Adire ((AH-dih-ray)) which means tie and dye is the name given to the indigo-coloured dyed cloth used by women of the south western part of Nigeria, Africa using different types of resist dye techniques. Early records show that these tied designs became commercial in the early 20th century when exposure to imported European textile material materialized, and paved the way for local women dyers to innovate new artistic designs on these materials. However, in earlier centuries, adire appears to have been highly regarded; the tunic pictured solely on the right was acquired in the 1640s by a German collector who said it was the kind given by the “king” in a “knighting” ceremony (i.e., given to warriors by rulers). But by the mid-1950s, adire was considered a “budget” fabric worn only by less well-off women and by men as sleeping cloths, and as a way to recycle faded cloth. Not until the 1960s did adire become fashionable in West Africa, when expatriate African and African-American men started using adire for shirts as attractive way of celebrating their heritage.
The influx of European clothing materials in the mid 1930s did give rise to new techniques of resist dyeing including the practice of hand-painting designs on the cloth with cassava starch paste prior to dyeing known as “Adire Eleko”. This was also a means of cottage-industry income for Moslem women who were rarely permitted to leave their homes. Another method was to use sewn raffia, sometimes in combination with tied sections, while other cloths were simply folded repeatedly and tied or stitched in place. The basic shape of the cloth is that of two pieces of shirting material stitched together to create a women’s wrapper cloth. Examples of popular designs are the jubilee pattern (produced for the King George V and Queen Mary 1935), Olokun (goddess of the sea), Ibadandun (Ibadan is sweet).
Adire has obviously undergone some rapid transformation with regards to production and use over the past few decades. With the introduction of modern technology, innovation in the fashion industry and the Diaspora, there has been the introduction of other multicolour styled adire (other than the traditional blue),lighter tighter woven commercially made cotton materials, brocade, and other luxury textile material. Also, the introduction of the sewing machine allowed the creation of more detailed and elaborate patterns on these fabrics.
Has Adire taken a back seat in the fashion industry? Locall, I would say yes; but we seem to see more and more foreign designers and catwalk models adorning this artistic attire eloquently more than ever before. Combining adire with modern designs gives the ever so brilliant spectrum of colours a dazzling effect which can be spotted a mile away. Adire can be considered as being a natural summer attire which, with the effect of the sunshine on the material, creates a brilliant look…But then, the possibilities with adire are endless.