discovering shweshwe cotton

jill scott as precious ramotswe (wearing shweshwe by designer jo katsaras) on & courtesy of hbo (click to go to text & video clips)

Some months ago Anne (Compulsive Seamstress) and I were back-&-forthing about fabrics, and she suggested we do a swap. What a grand idea, I thought, and we’d been sending suggestions and photos back and forth since.

We had finalised things before Anne went off on her vacation several weeks ago. Just before she left she wrote, ‘maybe I’ll have something for you from my vacation.’

I had fun visualising her typing this out just before flinging herself onto a plane and zipping off to somewhere sunnier & warmer than Blighty. I had no idea she would be gone to South Africa for almost a month. Whee!

As you can read in her first returning post, and I do hope you’ll read it, she brought back a suitcase full of fabric for family & friends, including one for me. WOW!

The pattern she chose is a lovely piece of traditional Shweshwe cotton in a favourite colour: orange. Starting with the photos and references in her post (hope you’ve read it!) I began to find out more about Shweshwe and the pattern.

I love orange, and have made pumpkin pie from scratch rather than canned, so I’m especially pleased with the colour Anne chose, and I located the name: Cee Dee Pumpkin.*


Ended my research by finding this clip which shows & tells more about this fabric than I could ~ hope you enjoy it & the companion clip at the end of this post ~

Shweshwe starts at 36” wide before washing (and shrinking),which is very different from what I’m used to working with. That would definitely influence my decisions. But first, I wanted to understand what it is; i.e., the history behind the fabric, and how it’s used both now & in the past.

I want to respect the history and integrity of the cloth as I decide what to do with it, and Anne made sure to point out where I can get more if I need to ~ huge THANK YOU!

After all, we fabric lovers wanna know these things, right?

Here’s a repeat of Anne’s references with one or two more I found along the way, and a lovely wrap-up from South African morning telly to close. Hope everyone will enjoy learning more about this wonderful fabric.

researches . . .

Da Gama Textiles ~ Their site notes they do not sell directly to the public, but they have a good About Us page.

The Africa Fabric Shop (UK):

Then I wanted to see who the designer was (Jo Katsaras) & what they’d done with Shweshwe:

If you want to watch The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency on HBO

Also available on YouTube (and in original book forms by author Alexander McCall Smith in libraries & online sources).

The first lady detective in Botswana is Mma Precious Ramotswe, and her experiences form the core of this series, one of several series of adult and children’s books created by Mr. Smith. Jill Scott is pictured at the top of this post in her role as Mma Ramotswe.

* About the orange colour: I know from reading one of Smith’s books that Mma Ramotswe loves pumpkin, and it’s a widely grown & eaten vegetable in Botswana. Americans think of it as a special dessert for Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas; however, in Botswana it’s a vegetable.

Finish up by watching this delightful video clip of more fashion from the same designer, Palesa Mokubung of Mantsho, and a different presenter. Warning ~ they are talking very fast in multiple languages, so don’t worry if you aren’t understanding everything they’re saying.


19 thoughts on “discovering shweshwe cotton

  1. jessthetics

    Gorgeous fabric! I love the colour of pumpkins too (I have a lipstick called pumpkin!) and it’s the perfect orange. I’m not sure if I’ve told you but my mum is from South Africa and we will hopefully be back to visit family soon so I’ll have to keep an eye out for some shweshwe 🙂

    1. CurlsnSkirls Post author

      Didn’t know about your mum – wonderful if you can visit some time! Be certain the back of any shweshwe you buy has the special 3 Cats De Gama stencil on the back – then it’s authentic. Can’t wait for mine to arrive in the post! But the hardest part is trying to decide how to make it up…

  2. corrineappleby

    You lucky thing! I’ve never heard of this fabric but it really is spectacular. Thanks for enlightening me!

    1. CurlsnSkirls Post author

      Thank you so much! If you have time ~ know you’re very busy with your 2 little ones ~ would you be able to say what impressed you most? It would be most helpful, but I do understand you haven’t any spare time these days!

      1. corrineappleby

        It’s nice to know a little bit about the fabric isn’t it? I just buy fabric willy-nilly without giving it too much thought. I’ve followed all your links in your post and I think this sort of fabric would be something a little bit different for a future project. And now I know where to get it from! Thanks 🙂

        1. CurlsnSkirls Post author

          You are very welcome! And thank you for letting me know. I try to include extra info when it’s available, but am not sure whether it’s overload or not. ‘Course folks don’t have to click any links… 😉

  3. jendavismiller

    Such a lovely and informative post! Can’t wait to see your pumpkin fabric, you lucky lady. A dear friend has read all of the Alexander McCall Smith detective series, and as it turns out, I have the first one (I think) tucked away just waiting to be read. 🙂

    1. CurlsnSkirls Post author

      Lovely stories… Hope you can get to reading it, maybe on that front porch, with a glass of something cool beside you. 😉
      Oh, did you ever get through that Brody book about the 1920’s Yorkshire widow-becomes-detective? Not to worry if you didn’t care for it. Am a bit ambivalent meself.

      1. jendavismiller

        I did read the Brody book, quite similar to the Stephanie Plum mysteries, don’t you think? It was a bit slow going at the onset but I got into it as the pace picked up. Rather liked our heroine. 🙂
        Think I’ll dig further for the McCall book….

          1. jendavismiller

            Haha! You just saved me from looking it up myself. Can’t remember the author, but Stephanie Plum is a “girl detective” in the Midwest US (I think) who gets into all sorts of scrapes but always gets her bad guy in the end!

          2. CurlsnSkirls Post author

            Author: Janet Evanovich (just reserved the CD so I can listen & sew). According to what I read online, she’s in NJ, of all gangstah places! However, this is the start of the series, and maybe she moves out on her own… or travels for her “work.” We’ll see . . . Must admit am having trouble getting myself interested in my 5th Brody (Murder on a Summer’s Day). But haven’t gotten very far in “Dead & Buried,” my latest Holt, either. High 80’s since Tuesday might be sapping energy levels after 10 days of low 70’s.

        1. CurlsnSkirls Post author

          Found a Plum mystery at the library & will check it out. . . looms interesting – thank you! Have a large stack ahead of it, so don’t hold your breath. 😉

    1. CurlsnSkirls Post author

      Thank you, Lesley! I enjoyed them also, without knowing about this cotton fabric. Anne’s opened up another world. It’s wonderful for the imagination, but might not be too good for my stash. 😉


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