably other West African countries.” (97) Since adire oniko is one of the simplest forms of textile surface design, that would likely account for its practice in a variety of countries under different names. Adire oniko is the same as the Japanese shibori, the Indian bandhani, and the Indonesian plangi. (In My Mother's Closet) The difference in design aspect may be attributed to the difference in materials used by each culture. 

M. A. Hann, writing in Patterns of Culture about Nigerian and other African technique of adire oniko, comments that though resist dyed fabrics were common Africa, “the adire oniko cloths produced by the Yoruba of Nigeria are probably the most notable.” (33) Hann notes that the designs are created either by binding or stitching with raffia and consisted of “large or small circles”. Hans then examines the differences in adire oniko designs found in West Africa, writing that apart from the Yoruba of Nigeria, such cloths were also common in “Senegal and Gambia [Picton and Mack, 1991, p. 148] … [as well as] Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya”. The difference between the designs in these different places may be attributed to the different techniques utilized to create the effect.

For instance, the adire oniko designs from Morocco-Libya are signified by “simple ring designs, using single-colour resist-dyeing on woollen fabric”. These differed from Gambia and Senegal in that these two countries devised a "marbled effect" by dint of "crumpling the fabric and binding it loosely" before dyeing. Hann does not specify the type of fabric, which may well be cotton. In conjunction with those two countries, Hann finds that in Sierra Leone, the cloth is finely pleated and bound "to create a cross-hatched effect". Senegal stood out though for its practice of using geometric embroidery as a resist method which, after the dyeing, was unpicked to reveal the contrast between the dyed background and the pattern.

The “oldest, simplest, commonest and the most basic of all Adire techniques known among the Yoruba” and the means of accomplishing it “involves tying, binding, or covering specific portions of the fabric with any flexible material of choice with the sole aim of preventing dye penetration, so that the areas so covered invariably results into the Adire patterns.” (Areo 97)  Since raffia is common to and abundant in Nigeria, that is what the Yoruba use to tie the fabric and create the patterned resist. 

Areo classifies the different tying techniques as follows: “knotting, binding, folding, stitching and champing, and involves using iko the raffia thread in one form or the other, or any of the several other flexible binding materials apart from raffia thread”. (97) Her discussion ventures into greater detail about the tying techniques, but it is not our purpose to teach how to do things exactly like the Yoruba. Rather, our intention is to provide information and leave the rest up to the imagination of the designer to create effects that are desirable.


Adeyemo, Gasali. Indigo Arts Gallery.

Adire Oniko & Alabere. Inside My Mother's Closet.

Areo, Margaret Oluwagbemisola, Rasaq Olatunde, Rom Kalilu. Paradigmatic Appraisal of Techniques and Technology of Adire in the Last Five Decades. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences. Vol. 3, No 15, 2013.

Hans, M. A. Patterns of Culture: Techniques of Decoration and Coloration. U. of Leeds, 2005.