A wonderful interview and tribute to the work of Jo Diggs. The video shows Jo and her wonderful landscapes. I met Jo in the early 1980's and we became friends as we were both had a love of making appliqué landscapes. See her beautiful work here.
Today, when some in our world seem hungry to divide people violently along racial and religious lines, I find myself thinking about growing up in Apartheid South Africa. In Durban in the late 60's, I was not supposed to go alone to the Indian Market, in the heart of the city. Intensely jostling, with thousands of Zulu and Indian people shopping in the maze of shops and stalls, it held endless attraction for me, as forbidden things usually do. Here I discovered community in shops, arcades, and markets. Locals willingly taught me how use exotic spices, make chili bites and dhal, how to drape a sari, about Hindu ceremony and traditional African herbs called muti. Salim became a good friend and we visited most Saturdays in Madrassa Arcade, talking about the Koran, the mosque, music, movies; the usual things young people chat about. Salim, invited me to his traditional Muslim wedding and I was the only non-Muslim there. Durban's Indian market area was the genesis for my love of fabrics, baskets, spicy food and an abiding desire to visit India one day. I still use my market basket like the ones shown in the photos above, for my weekly foray to the Lunenburg Farmers' Market, a world away.
Fabric was cheap and the shopkeepers willing to bargain hard. The Indian community here is one of the oldest and largest outside of India and they formed the backbone of the merchants and infused the country with a love of curry and markets gardens. I'll write more about the fabrics later. For now, I'd like to tell you about the Indian markets at Grey and Victoria Streets - it was a seminal part of my growing up. My world was expanded and enriched by those years of Saturday forays to Grey Street, I loved the rich culture that I found there. The Indian and African market areas endure as favorite places to visit when I take my tour group to Durban each year. It is an essential cultural experience of South Africa.
Last year I met Mrs Govender at a spice shop at Victoria Market. Her shop has been in her family for over 100 years. We discovered a link. Her uncle had worked at my husband's family sugar mill at Illovo a generation ago. We were both delighted with the connection, however tenuous, our conversation helped me pick up a thin thread of connection. I left this city 40 years ago, yet I am stitched into this place.
Fond memories bubble up when I see the palm trees at the mosque entrance, or smell the curries and bunny chow mingled with incense and diesel fumes from the many buses, the thumping loud music blaring from speakers. It is hectic, very hot and remarkably unchanged. A recent New York Times article about Durban curry will give you some insight to my old stomping grounds and explain what a bunny chow is. Be sure to take a whirlwind tour of this area with a taxi driver in a video at the end of the blog.
Here is my tour group exploring the African clothes sellers market where dresses and pinnies are strung up in curtains of colour and prints.
One of the most mysterious areas is the African Medicinal Herbs market. Indigenous plants are used by traditional healers for potions and cures. Often there are dried snakes, lizards, innards and bones in bundles with herbs for various cures - and sometimes spells. The patterns, textures and aromas are strong. I'm looking forward to going back next April.
Take a whirlwind tour around Durban with the taxi driver to get a real life flavour of Durban: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNjU3DXMgcY
I drive 40 minutes along the shore to join Phyllis and friends to quilt in a rambling house called The Bee Hive. Phyllis lives in the tiny village of Broad Cove on the South Shore in Nova Scotia. It has old oak avenues, gracious wooden homes and an atmosphere that resonates with olden days. I pause under an oak to breathe in the grounded quietness. Phyllis says when the wind blows onshore, the ocean roars and the air fills with salt and noise.
We’ve been gathering to help Phyllis quilt a twin sized quilt for her grandson, Cooper. It is full of energetic colours, perfect for a small child. We quilt, talk, drink tea beside a crackly wood stove.
Phyllis brought out her grandmother’s 1940's quilts and spread them over the quilt frame. We gaze at the patchwork, the fine cotton, the tiny quilting stitches. Like sentences in a diary, each patch is a record of housecoats and childhood dresses and dressmaking scraps from an era when women made all the family's clothing. We stroke the surface texture of the quilts.
Double Wedding Ring, Blazing Star, Log Cabin, Dresden Plate... we know the patterns by heart. We sense the comforting continuum of generations of women who stitch. And so it continues with Cooper’s quilt. We’re doing what women have always done…slow stitching, remembering, talking, helping each other.
Judy Martin wrote a lovely piece about some embroideries I'd bought on my recent tour to South Africa. These highly expressive pieces were made by women in the Isipethu Sewing Collective in KwaZulu Natal. We visit this group each time we take our tour to South Africa. These embroideries tell us about the women's lives. Interested in come to South Africa with me next April? We still have a few spaces on the tour. www.africanthreads.ca
To gather with friends is a simple, rich experience and, when women gather to stitch, it is particularly special. Last week began with two days with my dear friends, Judy and Margi at Penny’s house in Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia… always a treasured and affirming time.
