Folkwear Travels to Madrid, Spain

By Molly Hamilton
on February 08, 2020

Folkwear Travels to Madrid, Spain

I got back from a fairly quick, but jam packed, trip to Madrid earlier this week.  I traveled with my oldest daughter (14) for four days to learn a bit about flamenco dancing/clothes/culture, as well as to check out the great fabric and clothes shops in Madrid, and to experience a bit of Spanish culture and food.  We packed in a lot and had a wonderful time!

First, I want to shout out Liesl from Oliver+S who has a great blog post about the best fabric stores in Madrid.  She is a pattern designer who lives in Madrid. This was very helpful, and I definitely checked out most of the stores she mentions. 

Also, I want to note a few things that I noticed that might be of interest, or be helpful, to anyone who is headed to Madrid.  First, most people did not speak a lot of English.  I found this surprising since I think of this as a fairly large tourist destination.  But, that idea is very Anglo-centric and not accurate.  So, it really helps to have some knowledge of Spanish, though you'll be fine without it.  I actually loved being able to try out my Spanish and was pleased that people actually understood me!  And, I could understand much of what was said to me (if it was fairly simple transactions:-)).  Second, the vegan movement does not seem to have had much influence here yet.  Food is based mostly on meat and cheese (and potatoes), and it was delicious.  Amazing cured ham, salty and nutty cheeses, egg and potato tortillas (so good!), paella, fried potatoes with cheese, tender and flavorful stewed meat on bread, sausages, etc.  It was all very good, especially washed down with a beer or glass of wine (which was about as cheap as water and all very good).  But, I often eat a large salad daily and love vegetables, so this was a bit of an adjustment.  Even the Caesar salad I ordered was mostly chicken and bacon with a little lettuce mixed in :-).  It was delicious!  And, third and textile-related, nearly everyone dresses very well, especially on weekends and evenings.  Going out on Saturday night, we ran into women in high heels and sequined dresses who were just going out to dinner and drinks.  On Sunday walking through Retiro Park (above), we saw teenage girls in tweed capelets, oxford shoes and tights; little girls in pleated wool coats and cute dresses.  Dressing well, and fairly conservatively, is standard here, and I (and my daughter, who loves torn jeans and t-shirts) loved it.

Fabric and Trim Shops

Ribes Y Casal is a great place to shop, and probably my favorite.  The staff was very friendly and the selection was very large.  Prices were also terrific for most things, though there were some high priced items mixed in (Liberty lawns and silks and some amazing wools). I bought a rayon challis, "Made in Spain", and I think I will use it to make a Folkwear pattern you will see featured next month!

Liberty silks

The other fabric store that stood out was Julian Lopez.  This was a bit higher end and a little more organized, and the selection was even greater.  Though I did not find it as fun to visit, I enjoyed browsing all the fabrics and was impressed with the selection.  Definitely give it a visit!

I also enjoyed visiting Almacen de Pontejos, an old-fashioned trim shop where you ask for things over the counter and they are picked out and wrapped up for you to purchase when you leave.  It was a lot of fun to look through the buttons (I bought a few buttons and kind of wish I'd gotten more). 

All of these stores are located quite near the Plaza Mayor and city center and were easy to walk to.  There were several other fabric stores nearby as well and I stopped in a few, but these three shops really stood out.

Plaza Mayor

Sunday Morning Flea Market

The flea market, El Rastro, a bit south of Plaza Mayor, was HUGE (to me).  It took up several streets and side streets in the area and seemed to keep going on and on.  The market takes place every Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm.  We got there fairly early and I'm glad we did because it was very crowded by noon and we headed out.  There was a bit of everything there - lots of clothes (second hand, new and cheap, handmade clothes, clothes from India/Nepal, etc.), antiques, toys (again, second hand and new and cheap), souvenirs, and art.  It was fun to stroll around and look at things, especially the clothes and antiques.  We were impressed the with number of fur coats for sale (mostly second hand), and the antiques were fascinating!

Royal Tapestry Factory

Visiting the Royal Tapestry Factory was one of our favorite things we did in Madrid.  It was so interesting and the English tour (only at 12:30 - and you need to email them and sign up beforehand) was really great.  No photos are allowed in the factory which has been around since 1720.  It was built because Spain had lost their Belgian territories and therefore their tapestry workshops.  The factory has been producing tapestries and rugs for palaces, museums, and wealthy people since then.  The factory now also repairs, cleans, and restores tapestries and rugs. 

Since no photos are allowed, I don't have much to show from the visit except that we got to go into the attic of the weaving rooms and see all the wool that they use for weaving rugs (and photos were allowed).  All the wool for rugs and tapestries comes from Toledo (area outside of Madrid) and they dye the wool in house, creating what seems like hundreds of colors.  This wool is used to make rugs as well as repair rugs, so they need lots of colors to create the designs, but also to match to colors on rugs that need repair. 

