We are in South Africa and visiting the wonderful embroiderers of the Mapula Embroidery Group in the Winterveld . Mapula means Mother of Rain. We love visiting the Mapula ladies with our tour group. I've known these ladies for the past 10 years when I was importing their goods through my business African Threads. Their embroidered tapestries are highly collectible and noteables from Queen Elizabeth to Obama have pieces. If you want to add a piece to your collection, I can help you find a piece directly from the group. You can lean a bit more the embroiderers here.
I'm working flat out to get my To-Do list clear, packing, re-packing and getting more excited about leading my 4th tour to South Africa. We leave next week to spend a month in South Africa. Aside from deciding which cool clothes to take, I'm taking bags of donated embroidery threads and reading glasses/magnifiers. We share these with the various women's craft groups and AIDS Centre we visit on our journey. Thanks to so many who donated threads and glasses for me to take, they are so appreciated by the women we visit.
One grandmother who received a pair of reading glasses said it changed her life. She'd had to stop sewing because of poor eyesight, and that was the only income for her family of 10 she was supporting. Now, with those magnifier glasses, that cost under $10, she was able to start sewing again. This meant food on the table. The glasses were the thin divide between dire poverty and making ends meet.
I have a group of interesting people who are coming with me: quilters, teachers, two chocolatiers, a women's rights advocate, researcher and writers. It is a thrill and an honour to show people around the country that I love so much. We're going to see so many things beside visiting the textile groups. If you're interested in joining the group coming next year, please check out www.africanthreads.ca
Keep in touch with me on Facebook and this blog. I hope to post pics on the road in South Africa.
We met this delight woman in Limpopo Province when we toured there last year. Her husband is a famous carver and she is is second wife. My friend Janine Hunt from Bainbridge Island was in our group and both being quilters, we wanted the scissors fabric that the lady was wearing. So she sold it to us!
This stack of folded kuba raffia cloth exudes texture, colour and energy. Abstract designs are appliquéd on to a background fabic. The colours suggest the essence of Africa. I spotted these fabrics when we visited Kim Sacks Gallery in Johannesburg on our last tour to South Africa. I've been visiting Kim Sacks' Gallery for the past 35 years. I wouldn't miss it. Kim curates the best African textiles, pottery and artifacts from across Africa. I always take my tour group there and this is where we'll be next month. Check out the web site and get a taste of the best craft gallery in Africa. Here is a full kuba cloth that my friend Rosi Robinson bought from the gallery during out visit.
Whalebone vertebrae, many hundreds of years old. I found this at Red Bay Labrador at the earliest known Basque Settlement in North America. the Basque hunted whale and returned to Spain with whale oil. There are 9 holes drilled in the centre of the vertebrae, perhaps made by researchers looking at the DNA of the whale.
I photographed this detail from a piece of handwoven raffia cloth in a shop in South Africa. Decorated with beads and cowrie shells. Some of the squares are dyed with indigo. It has a kind of pom-pom edging.
Cabbage field, Second Peninsula, Nova Scotia. This farm at the very end of the Peninsula is a sweet spot. I took this photo many summers ago when I spotted this field of crinkly cabbages, so like crushed velvet.
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.