Where can we buy Shweshwe?

Where is the best place to buy Shweshwe cloth?

Traditional indigo block and discharge cloth with a more modernized fabric in between. Arthur Bales Linden Source: Liz at Lancaster

Traditional indigo block and discharge cloth with a more modernized fabric in between. Arthur Bales Linden.  Liz at Lancaster 

Modernized designs, Fashion District Joburg Source: Liz at Lancaster

Modernized designs and colours, Fashion District Joburg
Source: Liz at Lancaster

This was the first question I was faced with recently at the breakfast table. Guests wanted to buy Sheshwe cloth to take home to Germany. With its German origins they felt a particular connection to this indigo blue cloth which has become so synonymous with South African traditional fabric.  I pointed them to Arthur Bales in Linden – that amazing haberdashery store with its old-world feel. Or else suggested they could go to the very third world vibe of the Fashion District in downtown Joburg.

What’s in a name?

Trademark stamps of German Blaudruk; English Three Cats and Da Gama (SA) Three Leopards

Trademark stamps of German Blaudruk; the English Three Cats;  & South Africa’s  Da Gama’s Three Cats at the bottom left.

They were fascinated with the history of Shweshwe which gets its name from the Sotho king Moshoeshoe [Moshweshwe] I after French missionaries presented him with some of the indigo printed cloth in the 1840s. The cloth was further popularized in the Eastern Cape when German settlers in the late 1850s often chose to wear the blue cloth which echoed the German Blaudruk. Xhosa women gradually added what they termed Ujamani to their red blanket clothing. Shweshwe clothing is traditionally worn by newly married  Xhosa women, known as makoti, and married Sotho women.


Block and Discharge printing – what does this mean?

The first indigo cloth was introduced to the Cape when it became a seaport. At that stage the indigo dye was made from natural material and most of the cloth came from India via Holland.  The printing technique used was known as block and discharge.  The block refers to the woodblock  out of which the patterns were gouged before being soaked in dye and pressed onto the fabric. And the discharge refers to the bleaching of the indigo to produce the white areas.  In the early 1860s a German developed a synthetic indigo.

From Europe to South Africa

Da Gama designs www.dagama.co.za/product-category/home-sewing/three-cats/

Da Gama designs www.dagama.co.za/product-category/home-sewing/three-cats/

The copper rollers with the pattern etched into them. Source: Da Gama textiles

The copper rollers with the pattern etched into them. Source: Da Gama textiles

By the 1930s the cloth was being made in Lancashire in England. There were several factories making the cloth.  The largest was Spruce Manufacturing which produced the brand name, Three Cats – the one which was exported to South Africa . In 1992 Da Gama Textiles bought the sole rights to Three Cats and the original engraved copper rollers were shipped to South Africa.  Da Gama Textiles uses cotton from Southern Africa, mostly from Kwazulu Natal.  The traditional block and discharge process is still used (although the woodblock is now a copper roller). The fabric is fed through copper rollers seen on the right, which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing a weak acid solution to be fed into the fabric, bleaching out the distinctive white designs.

Starched stiffness – signifier of authenticity

Isishweshwe has a distinctive prewash stiffness and smell which is very much part of its appeal and popularity. During the long sea voyage from the UK to South Africa, starch was used to preserve the fabric and this gave it its characteristic stiffness. After washing, the stiffness disappears to leave behind a beautiful soft cotton fabric. Apparently at one stage the fabric was no longer starched but when sales dropped, it was reintroduced.

From ‘tradition’ to high fashion

Xhosa women wearing traditional orange blankets over shwe-shwe dresses Source: Pinterest MeerkatShweshwe.com

Xhosa women wearing traditional orange blankets over Shweshwe dresses.  Source: Da Gama Textiles


Mma Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency TV series

Mma Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency TV series. Source BBC.co.uk


Mma Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency wore outfits made from Shweshwe.




Style fabrics Source: Dagama.co.za

Style fabrics. Source: Dagama.co.za


A fascinating history which is all the more interesting when seen within the context of Homi Bhaba’s notion of hybridity.


For Da Gama Shweshwe patterns and designs see www.dagama.co.za/product-category/home-sewing/three-cats/



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It might not be the Comrades but Bruce was there!

