I’m excited to bring you a fun and different installment to our Canadian Online Fabric Shop interview series today! When I was at the Creativ Festival last fall I found a booth for Meerkat Shweshwe – I was super curious about their fabrics (you’ll see why later), so I stopped to talk to them. Turns out they are a wholesaler for imported shweshwe fabric from South Africa.

I was drawn to their booth because of the unique selection of fabric. Nothing like you’ve seen before. Unless of course, you’ve got some shweshwe in your stash! Today I am interviewing this wholesaler and linking over to 4 shops that carry their unique fabric. There’s a discount for one of the US shops and a giveaway too!

I’m so excited to interview Céleste, the owner of Meerkat Shweshwe, today. We’ve been working back-and-forth for a month or so to get you some great information about this unique fabric. Including lots of photos, where to get it and how to care for it!

Thread Riding Hood: How did you get connected to selling shweshwe?

Céleste: I was born in South Africa, the home of Shweshwe, and brought up in a family of sewing and knitting enthusiasts. When my family moved to Canada in 2001 I could only get hold of Shweshwe on trips “back home” or when we had visitors from South Africa. In 2013 I visited Da Gama Textiles in South Africa to investigate becoming an importer and distributor of Shweshwe.

Thread Riding Hood: What is a bit of the history of this type of fabric?

Céleste: The history of all modern printed cottons starts with indigo dyed fabric. Indigo is a deep blue plant dye that originated in India and made its way to Europe in Roman times. Shweshwe’s history is connected to indigo dyed cotton prints in Europe, called “Blaudruck”. The name “shweshwe” comes from King Moshoeshoe I, who was given a gift of indigo printed cotton by French missionaries during the 19th century. When European settlers moved into Southern Africa, they introduced these indigo prints to the ethnic groups they met, who assimilated them into their culture. Although fashions changed and technology improved, Shweshwe has remained in demand in South Africa until today. It is sometimes called the “tartan” of South Africa. Click here for a more detailed history.

Thread Riding Hood: Why is shweshwe unique?

Céleste: There are quite a few differences between shweshwe and other fabrics.

  • The designs look like reproductions, but they are authentic classics from the days of the early development of automated cotton printing in the 18th century.
  • Shweshwe is still produced using an old method of discharge printing dating back to the days of early industrialization.
  • The fabric is only 90cm/36″ wide, because it is printed using technology from a time when all fabric looms were that width – think of original Liberty Lawns.
  • Shweshwe has a distinctive smell and stiffness from the dressing still used as in days gone by when this was protection for the long sea voyage from England to the colonies. One wash and the fabric is soft and lovely to use.
  • Shweshwe has an authenticated backstamp.

Thread Riding Hood: What do you love most about working with shweshwe fabric?

Céleste: First, Nostalgia. It harks back at the classic fabrics I grew up with, in terms of old fashioned quality, versatility and a 100% cotton with a good hand. Second, Innovation. Besides producing the blue, chocolate and red classics, they keep adding modern designs in vibrant colours to their collection. Third, Social Conscience. Working with Shweshwe connects me to creating employment in South Africa, and keeping this historic fabric alive.

Thread Riding Hood: What types of projects would you recommend using shweshwe for?

Céleste: It is super versatile and can be used whenever you would normally choose 100% cotton prints. It was traditionally used for dressmaking in South Africa, but nowadays you can find it used for quilts, home decorating, and crafting. It has become a popular item on fashion runways with South African designers for both men and women, even for weddings and shoes. Check my Pinterest boards for inspiration.


Thread Riding Hood: Anything else we should know about working with this fabric? Prewashing? Ironing? Care? 

Céleste: You have to prewash to get rid of the dressing and then it will shrink a little, as the threads settle after the dressing is washed out. Thereafter you treat it like all other 100% cottons. You don’t have to iron it, but if you want that crisp look of ironed cotton, you’ll get it in spades from Shweshwe! It is very durable: I have a dress I still wear that is 25 years old. 

Thread Riding Hood: Do you have a personal favorite story that involves a particular shweshwe project that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?

Céleste: In 2002 as a new Canadian I stumbled upon the Quilt of Belonging at the Waterloo Regional Quilt Festival. I volunteered to make the block for Namibia, because the South African block was already made. I used Shweshwe in the border of that block, never knowing that about 10 years later I would be importing it. You can see the block here.

Thread Riding Hood: How can we get connected to buying some of this fabulous fabric?

Céleste: At present there are four stores in Canada and the USA that sell Meerkat Shweshwe: Hyggeligt Fabrics, Greenwood Quiltery, Yardwork-Etsy and Whitby Fabrics Sewing Centre. I am a wholesaler and I do not do direct sales except for an annual promotion at Creativ Festival in the Fall.

Thread Riding Hood: How can retailers arrange to order this fabulous fabric for their inventory?

Céleste: I invite retailers to contact me if they would like to carry Shweshwe in their inventory. Minimum order is 10m and minimum cuts are 5m, but for a first time order I will make 2m cuts. I also invite anyone who uses 100% cottons to produce clothing or any other items to contact me if they want to place wholesale orders for their use. My email address is celeste@meerkatshweshwe.com

Meerkat Shweshwe (from Da Gama Textiles) is available at the following shops. Yardwork (below) has given you a discount to use in her entire shop!  Check the locations – there are three in Canada (2 selling online) and Yardwork is in the US!

Yardwork on Etsy (Brooklyn, NY)

Get 15% off orders from Yardwork using the discount code “REDTHREAD”! This coupon applies to any order over $8.00 and is valid until April 17, 2015!

Hyggeligt Fabrics (London, Ontario – available online)

Greenwood Quiltery  (Guelph, Ontario – available online)

Whitby Fabrics Sewing Centre (Whitby, Ontario)

Here’s your chance to enter to win eight fat quarters of Shweshwe contemporary and classic prints!

 This giveaway is open to everyone, internationally from today (Feb 17th) until midnight on Tuesday evening, February 24, 2015. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter – and if you don’t have Facebook to sign in with, just use your name and email address. There’s a “click to enter” no social media login entry too!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I asked Céleste to be a part of this interview, I have not been compensated by Meerkat Shweshwe to write this post. I find this fabric type interesting and thought you might too. Thanks for reading!