They use a finer wool, often blended with silk, for weaving the tapestries.  The tapestries take longer to weave and can be very intricate.  Again, they blend their own colors using the Toledo wool and French silk, filling bobbins to create the colors they need for the tapestries. 

I found it wonderful that the workers in the factory were a mix of older (50-60+ year olds) and younger (20 year olds) people.  Some of the older workers had been working there since they were 14 or 15 years old, and the younger workers had been trained in a school that was open for a short time a few years ago.  The work seems tedious, but fascinating at the same time.  While we were there, they were working on a set of tapestries for a palace in Dresden.  They were being re-created from photos of the originals which were destroyed in the war. 

Flamenco and Madrid

One of the main reasons I took this quick trip to Madrid was to get a little more insight into Flamenco dress.  I love our Flamenco Dress and Skirt pattern and since it is uncommon to find Flamenco dresses here, I was excited to learn more about the styles, fabric, and design of these dresses. 

There are several nice shops in Madrid for Flamenco dresses, skirts, shoes, fans, and accessories.  Maty has a large selection of dresses, and huge wall of flowers, shawls, fans, and hair combs, and is fun to visit.  They also have dance clothes and costumes.  El Flamenco Vive (Moratin, 6) has a great selection of music and guitars, and has a sister-store around the corner (Duque de Fernan Nunez, 5) that has flamenco dresses, skirts, shirts, shoes, and accessories.  Also, I really loved Senovilla (just beside El Flamenco Vive) which produces and sells gorgeous professional flamenco shoes.  I nearly bought a pair, even thought I am not a flamenco dancer because they are really beautiful shoes and are super cute!!  They do ship world-wide and you can get the style you want made in your size.  It was a really fun store to visit (and I want a pair of their shoes!).

Shoes in Senovilla

Flowers in Maty

Flamenco earrings in Maty

I liked seeing the different style dresses, or different dress features.  Dresses and skirts were made from stiffer cotton or poly fabrics, from drapey knits with body, and lighter-weight cottons that had flounces underlined or doubled up with laces or other fabric.  Edges were often finished with a rolled or very small serged hem, though sometimes it was turned under, and occasionally it had a hair or plastic wire serged or sewn into the hem to make it a bit stiffer and stand out from the dress/skirt.  I could tell these dresses and skirts would move beautifully and would be lots of fun to wear.

Flounce edges embellished/finished with trim

Rolled hems/serged hems with different fabrics for flounces

We also attended a flamenco show one night - at the Corral de la Moreria.  We both enjoyed the show - the music (guitar, drum, flute), singing (not typical "western" harmonies but hauntingly beautiful), and the dancing, which at times became trance-like, and was fascinating and beautiful to watch.

The culture of flamenco runs deep and long in Spain, with roots in the gypsy history of the country. 

Other things to do in Madrid

One of our favorite things that we did was to visit Toledo for the day.  It was a fairly quick bus ride (45 minutes) from Madrid and was a beautiful and fun old town to explore.  We enjoyed walking the winding streets, stopping into the cathedrals, synagogue, El Greco museum, shops, and other sites in the town.  It felt small and easy compared to Madrid, and we (who hail from small towns) enjoyed that brief respite. 

We visited the Reina Sofia to see Picasso's work - which was fascinating and disturbing, yet helped us understand the trauma and history of the Spanish Civil War. 

We visited a couple of roof top bars which was a fun way to spend the hour or so around sunset - relaxing, enjoying the view, having a drink and snack.  The Hat and Circulo de Bellas Artes were really great.  The Hat was small and simple with a nice view of tiled roofs and evening birds, and Circulo del Bellas Artes was a much fancier (and more expensive) venue with fabulous, nearly 360 degree views of the city. 

Sitting at cafes and people watching was also very enjoyable and we spent quite a few hours eating, drinking, and sitting and watching.

Another very favorite thing to do was stopping for churros and chocolate (both very different and much more delicious than anything in the USA).  My daughter loved them, and our favorite place as 1902 Chocolateria.  The staff was very sweet and the churros and chocolate were great.

I hope this little review of our trip will help you if you are traveling Madrid, but will also inspire you in your sewing, especially for the Flamenco Dress and Skirt

Folkwear Travels to California

By Molly Hamilton
on August 30, 2018

Folkwear Travels to California

I returned from 10 days in California this past week, and I must say that I really like the part of the state that I saw. Also, that there is a great sewing community in California! I traveled with my whole family (4 children and my husband) to mix a little pleasure with business. We drove from Los Angeles, up Route 1 (which had only just opened the whole way) to Santa Cruz. Then, to San Jose, Berkeley, and finally to the tiny town of Valecito (near Sonora).  Most of the first part of the trip was Folkwear business - visiting our stockists and doing a few trunk shows.  The last few days of the trip was visiting with family and exploring the natural wonders (and wineries) around Sonora.  Here though, I want to highlight some of the amazing Folkwear stockists I visited and provide some information and impressions for you.  If you live in, or visit, California, these are some places to definitely check out!

