Ilorin - Kwara state, Nigeria


Insightful. Explicit. Informative.




Technology, which today is widely accepted as a prime mover of socio-economic development in the world, is not a monopoly of any society. Instead, technology has a root back in antiquity with the early man blazing the trail.1

Nigeria has a good record of functional indigenous industries prior to the penetration of foreign exploration. In different parts of Nigeria, there were great indigenous industrialists who own and run the affairs of industries such as traditional soap making industry, blacksmithing, fishing industry, wood carving, traditional medicine, weaving/dying, wood/calabash carving, small scale farming, brewing/distilling industry, glass and bead, pottery, hide and skin among others. The Indigenous industries, which mainly depend on local resources, opened job opportunities for the populace and curb the burden of unemployment.2

Tie and dye is a term invented in the mid-1960s in the United States for a set of ancient resist-dyeing techniques, and for these processes.3 The tradition of indigo dyeing goes back centuries in West Africa. In the 11th century, there were evidence of dyeing in Dogon Kingdom of Mali until there was a collapse in the demand of synthetic indigo by the end of 1930s. But by the 20th century, new access to large quantities of imported shirting materials via the spread of European textile merchants in Abeokuta and other Yoruba towns led to its return and boom. Though, some suggested that the large cities of Ibadan and Oshogbo are important in adire dyeing because adire dyeing began in Abeokuta when Egba women from Ibadan returned with this knowledge.4

Lagos state which forms the geographical concentration of this study was first known to be Eko. The name Eko is believed to have either come from these Yoruba words “Oko” (cassava farm) or “Eko” (war camp). According to traditions, it was accounted that the Oba of Bini sent warriors to this location, which was mainly the island, over 650 years back. These warriors were led by the son of the Oba of Bini, prince Ado who at the long run became the leader of Eko. Eko was later named Lagos by the Portuguese.

The significance of cloth in the people’s life is expressed in a vibrant textile industry and the multifarious usage of cloth. Their aesthetic appreciation is related to physical appearance, character and clothing of the individual. Consequently, textile art tradition perhaps still remains the most decorative of all their artistic traditions. They are renowned for the production of both Aso-Ofi, the hand-woven prestige cloth and pattern-dyed cloth, Adire.

Traditional dyeing with many indigenous plants as a vocation and art tradition especially indigo dyeing is a specialized art which has become a legacy of the Yoruba women, and a hereditary craft passed from mothers to daughters. Its importance in the area is demonstrated by the iniquitousness of the practice everywhere even in the smallest villages.5

The introduction of tie and dye to Lagos state cannot be credited to a single individual. Tie and dye production was an industry that started in different parts of Yorubaland almost at the same time due to the availability of dye. However, many believe the home or birth place of tie and dye is Osogbo, perhaps because of the large population of dyers and the historical records that are presentable.6 Areo and Kalilu explain further on this;

‘Certain notable and large Yoruba cities traditionally noted for Adire are Osogbo, Ibadan, Ede, Ondo and Abeokuta. There are several other centres, but they were either not as large or active or of international reckoning as the centres in the aforementioned five cities. Of all the centres, Osogbo is traditionally renowned as the home of indigo, and the “home of dyeing”; “Osogbo ilu aro” and the people are so good as dyers as to elicit the Yoruba saying “Aro nbe l’Osogbo, omo eniyan ni mbe nile Ibadan,” It is Indigo that dominates Osogbo, while large human population dominates Ibadan. At the peak of the demand for indigo-dyed fabric for export, many Adire producers in Abeokuta had to take their cloth to Osogbo for dyeing, while its neighbouring town of Ede supplied Abeokuta dyers with indigo balls, elu.’7

Tie and dye production in Lagos can be dated back to the 1920s when Adire textile was at a higher demand. In 1930 when there was a decline in the demand for these textiles, Lagos popularly regarded as Eko during this period was also faced with poor sales.  But by 20th century, there was new access to large quantities of imported shirting materials via the spread of European textile merchants in Yoruba towns, this brought about a new boom to the tie and dye industry. At the time of introduction, the only dye available to dyers in Lagos was indigo. The source of the indigo dye is the many species of genus indigofera called elu among the people which are sometimes cultivated, but which often times grow wild throughout Nigeria. Of these varieties indigofera tinctora is the most commonly used because it produces a dark blue colour of great colour fastness. The name “indigo” derived from Latin word “indicum” implying “from India.”8 This however, does not imply that the plant was introduced into Yorubaland from India or any other place.




