The Art of Adire: The Practical Steps to Adire Eleko

Adire Eleko:

In the last article, Adire Oniko, we wrote this: 

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.... 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. 

Today, the focus is on the doing. The choice of materials is up to the individual. At Carib Fiber Arts, we use thread; cotton, silk, poly cotton, whatever fabric we can put our hands on, especially for experimenting; indigo or other natural dyes, or whatever dyes work best with the fabric; and, tailor's chalk.

Thread: 16-oz military bonded nylon thread B69-T70 found at the link. Why? Best price. Why pay $6-$7 for 4 oz when 16-oz could be had for $10.50? It's called maximizing resources. 

Fabric: Kona cotton or other sturdy cotton. Since the key to success is sampling, sampling, and sampling, it might be advisable to start with an old white bedsheet and take it from there. We have frequented the house linen section of Goodwill, DAV, CHKD, and other thrift stores in quest of white Indian or Chinese cotton sheets. These are usually 100% cotton. We have even found linen, pure and blended, all at about $2 per, depending on where bought. We do not turn up our nose at polycotton, but are aware that dyes take differently and look different on different fabrics. Still, the thrift stores are a great source for cheap cotton, linen, and other fabrics. If you're in the Caribbean, your choices are likely limited to new fabric. 

Dyes: Indigo or whatever you wish to use.

Tailor's chalk: Why tailor's chalk? We have tried the fabric pens and found them wanting. Besides, next year, we are moving back to the Caribbean and really don't wish to have to either hunt or pay for fabric pens. We wanted a product that would be reusable, long lasting, give us more bang for the buck, and would be washable. Yes, tailor's chalk leaves smears on the hands, but, so what? It met all the other criteria. We found the best price at Colonial Tailor's Chalk and Supplies, discussed our use and purpose with them, and the company was kind enough to provide a chalk color mix that met our requirements. Carmel Textile Mill Chalk is an alternative source complete with chalk holders. 

Once, we tried pencilling in a design. We have never repeated that error because we still see the pencil marks on the fabric.

Having got all the materials together, let's look at the steps. 

  1. Iron the fabric and place it on an uncluttered surface. If possible, pin the fabric to the surface to keep it immobile.
  2. Draw in the design (at some point, we will talk about stencils and other such).
  3. Take up the cloth to begin stitching. Note that in stitching, the bonded nylon thread should be doubled, long, and with a big fat secure knot on the end. Cut the pull ends  about 2"-3" long, and make sure and keep them all on the same side of the cloth and going in the same direction. For bound adire oniko, ClothRoads offers several wonderful examples of shibori
  4. Upon completion of the stitching, consider well where to begin pulling the threads because, quite often, starting in the wrong place will result in some threads not being pulled, thus creating an incomplete design. Pull tightly and tie the ends very tightly to hold in the design. We prefer to pull design pairs and tie them together by passing the right side of the thread twice (instead of once) around the left, pulling tightly, then passing the left side twice around the right and pulling tightly. This ensure that the threads will not slip out.
  5. Snip the now extra long thread ends short, but not short enough to clip the knots. The fabric should be a mere fraction of its former size.
  6. Before dyeing, the cloth must be wetted out. So, soak the cloth in a bowl of water and leave it for 15 minutes or so until it is thoroughly wet. Squeeze out the water thoroughly, and dunk in the dye. (We will talk about dyeing in more detailed fashion another time)