Authentic shweshwe fabric, known as the ‘tartan of South Africa’, is lighting up rooms and ramps, and it’s a great way to show your support for our national sporting teams, writes Lindsay Ord
Original shweshwe is one of South Africa’s most loved fabrics and whether it is used to make a bandanna, tablecloth, cushion, quilt or a designer range for a major fashion event, you know the result will be a stunner.
Catching the wave of soccer fever and to get behind our national teams in other sporting codes, Da Gama Textiles, manufacturers of original shweshwe fabric, has launched a green and yellow range that comes in 12 different designs.
It is in the green and yellow of the Brazil national soccer team, the Springboks (the yellow in the original shweshwe could pass for gold), Bafana Bafana and the Proteas, so if you’re watching a game or hosting friends at home, the fabric is a fun way to show your support.
“Make a bandana, a scarf or a flag,” says head designer Mande Rudolf.
“If you can sew, why not create a special shirt or padded jacket for your sport-loving man? Or use it for tablecloths, cushion covers, place mats, or wall hangings when you have guests around to watch the game.
“Quilters like original shweshwe because it is a firm fabric, easy to work with and because of the aesthetics, the historic and cultural value of the fabric designs,” says Rudolf.
Shweshwe has also found its way on to the ramps at major fashion weeks and it a firm favourite with some of the country’s top designers. Bongiwe Walaza, who studied in Durban and is now in Johannesburg, works closely with the textile company and has helped popularise the fabric, using it in major fashion events, in South Africa and internationally.
Durban fashion icon Amanda Laird Cherry started incorporating shweshwe into her designs as far back as 1998 and its use in her fashion week collections created much excitement among fashion media a decade or so ago. It is still a firm favourite of hers today.
Gauteng designer Palesa Mokubung has used shweshwe as a signature element in her label Mantsho.
Original shweshwe is 100 percent cotton, characterised by a starchy finish and must be washed prior to use because of shrinkage of up to 8 percent. All original shweshwe has a stamp on the reverse side of the fabric, stating: “Printed in South Africa by Da Gama Textiles”, with the Three Cats logo.
Fabric facts and fashions
Original shweshwe fabric has tremendous cultural and historical value in southern Africa. Many new brides still choose to wear the fabric for a period to symbolise their married status. Some choose it for their wedding dress and for their bridal party’s attire.
The fabric is worn to important events and official engagements. Thousands of seamstresses in the informal sector make up garments to satisfy a great demand.
It is manufactured by Da Gama Textiles at its factory in Zwelitsha, outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape. Some Chinese and local manufacturers try to copy shweshwe and there are imitations.
Original shweshwe is sold by wholesalers and retailers throughout the county, in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia.
Genuine shweshwe has a distinctive stiffness before it is washed. The fabric is 100 percent cotton and comfortable to wear. The blue cloth fades gradually, much like denim, while the other colour prints don’t fade.
Much fake shweshwe is made from cheaper cotton or polycotton. Genuine shweshwe is 90cm wide; other fabrics are usually 150cm wide.
The genuine article has a pleasant smell, because of special oils used in the processing.
(Source: Da Gama Textiles.)