Tie and dye is a method of resisting dye through deliberate and systematic tight tying of material to produce a pattern or a design. The most important requirement for tie and dye fabric production which is the dye, has passed through different production eras leading to subsequent improvement and formulation of different dyes for tie and dye production. This has also impacted on the production techniques involved in tie and dye fabric production not only in Lagos, but affecting other regions of production within and outside Nigeria.  A variety of dyes can be used in tie-dyeing, including Cold water dye, Vat dyes, Multipurpose dye, Dylon dye, Fabric paint, Procion dye, Rit and Tintex dye and natural dye.9 Tie-dying, predominantly after the introduction of affordable dyes, became popular as a cheap and accessible way to customise T-shirts, singlets, dresses, jeans, army surplus clothing, and other garments into coloured or patterned creations.10 

The cold-water dye production technique seems to be the easiest and common dyeing production. This production technique is still being used by many, especially amateur dyers. All that is require is to empty the contents of dye into a container and add a small amount of water and a pinch of salt. Afterwards, the dyer gets to add warm water. The amount of warm water added relates to the strength of the dye. In this case, the lesser the water the stronger the dye.11  Vat dye is the most popular dye used for colouration of cotton, particularly when high fastness is required.12 For the colouration of cellulose fibres about 120 000 tons of vat dyes are being used annually. Vat dyes is not soluble in water, but can be solubilized by reaction with a reducing agent. Vat dye do not fade easily and also have much wider colour range than the cold-water dye. Vat dye though very effective, is cosy and requires expertise. This is because it requires the combination of chemicals such as sodium hydrosulphate.

Procyon dye are used to produce enhanced, bright and very good range since the dyes blend well to form other colours. Colours however tend to be faint if dyes are used on man-made fabrics such as Batik.

The other dyes listed are alternative dyes such as multi-purpose dye which come in different colours and are applicable to most fabric but they are not too colourfast. Dylon and fabric dye are alternative to one another; they are used for batik production. Likewise, the Rit and Tintex dyes are mostly recommended for batik production and are parts of export dye products that can are not easily accessed in the local market.

Another aspect of renewed production techniques can be observed in the materials used for production. Tie and dye in the northern part of Nigeria was popular with the use of pit and cold water. This same practice is observed in other parts of western Nigeria like Ibadan and Abeokuta where dyers were located.13 Common dyestuff in the past includes varieties of red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, grey and black, lichen, fungi etc. While luxury dyestuff includes royal purple, crimson and scarlet, which were rare and expensive in the ancient fashion world and then in Europe. But the Kano dyeing guild seems to have a monopoly of a particular colour, which is an indigo blue. The typical combination entails such ingredients as indigo, wood ash, sediments from the dye-pit (dead remains of used indigo known as “katsi” in Hausa), long stick, pail, wood, yellow powder from locust bean pod, dry cow dunk and guinea corn husk. After the ingredients are mixed to create the desired hue; the yarn, fabric, fibre or garment is dipped into the hued pit repeatedly to create the desired colour. The longer the item is allowed inside the hue, the darker the colour becomes.14

But presently, tie and dye as gone into the advance stage of production where laboratory equipment now has a role to play in the production of tie and dye produce. A sophisticated dyer will have the following; white cotton fabrics, vat dye, sodium hydrosulphite, stirrer, caustic soda, nose mask, beaker, hand gloves, weighing balance, basic laboratory glass wares such as conical flask, measuring cylinder thermometer and volumetric flask. And the procedure for dying a cotton fabric using a reactive dye (PRO MX Reactive Dyes)15 is as follow:

Scour the fabric by machine washing in HOT 1400F (60 0 C) water, or by hand in a pot on the stove with 2 tsp (2 gm) PRO Dye Activator or Soda Ash and 2 tsp (2.5 ml) Synthrapol per pound of fabric (454 gm, or 3 to 4 yards’ cotton muslin, or 8 yards 8mm China Silk, or 3 Medium T-shirts, or 1 sweatshirt). Rinse thoroughly. This step does not add the dye fixative to the fabric; it prepares your fabric for dyeing by removing any dirt, oil or sizing.