Los Angeles

Japanese American National Museum:  Located in Downtown LA (in Little Tokyo), this museum houses a permanent exhibit about the history of Japanese Americans in the United State, with a particular focus on Hawaii and California (main points of immigration) and the WWII internment camps.  While I knew a lot of the history, seeing the exhibit and hearing the docent talk about his experience living in a camp as a child, was very powerful and informative.  The story made more of an impact on my older children to meet someone who lived through that part of history.  The museum also had a great exhibit on hapa (being ethincally "half" or "half white") that was touching and important.  On September 15, a new exhibit on Japanese toys will start - and that should be fun!  The gift shop at the JANM is very well curated and has several of our Japanese sewing patterns for sale.  I loved the children's books (one of my favorites from my childhood was there - from Japanese illustrator Gyo Fujikawa) and the textiles (of course).

Folkwear patterns at JANM gift shop!

Michael Levine:  This fabric store is right in the heart of the garment district of LA.  I wish I'd had more time to explore the garment district because there were lots of shops everywhere - and very different from NYC because the shops are generally in one story buildings and lots of merchandise is outside (good weather there!) making the shop quite attractive to passer-byes.  But, at Michael Levine, you get a huge store with great selection of just about everything, plus great prices.  The store isn't very pretty, but it makes up for it in the selection and prices. There are large sales tables full of fabric and lots of people to help you find what you need (and get it cut).  I found the sales tables to be pretty fun!

Folkwear pattern catalog next to the amazing MimiG patterns (they happened to be right beside each other) and her cute model!

Santa Cruz

Hart's Fabric:  I was very excited to get to see Hart's Fabric because I often order fabric from them and have collaborated a few times (blog post here, sponsor of Sew Your Hart Out).  I find their selection of on-line fabric very good - and their website is excellent, as well as their customer service.  The ladies working at Hart's were fun and dedicated to the store and customers.  I did a drop-in trunk show there and met lots of Folkwear fans over the 3 hours I was there (some of whom drove over an hour to come see Folkwear garments). I also got some fabric to make a 142 Old Mexico Shirt and an apricot-colored linen blend to make another 102 French Cheesemaker's Smock for a tutorial on making a placket.

The button selection at Hart's was so pretty!

Folkwear set up for our trunk show at Hart's.  

San Jose

Nichi Bei Bussan:  This Japanese gift shop in Japantown has been family-owned for over 100 years and houses a tremendous variety of Japanese handicrafts, gifts, supplies, clothing, etc.  I enjoyed visiting with Arlene, the owner of Nichi Bei Bussan, and hearing the history of the store - which included her family's history of business, internment camps, and a connection with the Olympics.  Large murals are painted on the outside of the building, and the art continues on the inside.  There are so many things to look at in the store, from martial arts supplies, to futons, to tea sets.  Textiles also play a central role in the store with many Japanese garments such as kimonos, hapis, and tabis, as well as a great selection of Japanese fabrics.  They also have Folkwear's Japanese patterns in stock and will do custom sewing.  I loved visiting this unique shop!

Here's Arlene and me outside of the store and in front of one of the murals on the store's side.

Another mural

A customer brought in her Folkwear pattern collection to show us! Note the clothing and gifts in this cute store!

The Folkwear patterns for sale at Nichi Bei Bussan (they still have the Child's Kimono pattern which they rent out!).

NIchi Bei Bussan is part museum - here are some photos of the very early days of the store (early 1900s) showing some of the Japanese fabrics they sold.


Stone Mountain and Daughter Fabrics: I LOVED this fabric store.  It is jam-packed with great fabrics!  The selection is amazing and the quality is great - it is a well-curated shop, and completely filled.  I was glad I arrived early for the trunk show because I got lots of time to browse fabrics.  I had to start a tab!  I ended up buying kolkata cotton, a grey cotton velveteen, two knit fabric (on sale), and a beautiful striped rayon/linen blend.  The trunk show here was also wonderful!  We had over 30 people come to hear me talk about Folkwear's history and show a collection of our garments.  It was wonderful to see so many Folkwear fans (and the Folkwear clothing they wore - inspiration!).  I often order fabric from Stone Mountain and Daughter (and recommend them for online fabric shopping), but if you can get to visit in person, it is real treat!  Great customer service too - if you have a question about a fabric being right for a pattern, they can help you!

