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The Colour Blue

The maker of this cloth cuts a design from a sheet of zinc, lays it on a cloth and applies a starch paste. Several dips in a bath of indigo dye turn the cloth dark blue. When the paste is removed, the covered areas emerge as a lighter pattern against the darker background.

Where was this textile created?

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The Colour Blue

Cloth (adire)
Africa: West Africa, Nigeria; Yoruba people
Cotton, paste resist dyed
176 cm x 206 cm
From the Opekar/Webster Collection
T94.2095 Textile Museum of Canada

The Yoruba people of Nigeria make indigo resist dyed cotton cloths called adire, which are worn by women as wraparound dresses. The indigo design on this cloth is a variation of a famous adire pattern called “Olaba” which is based on a 1935 Silver Jubilee medallion honouring King George and Queen Mary. Within its minimal palette of blues, the stenciled design creates an animated surface of textures. The dot and grid patterns (made by the stencil) are enhanced by running a comb through the wet paste to make wavy stripes that appear in places like the lion’s mane.

Nigerian adire makers were so impressed by King George’s medallion that versions of it appeared on their textiles for decades afterwards in various stages of stylization and abstraction. On this adire, the original British lion is shown sharing the cloth with birds and pieced-together figures including a British soldier with his gun, and a winged creature that may depict the Prophet Mohammed’s horse, Burak.

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