With the current incoming trend for the ethnic tribal prints we thought we should investigate a major producer of the African fabrics and the story is truly fascinating.

In the 1800s there was a family owned cotton printing mill in Helmond, The Netherlands, called P.F. van Vlissingen & Co, which later became known as Vlisco. This was the dawn of the industrial revolution which the mill eagerly embraced alongside the exciting global trade opportunities of the Dutch East Indies, present day Indonesia.


Part of the  Vlissingen family owned a sugar plantation on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. Frits Vlissingen visited a small factory in the southern part of Java, where men and women were drawing lines and dots on cotton with the technique of wax-resist dyeing, known as batik. He was so impressed by the quality of these fabrics that he immediately sent samples to his family in Helmond.


In Helmond Pieter Vlissingen set about developing mechanized ways of reproducing the batik techniques which were laboriously hand crafted in Java with the vision of selling these into the Indonesian market. He was not alone as the British, Swiss and Belgians had the same idea and it was HKM from Belgium who likewise became important suppliers to the East of these new mass produced batik effect cloths.



Later in the century the demand for batik designs in Indonesia waned as local fashion and production methods evolved and Vlisco were forced to look for new markets. They turned to both nearer to home and also to West Africa where an appreciation of the complexity of design and use of Indigo was a huge hit.

This success has continued today as Vlisco fabrics lead the way in West African fashion and we will feature some of their latest collection in our next blog.

The Printing Process…

the process

the designer

1. The Designers

The creative minds behind Vlisco designs sketch out their ideas.

the design support

2. Design Support

The people who make the creative ideas of the designers technically executable.

the printing rollers

3. The Printing Rollers

Where the design is transferred from digital information on to two copper printing rollers.

the wax printing machine

4. The Wax printing machine

Dripping in wax, the rollers transfer the design onto both sides of the cotton cloth.

indigo bath

5. Indigo bath

The wax printed cloth is dyed in indigo baths and the parts without wax become a deep, intense blue.

the wax breaking machine

6. The Wax Breaking Machine

This machine is unique – by swinging the cloth in containers, random parts of the Wax are removed, revealing the white cloth underneath.

first colour

7. First Colour

The cloth is dryed and the first colour is printed on top of the remaining Wax.

second colour

8. Second Colour

The Wax is now completely removed. When the cloth is dry, a second colour is printed.


9. Washing

The cloth is washed to remove all excess colour.

final visual inspection

10. Final visual inspection

As the fabric whiz passed the eyes of the highly trained experts inspectors so that all the fabrics are of Vlisco certified quality.

Take the time to watch these true beautiful and informative animated films from Vlisco that are works of art in themselves.

We would like to thank Vlisco for allowing us to share all this with you.


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