Make the Soak Solution by measuring 1 gallon (4 litters) of warm 110 0 F (44 0 C) water in to a 2-gallon bucket. Mix 9 Tbl (80 g) of PRO Dye Activator or into the water. Soak the fabric in this Soak Solution for 10 minutes with occasional stirring. While wearing rubber gloves, wring out the fabric well and do not rinse. While the fabric is still wet tie or fold it into the desired pattern. This Soak Solution keeps for a long time at room temperature in a closed container and can be reused to soak more fabric. Make the Urea Water by mixing together the ingredients below. Cool Urea Water to room temperature before using. This Urea Water keeps for a long time at room temperature in a closed container without dye powder. Discard it if you detect an ammonia smell. 7 tsp (28 g) Urea, 1 cup (250 ml) warm 110 0 F (44 0 C) water, 1/4 tsp (0.5 g) Ludigol F (PRO Chem Flakes) (optional, but use if you live in an area with smog.), 1/4 tsp (0.5 g) Metaphos (optional, but use if you have hard water.)

For each cup of Urea Water add PRO MX Reactive dye powder to mix the shade desired. Shelf life of Dye Solution is 5 to 7 days. However, in the hot summer months it=s best to mix the dye solution every day.

Apply the dye. After the fabric or shirt is tied up and while it is still damp, directly apply the dye solution with a sponge brush, squeeze bottles or syringe. Work the dye solution into the shirt or fabric with your gloved fingers to insure thorough saturation. Blend the colours by carefully squeezing, mashing and kneading the shirt or fabric. Check the folds of the fabric to make sure the dye has soaked through. Carefully turn the shirt or fabric over and apply the dye solution to the other side. It is handy to have a bucket of clear water next to your working area to rinse your hands between colour changes. Obtain a fluid colour gradation by overlapping one or two colours to produce a third colour. 

Fix the dye. Allow the fabric for a minimum of 4 hours for pale shades, and up to 24 hours for Turquoise and dark shades. Room temperature must be above 70 0 F (22 0 C) for the dyes to fix properly.

Rinse the fabric. Untie and unfold the fabric. Rinse the fabric thoroughly in a bucket of room temperature 75 0 to 95 0 F (24 0 to 35 0 C) water. Change the rinse water 3 to 4 times. Do not stack the rinsed shirts on top of themselves before the HOT Synthrapol wash, because the dye frequently transfers and stains other fabric it touches. Then wash in HOT 140 0 F (60 0 C) water, adding 2 tsp (2.5 ml) Synthrapol per pound (454 gm) of fabric.

Rinse well and dry. This renewed production technique involved in tie and dye obviously have thrown the indigenous dyers off the present scale of tie and dye textile production. This does not signify that the indigenous dyers do not have their fair market, but the renewed production process makes dying easier, faster and more durable than the hard labour engaged in during traditional production.




The manner in which a piece of cloth is folded determines the pattern which will eventually come out after the piece of cloth has been dyed and rinsed. The two foremost types of folds are primary folds and secondary folds. Examples of primary folds are the V fold, W fold and the middle meeting fold. On the other hand, the secondary folds are made from the primary fold. The secondary folds are and can be said to be improved designs and styles of tie and dye production since there are so many of them resulting in new designs daily. These designs are multiple and diverse and thus requires innovative and proactive designers. The secondary designs also known as improved designs are as follow:16 

Accordion fold: With this fold, knife-like pleats are created in order to come up with an accordion fold. Hence, to achieve this fold, the following technique is required; Lay the fabric flat; create a knife-like pleat on the fabric from the bottom up; at this point you will have a long strip of fabric; fold the fabric in half; secure the fabric with four rubber bands; apply the dye to the fabric; flip the fabric over and repeat on the backside.

Accordion Folded Box Pattern: This design utilizes the same folding technique as the box fold. The variance is in the rubber band placement and the dye application. For this particular design one colour of dye can be used. The dye will be heavily applied to the outer edges only, leaving the centre untouched. The fabric will then be flipped over and the dye was repeated on the backside.

Two-step accordion fold: For this particular design, any colour of dye can be applied first, completely saturating the fabric. The fabric will then be flipped over and the dye will be repeated on the backside. This will be left to sit and process for 24 hours. With the fabric left banded together, it will then be rinsed under cold water – until the water run clear. While the fabric is still wet (and banded together) orange dye will then be applied to the folded tips only.

