Woman wearing Ndomo print dress, a babatree woven hat and carrying a basket made in Mozambique

Exploring Southern African Design: A Journey of Inspiration

Discovering Southern African Design

I’ve been coming out to South Africa since 2009, but I became aware of the richness of southern African design in 1997, when I joined forces with Binky Newman of Design Afrika, and Jane Lee of Artesania (Zimbabwe) to set up a European site for their respective African-based wholesale businesses.  Since that first visit, I have come out every year, except for the COVID years, to buy items for my shop in southern France.  Alongside my own couture collection of women’s clothing, my shop now features fashion jewellery and homeware, with a focus on handcrafted items from South Africa and other southern African countries.

Exploring Different Design Areas

As a skilled hand crafter, I delight in working with designers and makers here, where so many skills still thrive. While I may not be drawn to traditional "colourful" African design, it has still influenced my personal taste and style in four key areas: fabric design, tie-dye, felting, and embroidery.

African Design Collaborations and Inspirations

Over the years, I have collaborated with various artisans and designers in South Africa. From working with Stephanie Bentum on felted edgings to incorporating Adinkra symbols embroidered by Keiskamma into my clothing designs, each African design collaboration has brought a unique touch to my collections.

Green felted woman's coat with 3d african design details
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Women's white linen outfit with hand embroidered african design Adinkra symbols
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Exploring New Techniques

In 2015, I took a mini course with Penny Cornell on machine embroidery and was amazed by the possibilities it offered. This led me to experiment with techniques like irregular zigzag finishes and shadow stitching in my designs. Additionally, I have explored tie-dye techniques inspired by Japanese Shibori methods, adding a new dimension to my creations, using vintage linens. Tie and dye was never something I considered before, but after seeing so much of it at Design Afrika each year, it caught my interest. I chose Shibori techniques for their geometric patterns. I also use this technique for reverse dyeing, where I immerse coloured fabric into bleach.

Orange woollen jacket with braid decoration applied with machine embroidery
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Woman's vintage linen dress shibori dyed
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Reverse dyed womens dress using shibori technique
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Embracing Tradition with a Modern Twist

In 2017 I created a collection using the fabrics from Ndomo in Mali.  A contemporary take on traditional mud cloth, he supplies me with organic cotton in a hand-woven cotton soft enough for clothing.  The mix of modern African design with my own has been well-received by my clients and I am still working with his fabrics today.

Woman's dress in organic hand woven cotton with contemporary mudcloth african design printed on it
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Two models wearing clothing made from contemporary african design mudcloth from Ndomo in Mali
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Honouring the Past

In 2021, I received a large collection of vintage linen embroidered sheets that inspired me to create a new collection celebrating the intricate work of women from the past. This is currently my favourite collection because the fabrics are a joy to work with. It's hard to find new linen of this quality nowadays. The sheets are so large that I cut one garment using the embroidery and then use the remaining fabric to make garments that I tie and dye (see above).

VIntage linen woman's top with appliqued vintage embroidery work
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A section of hand embroidered vintage linen on a dyed dress
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Exploring New Horizons

In 2018, I started attending an annual basket weaving course in Spain, inspired by the African baskets in my store. I attend every year and work with one particular teacher, Tim Johnson, who specialises in weaving with softer vegetable fibres, like reed and rush.  It has been such a fulfilling experience that this year I am organising a weaving workshop in my beloved Lagrasse, France.  The courses sold out in days and I’m excited not only to be doing a course myself in my home village, but to be hosting other weavers from all around the world. 

hand woven small basket from imisi reed, or cyperus textilis
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Sharing Skills and Experiences

I have also worked with Xhosa and Zulu weavers, sharing weaving techniques and learning from each other. This exchange of skills has been a highlight of my visits to South Africa, bridging language barriers through our shared passion for craftsmanship.

Xhosa weavers at a weaving workshop at Design Afrika in Cape Town
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My visits to South Africa have not only influenced my business but have also enriched my life in countless ways. The vibrant and diverse African design landscape continues to inspire me, and I look forward to many more creative collaborations in the future.

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