IN DOT SPACE: African Wax Print Dots


As promised yesterday, I’m back to talk to you about being IN DOT SPACE and the glorious visual effects that can be produced by endlessly repeating dots in different colours and sizes.

One of the prizes in this category comes from ShopJoli – an independent fashion business run by Taneshe Oliver, who produces African-Inspired handmade bags & accessories for her online shop. One of the sets she has created features a distinctive dotty motif to which Taneshe was drawn because “the placement of the dots create a three-dimensional illusion”.

Taneshe kindly agreed to say a bit more about her work for this blog post and prize giveaway:

Every bag / headwrap is sewn by myself.
For me as a designer, it is overall the aesthetics combined with the meaning that attracts me to different prints. Wax has become an integral part of African heritage; at ShopJoli we source our wax prints from both Ghana and the United Kingdom.
The vibrant colours and prints of African wax are loaded with meaning. White, for instance, is a sign of peace; blue of power; green of life/ renewal and orange a sign of joy. These colours are all present in the NICHE Collection featuring a Clutch, Large Makeup Bag and matching Headwrap.
The wax is not only a piece of fabric or an item of clothing but also a means of cultural expression used to unite customs, beliefs and traditions.

– Taneshe Oliver, ShopJoli

Thanks to Taneshe for helping us dig more deeply into what lies behind the colourful creations at ShopJoli and for showing us how to see past the dots to the stories and context beyond. IN DOT SPACE, the print used in the NICHE Collection is both a proud and celebratory signifier of West African textile heritage, and a window into the complex history of African Wax Print fabric.

In her eponymous book, Anne Grosfilley explores what lies behind this “most emblematic of African fabrics”. Originally introduced to West Africa by Europeans as a profitable export, its distinctive aesthetics were born in a very particular set of circumstances. The Industrial Revolution and the invention of new fabric-printing processes in the UK and in Holland; a trade war between the British and the Dutch; the avarice and opportunism of Imperialism and the distinctive and highly coveted batik prints made by Javanese artisans are all part of its past – part of our past:

“African print is more than a fashion style. The name refers to fabrics that are invested with emotion and meaning, that evolved with the times, and which cannot be reduced to simple “African prints”, or be described as by-product or one of little value: they bear the mark of a collective history, and are all common “threads” which help us comprehend the global society that we are building together. A combination of diverse influences, these fabrics absorb and recount the changes that have taken place during the 20th century and express hopes for the 21st century. They are dedicated not only to the African legacy to the point of being landmarks of identity, they are also a part of our common human heritage”.

– Anne Grosfilley, African Wax Print Textiles

In my own work I am interested in how the technology of hand-knitting and the material of wool might be used to produce repeat-patterns in stranded colourwork, based on the world around me.

Like African Wax Print, the history of wool and hand-knitting is complicated and one which also includes The Industrial Revolution; trade wars; Imperialism and avarice. (If you’re not sure what I’m on about, this excellent instagranm post from Jessie is a good place to start.) Too, from this messy past, we have found and are finding new ways to embed uplift, meaning, kindness and significance in what we create for ourselves and one another. I don’t think it hurts our creativity to lean into those histories and to think more carefully about what we celebrate and uplift when we make things… even when we are just making dots, we are connecting to long and histories of creativity and textiles. I’ll close today with what Taneshe said about the significance and meaning of what she makes because I think her words will resonate with many of you:

I hope that my customers will appreciate that at ShopJoli our bags are pretty yet practical. A seemingly meaningless bag can be so beautiful and the colours represent the deep-rooted African culture of Ankara / wax fabric.

– Taneshe Oliver

Thank you Taneshe for kindly agreeing to this interview and for your gorgeous, colourful bags which give us yet another way to think about dots.
You can find ShopJoli here and revisit KNITSONIK in coming days for further ruminations on dots and patterns.

Until then,

This post is the first of several; I promised there would be prizes with a dotty theme for comrades who made a POLKAMANIA! My plan was always to choose things that would be joyful and knitterly, but which would – like the KAL itself – provide opportunities to consider and celebrate dots and the myriad ways in which these simple, repeating, circular shapes can be used to different artistic ends. Over coming days, I’m putting together a series of posts about the KAL prizes, each of which celebrate dots and the different ways in which people create with them. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about some other independent businesses who are making things with dots, and that – even if you didn’t enter the KAL – you’ll find something inspiring in the posts in this series.

1 thought on “IN DOT SPACE: African Wax Print Dots

  1. Oh dear, I’ve gone and bought the bag! I love, love, love spotty stuff and Escher style optical illusions so this was perfect. Thanks for the enablement!

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