Stripes tie dye technique: To achieve this design, two or more colours can be used. For instance, using only two colours of dye (black and green). Black dye will be applied to the ends, completely saturating the fabric up to the rubber bands. Then green dye will be applied to the  centre section – completely saturating the fabric, up to the rubber bands. The fabric will then be flipped over and the dye will be repeated on the backside. As the dye processes it will seep through the fabric and create the umber effect.

Spiral fold: This is done with the W primary fold. For instance, three different colours of dye can be used. Yellow dye will be applied to three consecutive wedges. Then, overlapping one of the yellow wedges, magenta dye will be applied to three consecutive wedges. Lastly, overlapping two of the magenta wedges, green dye will be applied to three consecutive wedges, with a heavy concentration on the centre wedge. The fabric will then be flipped over and the dye be repeated on the backside.

Bullseye tie dye technique: For this design one colour of dye is used. Dye will be applied to each section, leaving the fabric near each of the rubber bands untouched. The fabric then will be flipped over and the dye repeated on the backside. As the dye processes, it will seep through the fabric and create the umber effect.

Diamond pattern folded: For this design one colour of dye can be used. For instance, Lime green dye can be applied to the outer edges of the triangle, leaving the centre untouched. The fabric will then be flipped over and the dye repeated on the backside. As the dye processes it will seep through the fabric and create the umber effect.

Box pattern and Banded pattern: For this design one colour of dye is used. The dye will be heavily applied to the outer edges only, leaving the centre untouched. The fabric will be flipped over and the dye repeated on the backside.

There are many other folds creating amazing designs such as Zigzag fold, triangle fold, ball fold, crumple tie dye technique, shibori tie dye technique, sunburst tie dye technique, folded tie dye techniques. The advantage of folding materials for tie and dye is that one can stick to the same folding technique on a number of pieces of clothes and apply the same type and colour dye bath but the products will never come out the same. The reason being that art cab never be reproduced. It is impossible to fold, pleat and twist etc., any two pieces in the same manner. Two pieces of tied cloth would absorb the dye differently to produce different results. It is this unique quality that attracts customers and launches the producer in to real business.17




At a point, many people in Nigeria tend to look down on their own tie and dye products but little do they know that it is appreciated in the developed countries. Tie and dye are indigo resist dyed cotton cloths that were made by women throughout Yorubaland in Nigeria. Resist dyeing 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. They were generally worn by women as wrappers. However, by the mid-1960s tie and dye were also being tailored into garments such as men’s shirts. At this time adire was popular again after falling out of fashion in the late 1930s. Its success was short-lived and it was quickly superseded by other forms of resist-dyeing such as ‘Kampala’.

Due to the nature of producing tie and dye cloths, dyers cannot always meet up with the increasing population and demand giving the western textile producers more penetration opportunity. Tie and dye were usually prepared, and always dyed, by women. The dying was done in large earthenware dye pots which were partially sunk into the ground. The dye used was made either from indigo leaves which grew locally or imported indigo grains. If leaves were used, they would be collected into balls and allowed to ferment. The indigo was added to water which had been softened with caustic soda. 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. Sometimes after it had been dyed the cloth would be beaten with a mallet so it took on a sheen. But the western clothes were produced in easier methods and with the use of sophisticated machines, which make production easier, faster and neat.

Nationally and economically, the indigenous textile industry experienced decline as a result of the importation of cheap textile materials from China, Ghana, Senegal, Togo etc. government policies and the mentality of people who have believed in the superiority foreign clothes led to an elephant shake in the tie and dye production sector. In 2010, it was reported by the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria that the lifting of the ban on importation on foreign goods especially textile produce will and significantly did affect the indigenous textile producers.18

There is indeed a large market for tie and dye fabrics. Tie and dye fabrics have successfully been used for the followings: clothing which includes shirts, skirts, peplums, flare gown, T-shirts among others; soft furnishing and home decorations; clutch bags; footwear; hair accessories among others. 