Stone Mountain and Daughter Fabrics has a wonderful selection of ikat fabrics!

And eco-friendly fabrics!

Suzan and I in front of the store wearing our Folkwear makes - me in 131 Tibetan Chupa and her in 142 Old Mexico Dress!

Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles: I was surprised to see that this museum included a large shop filled with vintage clothing, textiles, lace, unique crafting supplies, books, and patterns (including Folkwear, of course).  Everywhere I looked, there was something interesting to see.  I could have spent hours in this shop!  And, I got a private tour of the exhibits, which were amazing!  The Boteh of Kashmir and Paisley had shawls of amazing intricacies - woven and embroidered.  The Fringed Shawl exhibit was also beautiful - full of exquisitely embroidered designs and spanning over a hundred years.  I loved walking around the store and looking at all the vintage items and crafting supplies. I finally bought a set of vintage embroidered napkins and some crocheted hangers (they were just like my great-grandmother used to make).  It was such a great place and certainly a place to visit if you are in the area!  A definitely must-see if you love vintage textiles, too!

The vintage clothing (and supplies) were everywhere!

Lace samples

One view of the fringed shawl exhibit - they were wonderful!

A view of the paisely shawl exhibit and how they were worn in the 1800s.  These shawls were impressive!

Lacis owner, Jules, and I with one of their Folkwear patterns!


I loved visiting California!  These shops were all so special and fun, and I loved seeing our Folkwear patterns out "in the wild".  I definitely encourage you to include these shops if you are in the area or visiting. 

It was also incredible to meet so many Folkwear fans and customers. Folkwear started in California in 1976, and it was nice to see customers (and even an employee/model!) from the very early years of Folkwear.  Visiting with them (and the shops) made me so happy and energized for Folkwear!  Thank you all!





Batiking in Ghana

By Molly Hamilton
on April 13, 2018

Batiking in Ghana

I am just going to start this blog post by saying that I mainly observed the batiking process for Global Mamas for a few days at one place in Ashaiman, Ghana (near the capital), so I am certainly not an expert nor have I thoroughly studied all Ghanaian batiking techniques. :-))  Also, many of these pictures are courtesy of Global Mamas (and some of them are mine).  

This history of batiking in Ghana goes back quite a long way.  I wrote a little about it in the post I where I wrote about my time in Ghana in February.  I wanted to go a little more in depth here and post a few more photos.

The basic process the starts with a block dipped in melted paraffin to place the design on fabric, repeating the design for 6 to 12 yards of fabric at a time. Fabric can be dyed before the wax is applied, or not, depending on the colors desired. 

The blocks for printing were traditionally made of wood, but now are mostly made of foam mattress pieces.  Foam mattress are everywhere in Ghana and make great batik tools because they are easy to carve into shapes.

Another volunteer carving a foam piece for a sample batik pattern.  She is wearing a dress of fabric that she batiked.

The parafin wax is melted over a coal or gas fire in a wide pan. The women use the wax over and over and even reclaim wax used on previous fabric, so the wax is usually a brown color.  They boil any water (from reclaiming the wax) off, and dip the foam design in the hot wax, letting excess drip off (or shaking it off).  The batikers carefully and quickly set the design on the fabric, pressing just enough to get the design set but not enough to push too much wax in the fabric and distort the design.  That was the part I found the most tricky when I tried batiking.  Sometimes I would not press hard enough and not all the design would come through and sometimes I would press too hard and wax would push out into the fabric and distort the design. The batikers could get a couple of design repeats per dip in the hot wax, then they would dip again.  They worked quickly and efficiently to cover 6 or 12 meters of cotton at at time.

After the wax cooled and dried, the fabric is carefully dyed so as not to crack the wax and let in the dye into the design.  If the wax cracks, the dye goes into what was supposed to be a clear area of the design. Sometimes that is desired (see the dress below - she cracked the wax on the first design and it gives it an interesting texture), but usually not.  The wax keeps the dye from penetrating the waxed area, thus creating an area that resists the dye. 

The dyed fabric is dried on a line, then the wax must be removed from the fabric.  The batikers carefully push each fabric section into a simmering cauldron of water. The wax floats out of the fabric to the top of the cauldron, where it is skimmed off to be reused.  After simmering for 10-20 minutes, the fabric is placed in a large bucket of cold water and a woman quickly goes through the fabric to make sure all the wax is off, again skimming off any extra wax to be reused. 

De-waxing: wooden stick is used to keep the fabric below the surface of the simmering water and to agitate the fabric, and a large ladle is used to skim of the melted wax that floats to the surface. Note the waxed and dyed fabric waiting to be de-waxed.

Washing the fabric in cool water after de-waxing; making sure no wax is left on fabric.

