LESSON TITLE:                  African Textile Processes: Adire eleso and Adinkra print on fabric to create head wraps and dashikis

AUTHOR:                             Lucy Andrus

GRADE/AGE LEVEL:        Can be adapted for grades K-10

WRITTEN HERE FOR:      Teens in special education




Unit/Theme and Relation of this Lesson to Unit; Major Concepts to be Learned


Today’s lesson is the second in our unit on lifestyles and traditions of world cultures, as we continue our exploration of West African culture, particularly textile art and craft. To begin, the on-going slide overview of African cultures will open the lesson along with examination of selected artifacts. 


Last week, we learned about weaving and kente cloth.  Today, we will learn about adinkra design from the Ashanti people of Ghana (the dominant cultural group of the Akan people). We will also learn about the process of adire eleso (tie-dyeing), which is used by many West African countries, including Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Nigeria.* The students will learn how West African artisans decorate cloth, and compare this to textile decoration methods used in their own American culture. 


The students will continue to make connections to other cultures as they become more aware of how the universal language of visual art is applied by diverse groups of people.  They will also increase their understanding of symbolism in art, and how the use of visual symbols serves many purposes, from providing non-verbal information to preserving oral histories and traditions.  


Using adinkra symbols (carved into erasers or potatoes), and borrowing from the adire eleso dyeing process, the students will decorate their own fabric to be used for making head wraps (adire eleso) and dashikis (adinkra stamp-printing).


*Two very good resource books: The Adinkra Dictionary by W. Bruce Willis; Art From Many Hands by Jo Miles Schuman.


Relation to Life:


See previous lesson.  In addition, learning to create an item of clothing that can actually be worn reinforces the students’ sense of independence through development of competence.  Such an experience not only strengthens self-esteem, but also stimulates curiosity about life and living, and motivates people to learn and try new things.  This enhancement of the quality of life should be instilled in every person, including those who are differently-abled.  




Goals Specific to Unit/Lesson (reflecting NYS Art Standards and Targeted Learning areas.  See key at end):


The students will:


·        Increase knowledge and understanding of African culture, particularly of West Coast countries  (Std. # 4, AH, A/C, S)

·        Increase understanding and appreciation for artisans and artistry of African textile design and production (Std. 3 & 4, AC, AE)

·        Develop greater appreciation for cultural diversity in lifestyle and aesthetic systems; as well as for similarities (e.g., all makers of art use art elements and principles) (Std. 4, AH, AC, AE, S)

·        Enhance understanding of self and others through cross-cultural connection (Std. 4, S, E)

·        Increase art knowledge and skill in: pattern, design, composition (Std. 1, 3, AC, AP)

·        Improve cognitive skills: abstract thinking (symbolism), and planning, follow through, problem solving, and memory recall  (Std. 3, AC, AE, A/C)

·        Improve perceptual/motor skills: directionality, fine motor, visual tracking

(Std. 2, AP, P/M)

·        Develop personal aesthetic sensibilities (Std. 1, AE, E)

·        Improve attending and participation skills (Std. 1, AP, W/S, S)


Performance Objectives for Observational Assessment (reflecting goals):


The students will be able to:




·        Recall/name the continent and culture under study

·        Name at least two living skills that we have in common with people from African countries

·        Name at least two features a culture encompasses

·        Describe at least two things learned about African culture 

·       Identify at least one example of African textile design (adinkra, kente, mud cloth, adire eleso)