Delta Parkrun Saturdays at 8

Source: Liz at Lancaster

Source: Liz at Lancaster

With only 3 of us ‘on duty’ over a week-end at Liz at Lancaster, instead of the usual 4, I often miss the Parkrun in Delta Park on a Saturday morning.  It starts at 8 which usually clashes with breakfasts and preparing of invoices for check-out. I’m always sad when I do, as it’s one of my favourite weekly activities.  The field of some 1000 odd meet at the Delta Environmental Centre.  The runners collect at the front of the field.  And the walkers, dog–owners and parents with push chairs and young children, let them sprint ahead at the start.   All racing each other and themselves for the ever decreasing PB (personal best).   And off the rest of the field sets.  It’s glorious. No stress, no pressure – you can go with a friend and chat all the way, or use the time to have personal head space.   It’s only 5km – so very do-able. And when you have finished, your time and position in the field is recorded and emailed to you.  So if you want to set goals to improve on time, it’s very easy.   The volunteers are wonderful and deserve a big thank you.  And the park is lovely, particularly at the moment with the pink and white blush of autumn cosmos.

Parkrun SA started by Bruce Fordyce

Source: Parkrun

Source: Parkrun

The Parkrun (a world–wide initiative) was started in South Africa in 2011 by our very own running icon, Bruce Fordyce. And the first venue in South Africa was none other than Delta  Park.  So I was delighted when I went a couple of Saturdays ago to find that Bruce was given his 250 Milestone T Shirt for completing his 250th Parkrun at the very park where he ran his first in South Africa.  It made that morning all the more special.

To take part

And the best thing of all is it is completely free.  To take part, all a person needs to do is to log onto the parkrun website – www.parkrun.co.za – and register.  You will then be issued with a barcode which can then be used at any parkrun event, anywhere in the world.  If you don’t register, there is nothing to stop you taking part. It only means that your time and position in the field will not be recorded.

Thanks Bruce for your initiative which opens up our public spaces to us in such positive ways.

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Liz at Lancaster’s in-house notice board

Insider knowledge on Joburg

2017 02 26 First ThursdayNotice board & guestsArt Exhibitions

Guests love our noticeboard with all its local information.  Liz’s current Pick of the Week mentions two art exhibitions.  Brett Murray has a large sculpture exhibition showing at Circa/Everard Read on Keyes Art Mile.  At Goodman Gallery, the entire gallery has been turned into a surreal night time beach space. There’s beach sand on the floor and lounger chairs for viewers to watch Mikhael Subotksy’s complex 45 minute 3 screen video installation.

Centre for the Less Good Idea

Bottom left of the noticeboard Liz has included the programme for William Kentridge’s amazing new initiative in Maboneng. Who could resist the name: the Centre for the Less Good Idea?   For 5 days from 1st– 5th March a whole programme of events is/was on offer: performance, dance, theatre and video pieces.  These have been put on by 60 practitioners from a range of disciplines. Don’t worry if you’ve missed the first season. The second season is due in October.  One of the most exciting cultural initiatives this city has seen in years.

NoticeboardHD Live screenings of international productions

And what about the wonderful HD live screenings at Cinema Nouveau?  How do you choose from:

  • the NY Met Operas
  • the Bolshoi Ballet
  • National Theatre Live
  • amazing international art exhibitions

Liz has compiled a programme for all these screenings with dates and times – also up on the noticeboard. There’s at least one a week through until mid-year.


Local restaurant recommendations

11 06 Nov Possums & amarcord cropped

And guests tried our suggestion for local eating last night– Possums at Burnsides.  Great food and they loved the outdoor ambience with candles and fountains.  And of course Amacord in Blairgowrie is famous for its northern Italian fare.

The Blue Man Group ( a previous Pick of the Week)  has been extended until the 18th March at Monte Casino.  How does one describe this show? Rock concert? drumming extravaganza? technologically compelling? comedy? theatre? mime? (not a word is spoken); a riot of colour and sound? a lot of fun all delivered with a huge amount of skill? It’s fabulous – well worth seeing.

And don’t forget ….

… the news on the red-collared barbet – now nesting in the log in the camphor tree in Liz at Lancaster’s driveway.


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Posted in Art and Exhibitions, Entertainment: Theatre, booklaunches, expos, events, Liz at Lancaster News and Views | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment