I heart Shweshwe

I was busy this week with a drawing for A Fashionable Challenge with the theme 'home girl'. The prompt was to draw something that represent your town/neighbourhood. Well of course I had to draw some Shweshwe....... the perfect fabric to represent South Africa.

Photo from Da Gama Textiles

Shweshwe has a looong history in South Africa, it was first brought here by European missionaries some where in the 1800's and has been popular with ordinary South Africans for about just as long.

It's still made in much the same way, only the indigo dye has since become synthetic. The distinctive delicate patterns are produced through an acid discharge method. The fabric is fed through copper rollers with the design etched onto it. These allow a weak acid solution to seep into the fabric and bleach out the design.

Another of the fabrics distinctive characteristics also dates form it's early travels to our shores. Shweshwe is the only fabric I can identify just by smell! To protect the bolts of fabric on the long sea passages to Africa it was heavily starched, giving it the smell that we know it by. Today it is manufactured in South Africa but for traditional reasons it is still starched. Cause that's how we know and love it!

A few years back it South African fashion designers suddenly noticed it and it had it's 15 minutes on catwalks around the country. But it's vintage production methods means it can only be produced in a very narrow width, making it unsuitable for mass production in clothing factories. Which means it remains kinda under the radar only being made into fab outfits by loving hands.

I've made my fare share of shweshwe skirts and I LOVE the fabric. After washing the starch out it is a lovely soft cotton, perfect for summer skirts. Which brings me to it's name........it comes from the sound of the skirt swishing around your legs. Gotta love that.

Da Gama Textile is the biggest manufacturer of traditional Shweshwe fabrics in South Africa, for more on the fabric check out their website here. And check out this cool blog for South Africans wearing their fav fabric.


  1. hi danette-
    i had to stop by and read more about your neighborhood. the fabrics are wonderful. i used to sew a lot when i was in high school and collage. not so much anymore. i hope i make it to neighborhood some day to pick up some of that fine fabric.
    p.s. i like your blog as well.

  2. wooo hooo! hail sishweshwe :) i just love the way that skirt looks on the picture. i can almost imagine wearing it.