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Wrappers Delight: Designer, Sylvia Emodi

As part of a series of interviews with our artists and makers, we talk with Sylvia Emodi, textile designer, headwrapping expert and presenter of our Art of Headwrapping workshop, about how she got into headwrapping, cultural appropriation, headwrap mishaps and what people can expect from her workshops.

Tell us a bit about yourself
I was creative from a young age. In primary school we did cross stitching, crochet, knitting, arts and crafts and I just loved it!

Secondary education introduced me to needlecraft, as it was called back then - that's how I learned how to use a sewing machine. The subject was compulsory for 3 years and I have to say I am very grateful that it was because it prepared me well for the future.

Art college was next, which led me to a degree in textile design at university. Although I was interested in fashion, I didn’t want to study it as I felt it was too restrictive for me, and because I came from a fine art background I enjoyed using mixed media to create my art.

I am a colour and pattern freak. Growing up in a Nigerian household I was bombarded with so many different colourful designs. Also, my mum was a textile trader, travelling back and forth to Nigeria dealing in African prints and traditional cloth, so I really didn’t stand a chance - it was in my DNA!

How did you get involved in head wrapping?
That’s a good question. I think it's because I was used to seeing it all the time growing up - particularly the stiff traditional headtie, known as 'gele'.

I never paid much attention to headwraps back them. Even though I loved the fabrics, I couldn't relate to the fashion that went with them. To me, the styles were for older women and I knew I wasn't going to be wearing them.

Then I saw Erykah Badu and her amazing headwraps which were so huge and majestic! She made such a statement with those wraps I was like 'I want to do that!' and I started copying Erykah's styles, using jersey fabric because it's stretchy. I then moved on to using remnants of different prints, trying to recreate my own version of the Nubian style and making my headwraps as large as I could because I liked the dramatic effect it had.

Head wrapping is a part of many cultures, serving different purposes - not just fashion. Tell us about that.
Yes that’s right. In some cultures it's used for religious purposes, like the hijab which is worn to comply with Islamic standards of modesty.

You also have male and female Rastafarians who wrap their heads for spiritual reasons and to keep their locs protected from all the pollutants in the atmosphere. 

In some headwrap-wearing cultures, the style of your headwrap can denote your status or role in society.

But let’s not forget that headwrapping can also be used as stylish alternative to wigs. If you've experienced hair loss - or you just want to switch up your usual hairstyle - wrapping your head in a beautiful fabric can bring such joy when done creatively.

African-style head wrapping has become a thing for women of all backgrounds. What do you think about the trend?
I think it’s great but I’m not sure about it being a trend as such because trends come and go, and African women have been tying headwraps from time! What I think is happening - particularly with the younger generation - is that they have begun to embrace the prints and traditional cloths using them to create modern styles. Then you have women from other backgrounds who love the fabrics and want to wrap as well, choosing colours that will suit their skin tones.

What do you think about non-Black women wearing the head wrap - do you consider this to be cultural appropriation?
Personally, I don’t mind. I see it as them embracing other cultures and wanting to introduce it into their wardrobe to become part of their style. However, it's important to acknowledge the source.

When I have a stall or run a workshop I often approach women who are not Black and ask them if they would like to have their head wrapped. Some are apprehensive; others are open to this new experience but by the time I've worked my magic they always have a big smile on their face when they see the transformation and how great they can look in a fabulous piece of cloth.

What is the secret to a good head wrap style?
Hmmm.......I think, for me, a good headwrap style is one that's positioned on the head so it's framing the face well. Headwrapping is very organic: you have to adjust so it will suit your face. It also needs to be secure so you know that it ain’t going nowhere. Then you can wear it with confidence.

What's your favourite headwrap style?
That’s an easy one! It’s the one I wear constantly where the knot is wrapped to the side of my head and then I use another strip of contrasting print and wrap that around the knot. Every now and then I will switch it up but I always revert back to my signature style.

Have you ever had any head wrap mishaps and how did you handle them?
Ermm…. not really because I always like to tie my head wrap tight, but every now again it does come loose. I think the main thing is not to panic. If I’m sitting on the tube and I feel my wrap is not as secure as I would like, or the knot is not as tight as it should be, then I'll just calmly unravel it, straighten up the wrap and re-twist the whole thing, without using a mirror or taking the wrap off my head. I'm not bothered who’s watching me, and often people don't take any notice. It’s not like putting on make-up in public - now THAT'S brave!!!

Are there any headwrap experts that you follow online?
On Instagram there are two that I follow: @ceeceescloset and @thewraplife. I don’t follow loads of wrap experts to be honest. Also, I do a board on Pinterest called Headwraps where I've pinned about 800 or so styles that I like from everywhere, and I tend to use that as my point of reference.

What can people expect from your head-wrapping workshop?
Well first off they can expect to have fun! It’s going to be a chilled, relaxed atmosphere with food, drink and music. I’ll say a bit about my headwrapping journey and how headwraps can be used, then we're going to get into it. I'll demonstrate different styles and learners will practice wrapping those styles on their own heads as well as wrapping the styles on each other. I'll be sharing my 'tricks of the trade' and doing plenty of coaching so people leave confident and feel able to add their own creative touches. Headwrapping is an organic and creative process. No style will be exactly the same when you wrap it again but it will always be beautiful.

If you would like to learn to learn how to tie a headwrap confidently and creatively, book a place on Sylvia's next Art of Headwrapping course at Diverse. You can book in-store or here: