Adire: the Art of Tie and Dye

The Centenary Project

Traditional and Modern Fashion Expressions of the Egba People of Yorubaland

"Tie and Dye"
Adire is common among the people of Egbaland in Ogun State. “Adire” means “tie and dye”. A material designed with wax-resist methods that will produce patterned designs in a dazzling array of tints and hues.


Overview of Abeokuta, the capital city of Ogun State in Nigeria.


Adire is common among the people of Egbaland in Ogun State but also throughout Yorubaland. It is a material designed with wax-resist methods that will produce patterned designs in a dazzling array of tints and hues.

Adire are made by resist-dyeing which involves creating a pattern by treating certain parts of the fabric in some way to prevent them absorbing dye. Cloths were made up of two strips of factory produced cotton shirting sewn together to form a shape that was roughly square.


Adire's intricate design is the result of hand painted work carried out mostly by women which they wear generally worn as wrappers or used as an adornment.

Perhaps more than any art form, textile reflects the culture from which they come and Adire textiles are a viable means of which the rich Yoruba cultural heritage and ideas could be conveyed to other cultures of the outside world.


A professional decorator for Adire is traditionally referred to as "Aladire".

In the traditional society, the Adire is made, designed, dyed and sold as well as worn by these Yoruba women who pass on the techniques from one generation to another.


Traditional "Adire Eleko" refers to designs created by the application of starch paste made from cassava flour. This starch resists the dye from penetrating through the cloth.

The starch is made of the flour mixed with water that is boiled and then strained.


The starch paste is applied with brush or feather on the surface of the fabric or through a stencil that has been cut into a design. It will be left to dry for a while under the sun before it is immersed into a dye solution.


It takes roughly three days to complete a yard, and about two weeks to complete five yards. Most designs have repeated patterns created with no focal point of interest.


Lonchocarpus Cyanescens, traditionally known as “Elu-Aja” (Elu Leaf) is the plant from which traditional dye is made. It is mostly found in the North-West and North-Central Nigeria.


The leaves are pounded, shaped into balls and dried in the sun. Processing enables the balls to be stored, transported and traded.


When processed with local chemicals, the elu is allowed to ferment between three weeks to six months, depending on the desired nature of the dye. The elu leaf typically produces an indigo color dye.


Submersion in the processed dye for varying periods of time depending on desired design. The cloth would be dipped into the dye and then pulled out to allow it to oxidise and take on the bright blue colour.

This process would then be repeated, the more times a cloth was dipped the darker it would become.

Example of an Adire Eleko design


Modern design techniques feature resist-wax application, which takes less time to design.


More modern designing (comprising of candle wax and foam) takes about 24 hours to finish 2 and a half yards of designing. Significantly faster and more efficient than the traditional means.


In the modern Yoruba society, men as well are engaged in the processes of manufacturing adire for sale as well as use.


Traditionally, Adire Oniko was tied or wrapped with rafia to resist the dye. But today, more modern approaches have been implemented.


New adire appeals to the fashion conscious in the Urban and Rural areas.


Whether produced by old processes or new innovations, Adire today continues to face fashion challenges, and is still an alternative to machine prints.

The Centenary Project
Credits: Story

Curator: Patrick Enaholo/David Assam
Photographs: Christopher Udoh/David Assam
Research: Patrick Enaholo/David Assam

© The Centenary Project

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Translate with Google