Di Carew and Jan Sleet work together to sow ’yo-yos’ together. Photo: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
Di Carew and Jan Sleet work together to sow ’yo-yos’ together. Photo: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Sewing a message of hope, togetherness and women

By Sam Spiller Time of article published Feb 21, 2021

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In the basement of Zeitz MOCAA, art is being created by a small army of women brought together by the power of sewing.

The Everywoman Project, organised by the Cape Town non-profit Woman Zone, has been holding weekend workshops at the gallery to sew small fabric “yo-yos” together to form a giant piece of textile art.

The finished work will be presented to Artscape Theatre Centre on May 19. This is as part of the venue’s 50th anniversary celebrations and it’s also where the organisation is based.

Di Carew and Jan Sleet work together to sow ’yo-yos’ together. Photo: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Woman Zone founder Nancy Richards said the idea for the project came following the organisation’s 60th anniversary celebration of the 1956 Women’s March in Pretoria in 2016. “We had all this fabric left over,” she said.

The first phase of the project was visiting women across the city together to make yo-yos, traditionally known as Suffolk puffs. “We put out a call for volunteers to come forward and make yo-yos,” Richards explained. “We had workshops all over. We went to old age homes and schools. Eventually, we ended up with 3 700 yo-yos. The yo-yos have been decorating our library but we kind of forgot about them.”

Then, a plan was devised to sew them together, which the organisation has been doing with groups of volunteers during the last two weeks. “We’ve been calling it a textile installation, but because we’re organic and flexible, it’s going to be a flexible and organic artwork which can move anywhere at all within Artscape,” Richards added.

Gladys Mabija is one of several volunteers working to create a textile installation, which will be presented to Artscape Theatre Centre as part of the venue’s 50th birthday celebrations. Photo: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Di Carew, one of the volunteers present on Friday, said she had signed up for the project after reading about it in a community newspaper in Stellenbosch. “I always spend my morning having tea and seeing what’s going on and where I can do something for charity,” she said. “I’m absolutely loving it. I love sewing and I love sewing for charity. I recently finished some blankets for a crèche in my area and now I needed another project. I’m so impressed with what this group of women can do.”

Debate among the volunteers is still ongoing as to what to call the final artwork, with suggestions such as Singing Skirt and Blessing Blanket. Photo: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Another volunteer, Gladys Mabija from Steenberg, said the project was a fun opportunity to get out of the house. “It’s nice for me because I’m staying at home doing nothing,” she said. “So, it’s great for me to come and meet all these women.”

The finished artwork, the name of which is still being debated among the volunteers, with suggestions such as Blessing Blanket and Singing Skirt, will be around seven-and-a-half metres long. It will include recycled materials such as tin can lids at the bottom, and messages of hope handwritten on pieces of paper tucked inside the yo-yos.

“We want to have a positive message,” said project manager, Mara Fleischer. “The message is about bringing people together. Cape Town communities are very singular and divided. That’s very much part of this thing, pulling people together from very different communities, and that has been the magic. People sitting next to each other, weaving stories together. A yo-yo might have been made in Langa or Sea Point, and it’s now weaving together this story of women coming together.”

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