We stitched and sipped wine in the studio surrounded by quilts and cloth and books… always books. We read each other quotes and talked of hopes and plans.We talked about the meditative aspect of quilting. Margi commented that the hand stitch is like a "physical mantra". I like that.
The stitched pieces here were made by Judy. You can read more about her work on her popular blog, Judy's Journal. Also check our Penny's blog, Tanglewood Threads.
I had to leave our gathering two days early to attend the birth of my first grandchild named Scarlett. A rich week indeed - my soul if full.
The exciting discovery of Homo Naledi in South Africa is hot news. Homo Naledi is the most ancient human species ever discovered in Africa. The scientific buzz from the discovery is shaking up our knowledge of the origins of humankind.
What good fortune that we decided to visit this very area on our tour next year! On-site archaeologists will guide our field trip to a dig in this area known to be the richest site for early human fossils, we’ll learn why this beautiful area is called the cradle of humankind.
If you’d like to join us to visit this area, we still have some space on next year’s South African tour www.africanthreads.ca It is packed with fascinating cultural experiences, arts and wildlife, good food and great accommodations. We’ll drive through a wildlife reserve on the way to this archaeological dig and see lions up close en route! Contact me soon as the deadline is mid-November.
Here is the continuation of my story of shopping in Limpopo Province in South Africa. Scroll down to the previous blog for more photos from this African Trading store that we visited.After we said goodbye to the Shangaan women, a group of Venda women arrived in the trading store in their characteristic brightly striped wraps. Their blouses were made of printed shwe-shwe indigo cotton. The women tie a bright, stripy cotton wrap over one shoulder. The wraps are embellished with ribbon and braids to make the striped design more complex. The last photo below is of a stack of shwe-shwe fabrics.
Wendy bought some yellow striped Venda fabric and others in our tour group are buying sarongs from Swaziland.
This last photo shows a stack of shwe-shwe fabrics which is the iconic fabric of South Africa. I'm planning to write more about shwe-shwe in a future blog. Oh and I want to also tell you about the elephants that surrounded our safari truck, and the leopard we saw, and the women's groups we visited.... many adventure to share with you. More information at www.africanthreads.ca
When we visited Limpopo Province this past April, our tour group was thrilled to stop at an African trading store. Three generations of an Indian family had owned the store supplying fabric to the various groups in the area: the Shangaan, Tsonga and Venda.
Going into this rural fabric shop brought back memories of my youthful fabric buying forays and the start of my love affair with African fabric. Here below, Martha is chatting with a Shangaan woman dressed in Minceka, which consist of two rectangular cloths wrapped around the women's bodies as clothing. Each cloth is draped and tied to the opposite shoulder.
A group of Venda women arrived in their characteristic brightly striped wraps. Their blouses were made of printed shwe-shwe indigo cotton. I’m planning to write a blog about shwe-shwe in the coming months. The Venda women tie a bright stripy cotton wrap over one shoulder. The wraps are embellished with ribbon and braids to make the striped design more complex. Watch for upcoming blogs on more of my adventure in South Africa.
In April I led an arts & culture tour to South Africa. I am sitting second from the right with our tour group while visiting a Zulu village near Eshowe, KwaZulu Natal. Behind us are traditional bee-hive huts - such cozy and beautiful structure. We stayed overnight here in a comfy beehive hut, which you can see below, and enjoyed energetic Zulu dancing and great food. Thanks Cindy Bendat for this photo.
I've got a series of blogs planned about various adventure we had, so please stay tuned for more!
There is something about tulips in all their stages of bloom, that I love. Buds, gently opening, fresh and offering hope for spring. Then, gradually, their stems lilt over the vase edges, and the whole bunch splay and droop. Still, I hold on to them as they start to wither and dry. I snipped spent blooms and laid them on a willow woven basket made by Mike Wolter here in Lunenburg County. I put them in the huge snow bank by my door to photograph them. They look like flames in the snow.
I often visit this pine tree grove on my daily walks. There is an open meadow in themiddle and the still strength of tree verticals are so restful. The strong verticals are obvious, but my eye is drawn to the soft horizontal lines in the pine needles and moss. Short stacatto horizonal lines break up each tree trunk, the marks of where branches once grew. This place brings me peace and also upliftment. Soon this will be under a quilt of snow.
The Mapula (means Mother of Rain) Embroidery group is from the Winterveld and Kaross , the other group, is from Limpopo Province South Africa. Both groups are featured in the Fowler show. William Worger, who collected most of the pieces for this exhbition, is giving a talk on October 16 at the Fowler, if you're lucky enough to be close by to take it in. Bill is a professor of African history at UCLA.
We'll be visiting both these textile groups (among others) on my tour to South Africa next April. Learn more about this special arts, culture and textile tour here. Here, Bertha and Pinky Resenga hold a Mapula embroidery about community health and water safety, taken when I visited this group about 6 years ago.