Then, the fabric is hung to dry again.  When the fabric is dry it is brushed with a piece of foam to get off any last remaining bits of wax clinging to fibers. 

If the cloth needs to have another design (for instance, different color dots on top of a floral design), the process is repeated, with different blocks and different dye baths.  This batik process can be repeated several times to get the colors and designs desired.

Quite intensive (and hot) process! But, what beautiful fabric!


Ghana - a textile center in Africa

By Molly Hamilton
on March 01, 2018

Ghana - a textile center in Africa

**Warning! This post is very long, so I’ve broken it down by category.  If you just want to read about the fabrics and textiles, scroll on down.  If you want to know more about Ghana culture, my experiences, as well as the fabric and fashion, you should read the whole thing!**


I am back from my trip to Ghana! I spent just over two weeks immersed in Ghanaian life on the west coast of Africa.  I was a volunteer for Global Mamas, a fair-trade business/non-profit that sells clothing, jewelry, and home goods made by women in Ghana.  For Global Mamas production, women batik cotton cloth (now organic cotton cloth), sew the clothing and goods, and make beads from recycled glass to create jewelry. Global Mamas sells the finished products world-wide, and the women are well-paid, have steady income, and attend free development and health workshops regularly. 


It took a little time to get used to being in Ghana - the heat, the food, the trash, the open sewers, the language - but I adjusted quickly and enjoyed it. Most of the time I was in Ghana, I stayed with a Ghanaian family in Cape Coast (about 3 hours west of the capital, Accra). One of the seamstresses that sews for Global Mamas, Sarah, and her husband Red, were my hosts.  Sarah is an amazing woman who could sew incredibly fast and well, with rarely any mistakes on a hand cranked sewing machine.  She is a “master” seamstress (official designation), and she also sews clothing for other people, as well as graduation robes for the local university.  Sarah sews nearly all the time - unless she was washing clothes (by hand . . . all of Ghana washes their clothes by hand), dishes, or cooking (which she often did over a little coal fire just outside the kitchen).  She could put out amazing food in no time!  But, still the vast majority of her time was spent behind her sewing machine.  I got her to come out for a walk with me one day, and that was fun as she showed me around her neighborhood which included a hospital where we walked past the maternity ward and could hear women in labor!













I would often sit with Sarah across the table from her at her sewing machine at night.  I would embroider (working on a yoke for 101 Gaza Dress) while she sewed on her machine.  The Fante-dubbed India soap opera on in the background, and her husband on the couch chuckling at the show.  We created a comradery over sewing and I enjoyed those evenings very much.  We always finished the evening by eating fresh oranges (the only dessert I had while in Ghana) that Red had bought on the way home. 


Ghanaian food is quite good and very important!  A couple of things to know: 1) it is usually spicy, 2) it is always eaten with the right hand, using no utensils, and 3) there are usually large servings.  It is also usually very cheap.  I could eat a lunch from the stand on the street for about $0.50, and I could also buy a big meal at a nice sit-down restaurant for about $15.  And, bananas, oranges, pineapple, mango, papaya, etc. can be found from vendors on nearly every street and are delicious.

My favorite meals were steamed plantain and cabbage stew, a kind of stir fried pasta with lots of vegetables, smoked fish, and eggs, and red red (red beans, red sauce, fried plantains).  These were the only meals I could finish because portions were so large that I could rarely eat all the food served me.  But those were so good (and portion size a little more manageable) that I could do it!

Fish is ubiquitous in Cape Coast.  They come sun-dried, salted, smoked, fried, fried-and-dried, and ground into sauces, and they are put into just about dish you can eat.  It seemed like the main fish used are small and quite boney, but by the time they are smoked, cooked, and stewed, or just ground into a paste, you can just eat the bones, like a sardine.  The slightly larger fish can sometimes be very boney, but fish like red fish or cassava fish had quite a lot of nice white meat on them and are delicious fried.  Sometimes a stew with fish in it (very common) also would have a little sand too because the fish are brought into the beach, laid in the sand and sold, then taken to compounds to be processed.  The fish are washed before processing (gutting and drying/smoking), but often not all the sand gets rinsed off. I never minded it - it just reminded me of how fresh and local the fish was.

Above photo of fish being dried and smoked, ocean in background.

Other important national foods here are jollof (rice cooked in spicy tomato sauce to make a red rice), banku (fermented cornmeal and cassava mush), kenke (fermented cornmeal mush), fufu (pounded cassava and plantain), and rice balls (overcooked rice mush molded into balls).  All of these starches are eaten by hand (right hand only) with some kind of stew - okra stew, light soup, red soup, green soup, groundnut soup, cabbage stew, palm nut soup, etc and maybe a little meat (goat, chicken, or fish).  Each starch seems to go with one or two of those soups.  For instance, I tried to get banku with palm nut soup and the waiter was shocked.  He insisted that I have okra stew with it, and I insisted that I have the palm nut soup, and so he brought me banku with palm nut soup and okra stew mixed together in my bowl!  He just could not serve me banku without okra stew!

