Sewing with African wax print fabric? Here are 5 top tips to get you started.


  1. Remove any manufacturer’s labels.

African wax print fabrics are made from 100% cotton and are printed using a wax-resist method of printing onto cotton that is similar to batik. Printed onto these fabrics are intricate motifs that are repeated across the length of the fabric.  These motifs are inspired by African culture, sayings, personalities, mod cons (past and present), nature and animals.  They are usually sold as 6 yard bolts.  The 6 yards will come as one continuous piece.  Each piece will have the manufacturer’s labels attached to a section of one of the yards on the right side of your fabric.  The ‘right side’ of your fabric is the side that will be seen when your fabric is made up, therefore, these stickers will need to be steamed off with your iron.  Please visit to see a You Tube video in which I demonstrate how to remove these labels.

  1. Pre-wash and press your fabric.

Once you have removed your labels, the next step is to pre-wash and ‘press’ your fabrics.  There are two reasons for doing this. The first reason is because these fabrics can have a stiff/waxy feel to them. However, once washed and pressed, the fabric begins to feel softer.  The second reason is simply that it is generally good practise to wash and press your fabric before cutting and sewing.  The pre-washing process has the effect of shrinking the fabric. Cotton usually shrinks by up to 10% after the first wash.  Therefore, it is best to shrink the fabric before cutting and sewing rather than after you have made your garment.  If you are using these prints for projects other than clothes making, then feel free to skip the pre-washing process. Wash at 40 degrees and use detergent.  These fabrics are colour fast and the vibrant designs do not fade even after repeated washing. However, if you are using these fabrics for the first time, you might want to wash them separately and / or use your colour catcher! Once dried, press your fabric with your iron using lots of steam.

  1. Take time with pattern matching.

The intricate designs of these fabrics can seem daunting but with time and practice it gets much easier. Start simple.  Look for the pattern repeat and make sure, in the case of a simple A-line skirt that the same section of the print is visible at the front of the skirt as at the back of the skirt. If the print is directional, that is to say the print points in one direction and if you turn it upside down, it points in the other direction, then care need to be taken to ensure that the print is pointing in the same direction on all the pattern pieces.  For example, on a dress, you would not want the print pointing upwards on the sleeves and then downwards on the bodice.  Also consider areas of the body such as the apex of the bust when thinking about where you will place your design.

  1. Follow the design and not the grain line.

Speaking of the design …. There is a rule in dressmaking that you cut your fabric on the straight grain. The straight grain runs parallel to the selvedge.  The selvedge can be identified as the edge of the fabric shown by a white border with dark writing indicating country of manufacture and other details.  Your individual pattern pieces will include a grain line.  This grain line (usually indicated by a straight line with an arrow) is an instruction that when you place your pattern piece on top of your fabric, this straight line is parallel with the white border (also known as the selvedge).  Whilst this is a good general rule, with African wax prints, sometimes the design looks better on the cross grain (with the grain line pattern marking at a 90 degree angle to the selvedge).  If this is the case, the go ahead and break with convention!  Let the design guide how you cut your fabric whether this is on the straight grain or the cross grain.  

  1. Mix and match.

Finally, do mix and match your wax print garments with some wardrobe staples.  Pair bright wax print skirts and trousers with a plain top or blouse.  These fabrics are wonderful for warmer months but you can still wear your Ankara garments in the cooler months. Here are some suggestions on how you can layer up:

  • Thick tights and boots under your skirts or dresses;
  • Warm cardigans over wax print tops / dresses; and
  • Wear a wax print coat over plain black top and trousers.


  • Hi Jennifer,
    That’s great. I look forward to seeing your finished items!

    Adaku Parker
  • My daughter bought me some beautiful African wax cotton when she returned from Angola, which initially I found a bit daunting as a fabric to work with. However I bought your book and hope to make the culottes & possibly A-line skirt too.

    Jennifer James

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