This last piece is from the Kaross Group in Limpopo. It is a large embroidered tapesty of the Rain Queen and is part of my collection. Drop me a line if your interested in acquiring any hangings.
Foraging and berry picking are savoured summer time activites. I don't have far to go. My garden and surrounding woods provide delectable treats. We planted high bush blueberries about 25 years ago, and they're still yielding plentiful berries. This year there'll be enough to freeze as well.
The dark blue berries makes me wish they could be a dye. I love the tonal variations of the berries as they ripen from pale green, through soft mauve, plum and into sweet indigo.
We have 7 acres in Mahone Bay and this is one of our woodland paths. We live in what is considered temperate Acadian rain forest. Now, doesn't that sound enticing!
Below is the kitchen table harvest from today's foraging. Chanterelles and purple lacaria mushrooms. The purple lacaria aren't particularly flavourful, but they add a lovely contrast of soft purple to the saffron chanterelles as they simmer in butter and garlic. Ever mindful of colour!
Step aside Jimmy Choo, these are Zulu power shoes!
If it stands still, Zulu women will bead it! I've seen everything from beaded teapots to cars. On my recent visit to South Africa, we stopped by Woza Moya – a fabulous bead craft shop run by the Hillcrest AIDS Centre near Durban. It’s filled with stunning beaded necklaces and objects. I spotted these ultimate glass slippers, the envy of any princess. These stilettoes are hand beaded in fine glass beads by a skilled Zulu beader Lindiwe Ngcobo.
This group also beaded a Chair of Life, a travelling art project that anyone can sit in to visualize dreams for the future. The beaded chair is a symbolic container of hope.
Hillcrest AIDS Centre is a place of positive energy and creativity. I love visiting them when I’m South Africa. The ladies are constantly coming up with new designs and create a good income from their fine beadwork. Most of the beaders are supporting 10 or more people on their needlework. Some beaders are even employing others and spreading the wealth.
Thanks to the Lunenburg Rotary Club and the Tantallon Bay Grans for donating 150 pairs of reading glasses. This wonderful pile of glasses is headed to South Africa with me next week.
I'll spend 2 weeks leading a group of 20 people around some of my favourite places. We'll visit various crafts groups to meet the makers. Some of the groups we'll meet are suppliers for African Threads and are self-help, economic empowerment groups. We love visiting these groups of dynamic women how are using their traditional crafts to make gorgeous textiles, beadwork and copper wire work. Many of them are grandmothers.
Tour members bring embroidery threads, reading glasses, sewing equipment and supplies. We learned that getting reading glasses is one of the most useful of gifts. It enables women to continue beading and embroidery and that in turn means the difference between feeding their families or not. Here are photos of some of the women we gave glasses to last year in South Africa.
For information about my tours to South Africa see http://www.africanthreads.ca/south-african-tour/
November now, and it's growing cold. It's also the busiest time of year for me as I prepare for my annual African Threads Christmas Sale. In the midst of the rush I took four days to go on retreat with some dear friends. We did drawing exercises, discussed our work, stitched and talked art for four days. We walked each day in the natural beauty of of the Bay of Fundy and Annapolis Basin. Looking at nature's mark-making in twiggy bushes and bleached branches. Each of us noting how lovely they would look stitched. Breathing salty air, enjoying each mindful moment.
We stayed up way too late each night, not wanting to miss a word or waste a drop of our precious moments together.
I joined Barb Robson and Laurie
Swim to co-curate this show of
Polly’s personal collection of bed quilts, quilted wall hangings, woven
coverlets. The quilts and woven
coverlets are not all pristine; they have been put on beds, washed and used.
When faded and worn, quilts still hold the process of making and gain layers of
memories and stories.
Polly was on the leading edge of the quilting renaissance in the early 1970's when she was the first teacher to put together a workshop on a Sampler quilt. This led to one of the earliest Canadian quilting publications to be produced for the Nova Scotia Museum.
Polly is an esteemed member of the
quilting and fibre arts community in Nova Scotia and was a founding member of
the Nova Scotia Designer Craft Council. Her work was featured in Traditional
Nova Scotian Double-Knitting Patterns by Janetta Dexter (1985 NSM
Publication) and Head, Heart and Hands by Jim Lotz (1986 Braemar Pub),
and Canadian Living Magazine, among other publications. Polly’s
quilts and woven coverlets are a significant body of work and an important
cultural contribution to Nova Scotia.
Every stitch in Polly’s quilts and
every shuttle thrown in a woven cloth is a recorded moment in her life and a
creative expression for her love of textiles. A life filled with the making of
her hands, is a most abundant life indeed. We honour and celebrate the lifetime
contribution and work of Polly Greene.
Terry Grant recently blogged about an interesting technique she's figured out. Using Liquid Thread, Terry creates dark outlines behind the applique shapes. It give a dramatic look and great effect. You can see her step by step instructions on her blog. Thanks for sharing this Terry!