Water is mainly drunk from a ½ liter plastic bag, costing about $0.04 each.  Everyone does this, and many simply throw their empty bag on the ground when they are done (there is a lot of plastic trash everywhere in Ghana, though there seem to be recycling programs that people are starting to use).  To drink water out of a bag, you bite off one corner of the bag and drink from that corner.  You usually need to drink all the water at once as it is not easy to carry around and can easily fall over if placed down half-full. 


People in Ghana were overwhelmingly nice, maybe especially to foreigners.  Nearly everyone greeted me with a smile and a “good day”.  As an obroni (or white person/foreigner), I stuck out significantly. Children thought this was hilarious and would often yell “obroni” until I looked and waved.  Then they would dissolve in giggles and wave back. Sometimes children wanted to shake hands or get high fives or just touch me.  People everywhere would ask where I was from, what was I doing in Ghana, what was my name, how long was I in Ghana, etc.  Politeness is important and stopping to talk to a stranger was considered polite.  I got invited to a funeral while I was waiting at baggage claim, before I’d even left the airport on my first day (funerals are big important parties) and was often invited to events or to visit people or places.  This type of politeness also felt familiar as a Southerner because while I am sure I would have been welcome to all the events and places I was invited to, I was not really expected to show up or follow through with them!

My Work

My work at Global Mamas was to focus on product development and social media content.  But, after arriving it turned out they needed a presentation on organic cotton production for education for the office staff.  They recently switched to organic cotton fabric for their products and there was an issue with the batik wax staining the fabric during the dewaxing process (batik process outlined below).  They were trying to solve this problem while I was there, working out new de-waxing techniques that the batikers could easily use, as well as educate the staff on why they were changing to organic cotton fabric.  The batik problem is likely due to the different finish (and possibly processing) of the new fabric and was a concern with many of those who worked for Global Mamas.  Doing education on organic cotton was right in my wheelhouse, so I was happy to do that.  I did have to figure out how to make it simple enough that people who don’t have English as a first language nor any background in agriculture could understand it.  It was nice to integrate my agriculture background with my newer work in textiles and sewing. 

After making the presentation, I focused on product development.  I drafted patterns and sewed samples for several new garments and home good items that have potential to be added to their product line in the next year.  Pattern drafting in Ghana was a bit different than in the US.  I did not use much paper (it is a much more precious commodity).  I taped together office paper with masking tape, piecing it until I had just enough to draft with - using scraps and cutting paper in half to use as little as possible.  I am sure those patterns will need to be drafted again, but I wanted to do it quickly and efficiently for those first couple of drafts. 

Pants and kimono sleeve top, drafted and sewn samples (un-hemmed): 

I sewed my samples on two machines: a hand-crank Butterfly (the same kind as Sarah used) “Made in the Republic of China” machine and an industrial machine.  Neither machine was very easy to use (I was rightly relegated to those machines as the only other one was often used for trainings for workers).  The tension didn’t seem right in the hand-crank and I couldn’t figure it out and the industrial machine spit oil every time it was run and both machines immediately broke thread as soon as I tried to backstitch.  But, they were both fun to use .  . . for a short time!


The hand-crank machine was also useful when we had a “lights out” event which only happened twice while I was in the office, for a several hours, but does occur fairly often.  I was able to keep working through the power outage with the hand-crank machine. 

Global Mamas office - quality control.  

Sewing and Fabric in Ghana

It seemed like there are seamstresses, sewing shops, tailors, or fabric stores on every street in Cape Coast.  Men and women are sewing in open air shops, mostly on hand-crank machines, everywhere.  Often these little shops also have at least one industrial machine and/or serger to use when appropriate (like when finishing seams, hems, or when a little extra strength is needed in the seam).  You can get a dress or pants or skirt or shirt made in any of these shops for anywhere between $2 and $8 (USD).  A fellow volunteer, had two dresses made with fabric she bought.  The seamstress took no measurements and was only given a description of the desired dress, and she made a cute fit and flare dress and an A-line dress and short sleeves.  Both fit wonderfully and were finished within a day or two.  It is quite impressive! 

Seamstress shop - only about this big. They were working on a wedding dress too.

Finishing seams on the dress because no alterations were needed.

