IsiSh­weshwe on show at Vukani

Zululand Eyethu - - NEWS • IZINDABA - Larry Bent­ley

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.

Larry Bent­ley

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

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