Just like every other traditional attire such as aso-oke, tie and dye are functional at traditional events. For instance, an indigenous Yoruba man or woman will either wear an aso-oke or tie and dye material while attending traditional functions such as traditional wedding. The present turn out of tie and dye outfits appearing at functions are incredibly impressing. Base on personal research findings, at least 3 out of 7 attendees of a wedding ceremony are on tie and dye. it is definitely one of the best alternative to aso-oke, because of it lightness in weight and it smoothness in texture, unlike what is obtainable with aso-oke. This is one reason why it is a common political pick when it comes to wearing indigenous clothes for campaign in Nigeria.

Interior decoration in the home using tie-dye products are very affordable, attractive, durable, and manageable, the design, colours and the materials used in tie-dye products are of high quality. Examples, making the headrest, Arm rest, Cushion cover, table cover, frames etc.19

No matter the beauty and inexpensiveness of western attires, Yoruba people will always patronise tie and dye attires.20 It is the creativity and the designs in tie and dye that makes it significant both as process and objects of communication in the world of the Yoruba and perhaps beyond. The designs and the decorative elements on the cloth are meaningful part of the people’s day-to-day lives. Tie and dye cloth therefore functions as visual language21 and cannot be wiped out in totality by any foreign or indigenous textile production.


The above discussions have given an insight of the introduction of tie and dye production in Lagos state, Nigeria and the transformation of the industry. The various designs and pattern familiarised as the century goes by is on the whole highlighted in order to justify the topic. As a reflection of the state of indigenous industries in Nigeria, this paper brought into consideration the market value of tie and dye products.

In respect to traditional clothing industries, we have seen the economic opportunity which are open to the craft. But at a time like this when Nigerians are looking inward to grow its economy, it will be appropriate to explore the possibilities of modernizing and funding our indigenous crafts rather than abandoning them.


1. R.A. Olaoye, “Traditional Cloth-weaving Industry in Nigeria before 1800”

2. Coleman Fidelis Essien, “Empowering Indigenous Industries for National Development” In JORIND (9) 1, June, 2011.

3. FIIRO, Data assessed on 14/10/2017

4. Adire African Textile,  Data assessed on 14/10/2017

5. Eluyemi Omotoso. The Living Arts and Craft of Ile-Ife. Ile-Ife. Adesanmi Printisng Press. 1978, p. 31.

6. Oral interview with Comrade Daniel Ayanbisi, Unionist, 48, Lagos, January 3, 2018

7. Areo M.O and Kalilu R. O. R. ‘Adire in South-Western Nigeria: Geography of Centres’ In African Research Review. Vol. 7 (2). April 2013. P. 354

8. Noah Biodun., Dyes from Plants: Their extraction and Application to Textile Lagos. Jide Publishing House. 1995. p. 32

9. Oral interview Mallam Kudus Ibrahim, adire trainer, 43, Ikeja, 5 January, 2017

10. Hoffmann, Frank W and William G. Bailey. Fashion & merchandising fads. New York: Haworth Press. p. 257. 1994

11. Oral interview with Alhaja Atinuke Tafeek, Adire Seller, 53, Somolu, 5 January, 2017

12. Oral Interview Mrs. Agnes Makinde, Adire trainer, 40, Ikeja, 5 January, 2017

13. Oral interview Mrs. Tolulope Olaolu, Adire trainer, 38, Ikeja, 5 January, 2017

14. Asiri Magazine “Kano’s ‘Kofar Mata Dyepits’: A Struggling Textile Dyeing” assessed @ assessed on 21/02/2018

15. PRO Chemical and Dyes “Instruction Manual for PRO MX Reactive Dyes product” made in 126 Shove Street, Fall River, MA.

16. Stephanie Lynn. “Tie Dye Folding Techniques | 16 vibrant tie dye patterns” assessed on 21/02/2018

17. UNESCO. “TEXTILE PRODUCTION MANUAL: Tie and Dye Bleach and Dye Batik Screen Printing and Painting” UNESCO Harare Cluster Office, Zimbabwe. 2005

18. Oral interview Mrs. Tolulope Olaolu, Adire trainer, Op.cit

19. Clark, F. Local Crafts and Arts, Macmillan Publisher, Lagos. 2005.

20. Oral interview Mrs. Agnes Makinde, Adire trainer, Op. cit

21. Margaret Areo and Razaq Kalilu. Origin of and Visual Semiotics in Yoruba Textile of Adire in Journal of Arts and Design Studies. Vol.12, 2013.


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