Sewing with African wax print fabric: an interview with Adaku Parker


20 May 2022
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Get to know Adaku Parker, a.k.a. Dovetailed who shares how she's helping people to add colour and print to their lives with beautiful African wax print fabrics...

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business, Dovetailed?

Dovetailed sells genuine African print fabrics. I'm on a mission to help people add colour and print to their lives by sewing with these beautiful fabrics. In addition to fabrics, I sell monthly and bi-monthly sewing subscription boxes, sewing kits, and haberdashery. I mainly sell online, but also hold open studios on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In addition, I sell in person at a range of fabric shows across the country. I know that many people love these fabrics but may not necessarily know how to use them in sewing projects and I run sewing workshops to help with this. I'm also thrilled to be the owner of the bestselling sewing book: Sewing with African Wax Print Fabric and I also appear on Sewing Street TV. 

Adaku Parker's book on fabrics

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How was it making the transition from lawyer to designer/sewing pro? 

I'd been a barrister for over 15 years. It was when on maternity leave with my first child that I started thinking about doing something else other than going back to the Bar. There were a few things that made the shortlist, however, it was a chance viewing of the Sewing Bee in 2016, when pregnant with my second child, that sparked an interest in sewing and later that same year, I signed up to a range of 10-week sewing classes. Making the change from barrister to designer wasn't too difficult. I was still practising as a barrister when I started my business and continued to do so until the business grew to a point that meant that I could no longer do both.

Can you tell us more about African wax print fabric/Ankara? 

African wax print/Ankara fabric is a unique fabric that has a special place within the textiles space. The designs and motifs are inspired/influenced by African customs, sayings, personalities, people, places and lifestyle.

"Many think that the fabric has wax on it but it does not. The wax in wax print refers to the printing process where wax is simply used to create the designs. It's very similar to the batik process of dying fabric that some may be familiar with."

Please can you share more about your process?

I curate a stunning selection of African prints. Where possible, the fabrics come directly from the African continent, otherwise they come from Holland. The Dutch were the first to mechanise the hand-dyed batik process in the 1830s and have continued to make these fabrics ever since. I create sewing kits, sewing patterns and run workshops so that we can inspire people to sew with these fabrics. 

Dovetailed sewing subscription box

Dovetailed sewing subscription box

What does a day-in-the-life of Adaku Parker look like?

My day normally starts with the school run! After that, I arrive at the studio for 10am and begin work. I always like to get orders out as soon as possible which leaves the afternoon to work on other tasks such as working on new patterns and sourcing new fabrics. I hold open studios on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 11am and 4pm for those wanting to shop in person. 

Any top tips for those new to sewing or wanting to try it?

  • Remove any manufacturer’s labels before washing the fabric.
  • Wash the fabric first before cutting and sewing.
  • Feel free to cut on either the straight grain or cross grain depending on which way you prefer the design.

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Do you have any advice for matching and lining up prints in dressmaking/sewing? 

Pattern matching can take time. Sometimes, the time spent pattern matching can take as long as the sewing time and that’s OK. It also isn't necessarily needed for each and every print.

  • Choose small-scale prints for patterns with lots of smaller pieces, such as shirts, where pattern matching isn't as straightforward.
  • Choose large-scale prints for patterns with only a few larger pieces, such as a shift dress or a skirt and make sure that the placement of the motif on the front panel is mirrored on the back panel.
  • When working with larger motifs that require pattern matching, allow extra fabric when purchasing – for example, if the pattern suggests 3 yd (2.7m) for your size, buy 3.5 yd (3.2 m) or 4 yd (3.6m) to allow more fabric for pattern matching.

 

'Wonderland on Blue' African wax print fabric

'Wonderland on Blue' African wax print fabric

One slight wrinkle is that because of the way the fabrics are printed, the repeats on the prints are not always even particularly when the fabric moves slightly during the printing process.

If you're wanting to match at the centre front seam or centre back, cut out one piece first. With your pattern sheet trace the parts of the design that you would like to match onto the pattern sheet. Then use the pattern sheet to find the section of the print that you'd like to cut your second piece out in. Don't forget about your seam allowance or any extra fold lines (on buttonholes for example). Then, take care that your prints follow the same direction through the garment, such as all pointing downward in bodice, skirt, and sleeves (unless this is a considered part of your design!).  

What’s your favourite piece of clothing to make and why?

Dresses – they allow me to most of any fabric. 

Crafts are known to be excellent for wellbeing – how vital do you find crafting for your own mindfulness and wellbeing?

People often describe their sewing space as their happy place and I could not agree more. I absolutely love being in my studio, preparing orders and taking some time out to sew for myself. There's something incredibly therapeutic about starting with a pattern and a piece of fabric and creating a beautiful garment, a handbag or something for the home.   

Where can people find out more about you?

Website: dovetailed.co.uk
Instagram: @dovetailedlondon
Facebook: facebook.com/DovetailedLondon/
Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/sewingwithafricanwaxprintfabric
YouTube: https://bit.ly/dovetailedYT
Studio: Unit 102, 397-411 Westferry Road, London, E14 3AE


Next, get to know free machining extraordinaire, Stacey Chapman.