·       Define the terms adinkra and adire eleso

·        Attend to slide presentation without disruption 

·       Define the term symbol 




·        Decorate head wrap cloth using the adire eleso process:

a.                  at minimum, fold cloth like a fan, and tie with string every 6 to 10 inches (students can go further in their tying design as able)

b.                  wearing latex gloves (check for allergies to latex) and smock, place tied cloth in dye bath and gently stir without splashing die out of the bucket

c.                  when ready, remove cloth from die bath, squeeze excess out dye, and rinse

d.                  when dry, cut strings from cloth and open


a.         use mattboard edge dipped in black fabric paint to print border lines around neck opening, down the front and across the front bottom

b.         select a personally relevant adinkra symbol(s) to use in design

c.         print design within and around border areas by dipping adinkra stamp into fabric paint and pressing onto fabric

d.                  Use smaller mattboard pieces to print smaller lines that are integrated with the stamped images

e.                  demonstrate use of pattern through repetition of line and shape

f.          demonstrate care and craftsmanship by printing clean images and edges 





·       Recall/define at least one of the textile decoration methods used: adinkra, adire eleso

·        Indicate where pattern was used in fabric design by self or classmate






Teacher-made:       exemplar of a dashiki and a head wrap using the adinkra and adire eleso processes; adinkra symbol chart with meanings; map of Africa 


            Art Resources:       slides presenting overview of African culture; artifacts

                                                and textile examples from Africa; CD of African music   


Vocabulary (defined in student-friendly language):                        


Adinkra:  a kind of symbol or design that tells a story (there are proverbs associated with the traditional symbols), or stands for an idea (such as the adinkra symbol for royalty); also used to refer to the kind of cloth that is decorated with adinkra symbols; the word adinkra means farewell or goodbye (adinkra designs first used to decorate funereal clothing)

Adire eleso:  a process of decorating fabric using tie-dying methods

Ashanti:  One group of people who live in the country of Ghana (largest cultural group of the Akan people of West Africa) who are famous for adinkra

Culture:  a way of life; the certain ways people live; the customs, habits and traditions of a group of people (language, dress, food, beliefs, holidays, customs, music, art, dance, etc.)

Dashiki: a loose-fitting pullover style shirt worn in many African countries

Pattern:  a design created by repeating a line, shape, and/or color

Symbol:  something that stands for an idea, like a heart shape for love, or a clover for good luck, or the color red to show a feeling or tell you to stop when you’re crossing the street, or the golden arches for McDonalds, etc.

Textile:   fabric, cloth, material that clothes can be made from


Materials and Preparation:


·        Djembe drum (if possible)

·        Slide projector, screen paper and extension cord

·        Lots of newspapers to cover work and drying area


NOTE:  Since we were pressed for time, we used colored cotton fabric instead of white for the dashikis, but dashikis can also be dyed first, then printed on.






Depending n fine motor control, the students can choose from the string or the rubber bands for tying and bunching fabric to be dyed. Students who cannot manage either alone can work with a S/T to accomplish the steps of these tasks together (student scan fold/bunch and hold fabric while S/T helps tie it).


Procedural Steps: (details on procedures from beginning to end with                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ability-appropriate language scripted in where necessary)


Notes:           We have a double period, otherwise lesson requires more time.               

                        Prepare dye baths before the session starts




1.         Lead Teacher opens session with a drumbeat, explaining that the djembe (JOM-bay) drum’s name means “come together” (the drum calls the people).       


2.         Teacher leads discussion as students are asked to recall:


            - the culture, continent under study (use map or globe)

            - any particular features of African culture (recall meaning of term, culture)     

- area of the African continent we’re exploring for learning about textile                                                                                                  

             arts (West Coast countries)

            -  the type of cloth we learned about last week (kente weaving)


3.         More slides can be shown at this point as the students continue to learn about African culture and people.


4.         Following slides, teacher brings students’ attention back to the idea of the living skill of being able to clothe oneself, and shows actual African cloth examples, asking students to name them: kente, mud cloth, adire eleko.


5.         Teacher introduces two new process of textile decoration and design we will try today: adire eleso (tie-dye) and adinkra (stamp printing symbols), showing examples of each.