Fabric is also impressive in Ghana.  A lot of African fabrics are printed in China and they are cheaper, very colorful with good designs, but the quality of the fibers/weave/feel is lower.  Ghana has several of its own manufacturers.  Akosombo Textiles (ATL), GTP (Ghana Textile Prints), Woodin (upscale shop with slightly more modern prints), and Printex are all printed in Ghana and are high quality.  GTP and Woodin are associated with Vlisco fabrics (Holland-based company).  Then there are batik fabrics which are batiked locally and sold in the local markets.  There are no brand names for these fabrics and I enjoyed finding them and looking at the different prints and designs that were created - everything from symbols and plant shapes to stripes to plaids.  Fabric was also fairly inexpensive.  The cheap Chinese fabrics were about $2/yard.  The nicer Ghana-printed fabrics were about $3.50/yard and Woodin fabrics were about $4.50/yard.  The local batik fabric was around $2.00/yard. 

Traditional Ghana batik (read more about process below)

African Wax Prints, or Ankara.  These circle designs were very popular and symbolize a well.

Everyone in Ghana will dress up. Church is a suitable place to show off your fashions and women and men were decked out in their finest prints and designs, but everyday-wear was amazing as well.  Seamstresses and tailors come up with their own clothing designs.  Ruffles, flounces, pleats, gathers, interesting sleeves, small cold-shoulder looks, skirts of every size and shape.  You can see different designs everywhere.  I enjoyed looking at women’s and men’s clothing in the street every day.  I love a man in a plain t-shirt and tailored Ankara/African Wax Print pants or shorts.  I loved the high, tight-waisted A-line skirts, the wrap skirts, and the long and flowing skirts in Ankara prints.  I was constantly people watching - often for their fashion - and it was so rewarding!  I wish I had more pictures of people in their clothes, but Ghanaians are sensitive about having the photos taken and I didn't feel I could stop people and ask them if I could have their photo.

Sarah at a wedding. Black and white is traditional for wearing at weddings and funerals.

Ghana, is of course, also known for its kente cloth.  It was harder to find kente cloth in Cape Coast where I was staying because it is woven in the Ashanti region which is about 4 hours north.  Kente cloth is woven by men and the colors have symbolic meaning. It is woven on a small narrow loom in strips about 5” wide.  The strips can be sewed together to create larger cloth. Usually cloth is in combinations of orange, red, green, and yellow.  I found some with pink in it (which is symbolic of love) and I like those a little better.  In Accra, I found a small shop in the Arts Center where a man was weaving kente cloth. I attended a wedding one weekend and a few of the elder men wore kente cloth wraps of about 6 yards.  The bride’s gown was also made of kente cloth made in a very modern way - high-waisted fitted skirt with a mermaid tail to the ground and a lace and beaded bodice. 

Wedding dress with a kente cloth skirt.

Traditional men's wear for special occasions, like church or wedding (as in this case).  Gentleman on the right is wearing handwoven kente cloth (strips sewn together), and on the left a black and white (also traditional for weddings) print.

I also fell in love with the traditional Ghanaian tunic, called a Batakari, or Fugu.  This sleeveless tunic is made of handwoven fabric of simple design and has a keyhole or star neckline that is embroidered. Sidenote: I was told Ghanaian sewers/seamstresses do not like to embroider or do handwork and I found that true.  They admired my embroidery but showed no interest in learning it or doing it.  All the tunics I saw were machine embroidered, i.e. machine zigzagged, at this point.  Still beautiful and still possible to hand embroider, but not done in recent times).  The tunic fans out to a large pleated skirt just below the chest area.  The women’s versions frequently have elastic at the waist to draw in the fabric and make it more feminine (accentuate the waist).  And, these tunics usually have pockets with embroidered openings below the underarms.  

Men's Tunic

Women's Tunic (sometimes the waist is lower, at natural waistline)


Batiking fabric has been a traditional way of creating designs on fabric for a long time in Ghana.  For more of this history, read this article.  The women that batik for Global Mamas also make batiks that they sell at the markets, or they may also screen print school and business logos onto wax print cloth for uniforms.  The process the women use is to heat paraffin wax and dip a block print in the wax, then place the print on fabric, repeating the design for 6 to 12 yards of fabric at a time.  The fabric can be dyed first or not.  The blocks for printing were traditionally made of wood, but now are made of foam mattress pieces.  Foam mattress are everywhere in Ghana and make great batik tools because they are so easy to carve into shapes. After the wax has dried, the fabric can be carefully dyed so as not to crack the wax and let in the dye into the design.  The wax keeps the dye from penetrating the waxed area, thus creating an area that resists the dye. 

Batiked fabrics drying in the sun.

The dyed fabric is dried, then to get the wax out of the fabric, the fabric is set into a simmering cauldron of water.  The wax floats out of the fabric and to the top of the cauldron, where it is skimmed off to be reused.  After simmering for 10-20 minutes, the fabric is placed in a large bucket of cold water and a woman quickly goes through the fabric to make sure all the wax is off.  Then, the fabric is hung up to dry and when dry is brushed with a piece of foam to get off any wax clinging to fibers.  Then, if the cloth needs to have another design (for instance, different color dots on top of a floral design), the process is repeated, with different blocks and different dye baths.  This batik process can be repeated several times to get the colors and designs desired.  Many of the batikers cook their wax and their hot water cauldrons over wood or coal.  Only a few use gas.  Quite intensive (and pretty hot) process!

Dewaxing the fabric in hot water (note the waxed batiks to the side waiting for their turn in the cauldron).

Washing the batik.

Other Ghana Fashion of Interest - Beads

Bead making in Ghana is also important.  Most beads are made in the Ashanti and Volta regions (central and northern regions).  The tradition dates back a long way but has evolved to using glass that is ground up by hand, heated, and shaped into beads.  The beads come in all shapes and the larger ones are also often hand painted.  The beads are made into necklaces, bracelets, earrings, waist beads, and anklets.  Beads are worn for many reasons, some symbolic of status or feeling, but mainly now for adornment.  Men and women wear beads, though men usually wear them as bracelets and anklets.  I loved the beads in Ghana and bought quite a few. 

Visiting Accra

I had just over one day to visit Accra, and a fellow volunteer decided to join me.  We headed from Cape Coast to the capital on a bus and made it to Accra in about 2.5 hours - our driver was a fast (and a bit scary), but we made it safely by early afternoon.  We checked into the Olma Colonial Suites, a lovely little hotel with apartments that are spacious and beautiful and a pool.  

My morning workspace at Olma Colonial Suites. So beautiful and peaceful (and they serve a great breakfast too).

Once settled, we got a bite to eat at Burger and Relish (probably the most expensive meal of my trip, but very good) and took a taxi to historic Jamestown and walked from Nkruma Memorial Park to the Jamestown Lighthouse.  There are a few colonial buildings in Jamestown: an old British slave fort cum prison (in which Nkruma, first president of Ghana, which was the first independent country in Africa, was imprisoned for a time) cum tourist attraction, a Dutch slave fort, some homes, and the lighthouse are some of the most important.  At the lighthouse, we met Daniel, a Rasta teacher at the school in the fishing village below the lighthouse.  He offered to take us on a tour of the village, which was very interesting - fishing boats, kids swimming and playing, football games on the beach, crabs drying, men swimming to their boats, chaos.  It was beautiful.  We also stopped at a café in Jamestown (Jamestown Café) which was a fun spot of literature, art, music, food, and drinks. 

Back at the hotel, after a dip in the pool to cool down, we headed out to probably the best Thai restaurant in Africa.  Food was cooked right in front of us and it was absolutely delicious and fresh!  Then, we headed for drinks at Republic Bar & Grill where we had a local palm spirit-hibiscus cocktail that was delicious and listed to Ghanaian hip hop. 

The next day we did some major shopping.  Starting at the Arts Center, near Nkruma Memorial Park, we toured the galleries of contemporary art and sculpture, then headed to the many artists booths selling all the traditional crafts of Ghana:  beads, instruments, clothing, carvings, textiles, leather bags, paintings, and woven baskets.  I could have spent a lot of money here, but had to remind myself I did not have a way to get everything I would have wanted home (nor enough money to get all I wanted!).  I settled for a beautiful old Ewe weaving, a pair of beaded salad tongs, a couple of bead strands, and some carved elephants (for my children). Just browsing everything here was a treat.

Contemporary Art Gallery at the Arts Center

Kente cloth weaver (traditionally men) weaving a strip of kente cloth.

Then, we headed to Makola Market, the largest market in Accra, selling everything from vegetables to toiletries to fabric to enormous live snails!  We navigated a maze of vendors, awed by all the goods being sold.  

A fabric vendors stall in Makola Market.

I did buy some fabrics from the market.  Then, we headed back to Uso, the neighborhood where we were staying.  We walked to Elle Lokko, an awesome little store with well-priced locally designed clothes, jewelry, and accessories. And, came across the Art Institute (ANO) located just next to it.  ANO had a beautiful small exhibit on the Ghanaian fashion designer, Kofi Ansah.  It was beautiful and interesting. These kimonos were stunning.

We also made it to The Shop Accra which also had some beautiful bags and clothes and had a great selection of consignment vendors in the outdoor café area. We ate dinner at Chez Clarrise, an Ivorian Coast dinner place where I had an amazing dish of Chicken Yassa.  Recommended by the waiter, who was from Ivory Coast, it was chicken cooked in a lot of caramelized onions, with rice on the side.  So good!

So go my recommendations for visiting Accra.  I know there is lots more to do - more great art galleries, a nice theatre, fun shops, good restaurants and music venues.