Yesterday I discovered treasures in my fabric stash: a collection of what I believe to be South African Shweshwe fabrics.
Many years ago, an art quilting mentor in Oregon had shared with me some of the bounty of fabrics she inherited from her friend’s aunt who had died, who was a world traveler, and had collected fabrics from all over the world during her travels (primarily small samples and pieces, rarely yardage/metres).
I was able to select a sampling of fabrics from the huge stash of fabrics and I was attracted to a collection of blue and white fabric fabrics, that had a lot of texture to them, that I thought were Japanese textiles.
I end up shoving this collection of blue and white fabrics away with my collection of Asian fabrics and I did use a some of them to make this simple blue and white quilt years ago, along with a large collection of Japanese blue and white fabrics I got from the inherited stash:
I was just trying to put to use a bunch of the awesome fabrics I got from the late aunt’s stash, little did I understand the treasures I was using up….
So, as I shared in the August 2021 post Awesome Surprise Treats in the Mail!, my South African based long time blogging friend Mariss (@fabrications) sent me some treats in the mail all the way from the other side of the world, which included these awesome Nelson Mandela fabric pieces:
At the time I received these fabrics (June 2021), I did not make the connection to the similar other fabric in my stash, which I had mistakenly labeled as “Japanese”.
But yesterday a light bulb went on in my head (oh how dim my brain has been sometimes) and when I came across that stash of blue and white fabrics again, I took a close look at the label most of them had on the back:
3 Leopards fabric by the Da Gama Textile Company in South Africa! A little further research and the fabrics appear (and please correct me if my brain bulb is being dim) to be South African Shweshwe fabrics.
Shweshwe has a history going back thousands of years, with the shweshwe we know and love today making its way to SA for the first time in the early 1840s. Today, we produce shweshwe by the traditional processes, using a weak acid solution to bleach out distinctive designs. This gives the fabric an authentic look and feel, as well as the distinctive smell that consumers know and love. Shweshwe is a unique Eastern Cape fabric and Da Gama Textiles is aptly referred to as the “home of the original shweshwe”. It is not uncommon to see patrons taste, smell and feel the fabric before committing to a sale, to ensure the cloth is authentic. Shweshwe is sold by folded bolt and not on a cardboard core in roll form, staying as close as possible to its roots of origin. All of these unique characteristics date back to the long sea voyages from the UK to South Africa, which formed the original transport route for this cloth. A strong starch is used to preserve the fabric, resulting in the hard handle and distinctive smell, which disappear after washing.
The Shweshwe fabrics I am lucky to have in my fabric stash are so beautiful and have an amazing texture and feel to them. Here is a sampling of some of the fabrics I have:
All the backs are marked with either a full or partial version of the Da Gama Textile Co. label.
And here is the whole pile including the Nelson Mandela fabric that Mariss sent me:
I revisited that blue and white quilt I made many years ago and winced to see fabrics such as this example below in the quilt:
I was thinking: “I should have saved that fabric for something really special.” But then I remembered that I look at/enjoy this quilt every day as it at the foot of my bed on my partner John’s grandmother’s antique chest. So the Shweshwe I’ve already used in my stash has gone to good use!
I found this awesome blog post from 2018 by Urbanstax called What is Shweshwe, that is worth a read:
Did you see that blue and white wedding dress photo in the blog post made from Shweshwe fabrics – WOW!