IsiShweshwe on show at Vukani
MOST residents in Zululand know isishweshwe, also known as blueprint, but how many are familiar with the history of the cloth?
A fascinating exhibition of blueprint was opened by world expert Professor Juliette Leeb-du Toit, author of a new book on these amazing cloths.
Juliette has loaned some items from her collection to enhance the exhibition, which will be on view in the Vukani Museum until the end of December.
The earliest isishweshwe were indigodyed work clothes brought in by missionaries, but the full story is much more complicated.
What was a humble, home-dyed fabric has morphed into colourful fashion print that appeals across all our cultures.
Juliette also had a few copies of her book, isishweshwe, A history of the indigenisation of blueprint in Southern Africa, which were snapped up.
The blueprint has permeated the dress of many South Africans, irrespective of race or culture, at one time or another.
A long history
Dye and printed indigo textiles have a long history in South Africa.
Raiding by the Portuguese in the 1400s and the Dutch from the 1640s all contributed to the distribution of the textile.
The indigenous indigo is derived from the plant, Indigofera fruitescens (river indigo or rivierverfbos in Afrikaans), but it is not clear how much of this plant was used for dying cloth.
The full story is in Prof Juliette Leeb-du Toit’s 300-page book, isishweshwe, A history of the indigenisation of blueprint in Southern Africa published by University of KZN Press.
A typical patchwork isishweshwe quilt
Juliette Leeb-du Toit examines some beadwork in the Hairy Canary Shop at Fort Nongqayi
A modern design, but still isiShweshwe