6.         Teacher explains how adire eleso is made, then adinkra cloth: it’s history, symbolism, meaning, and the people who created it (the Ashanti from the country of Ghana on the West Coast of Africa).  Adinkra means “goodbye” and was first used to decorate fabric worn at funerals, now it is used to decorate cloth that is worn all the time. Teacher explains briefly about the symbolism behind adinkra: the idea of passing down history, proverbs, and images or shapes that tell a story or stand for an idea (refer to adinkra chart with symbols and their meanings). 


7.         Teacher draws parallels to American clothing, such as T-shirts, that use symbols and images to tell a story or idea (refer to the students’ own clothing).


8.         Once students understand these two processes of clothing design, the teacher suggests that we all make an African style shirt called a dashiki, and a head wrap for the girls, like we’ve seen and talked about in the slides. Teacher shows examples and explains processes we’ll use, emphasizing repetition to create a pattern.




9.         The S/Ts and students proceed, starting with adire eleso head wraps: 


a.         all put on smocks

b.         label each student’s cloth with name using ballpoint pen

c.                  use cotton string or the rubber bands to section off and tie fabric

d.                  patterns can be made by repeating the type of tying every so often

e.                  students can experiment by tying small rocks or pebbles into the fabric

f.          fabric can be bunched, folded or pleated, then tied

g.         can control time by having students tie fabric only every 10 inches

h.         tied fabric is placed in the dye bath, gently agitated using stick, and remains there for 15 minutes


10.       While head wraps are dyeing, students proceed to decorate their dashikis with adinkra prints.


a.         label dashiki with masking tape label

b.         open dashiki  to single thickness, so front is flat on work surface

c.         squeeze a line of black acrylic or fabric paint into tray and smooth out with brush to the length of the mattboard printer

d.         use mattboard edge dipped in the paint to print a border (app. 2 inches in from the edge) around the front neck, down the center front, and across the front bottom

            e.         for adinkra, squeeze paint into shallow dish and smooth with brush

f.                    dip adinkra stamp into paint and press to fabric in desired areas

g.                  alternate adinkra stamps with printing of smaller lines within and/or around the border to create a pattern


NOTE:  watch out for drying paint on the stamps (dried acrylic will ruin them); to avoid, place stamps on damp sponge.


11.       If dashikis cannot be left in place to dry, remove carefully to another drying area by slipping cardboard under to help transport.


12.       Wearing disposable gloves, S/Ts remove cloth from the dye baths, rinsing under cold water and hanging or lying on newspaper to dry.


13.       All assist with clean-up, being careful to wash adinkra stamps with soft toothbrush before the paint begins to dry.  Mattboard printers can be disposed of.




14.       Following clean-up, all reconvene in large group as teacher leads discussion recalling the fabric design methods used: adire eleso and adinkra printing.


15.       Finished dashikis should be viewed and discussed for use of art elements and pattern.


16.       Teacher closes session with a suggestion that next week, we will put on our African clothing for a special celebration where we can see more artifacts, dance to African music and drumming, and sample some African foods.




In addition to observation of the Performance objectives described above for evaluating students, as well as noting what teachers may need to re-teach or do differently, questions to ask might include:


·        Does decorated fabric indicate use of repetition to create pattern?

·        Were students able to demonstrate care in application of paint to printer and printer to fabric so that edges are clean?

·        Were students able to indicate an understanding of textile decoration and clothing production as a living skill as well as artform, making connections between this and previous lessons?








DBAE:                                                                     NYS Standards for the Arts:


AH = art history                                                 Std. 1 = creating, participating in art

AC = art criticism                                               Std. 2 = knowing art materials and processes

AE = aesthetics                                                 Std. 3 = responding to works of art/artists

AP = art production                                            Std. 4 = knowing cultural dimensions of art


Needs Assessment Areas for Developing Skills and Abilities:


A/C    = academic/cognitive          M/P = motor/perceptual                        E = emotional

C        = communicative status      W/S = work/study habits                     S = social

Pre-V = prevocational skills              L = living skills