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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
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!
I am fascinated by the rich and long history of Shweshwe fabric! What an amazing trip it has made on it’s was to North America. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
The presence of indigo cloth in South Africa has a long and complex history.
Wow. Beautiful. Thank you for the introduction.
I find it interesting that originally, Shweshwe was only available In indigo blue and chocolate brown prints. Then more colors were available. Thanks!
Such an interesting fabric- thanks for sharing! Thought it was interesting people use touch, smell and taste (!) to authenticate the fabric! Love the back stamp.
It was interesting to find out that there are over 80 prints available in Canada!
Am sorry to say I had never heard of Shweshwe until reading it in your Blog! How very interesting to read the History….and that it used to just be Indigo..or Browns. I love the fabrics! Beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing about this, and the pictures, etc.
In 1862 a German chemist developed synthetic indigo.
Only being available in blue and brown at one time was interesting.
That they create and employ those in the urban areas! I think that is awesome. Utilize the creativity of those that others may have forgotten about or just think that they do not have talent.
The cat stamp is so unique! Beautiful fabrics, thanks for a chance to win.
Thanks for the chance to win. Those indigos are wonderful!!
mlhummy at yahoo dot com
The Three Cats Backstamp is proof of authenticity that is the fact I like. Great fabrics guys.
It’s special that the fabric is typically used for traditional ceremonies in rural areas… and that new uses (like quilting!) are keeping the demand up too.
Lovely fabrics and very interesting history. Surprised to learn from the website that a synthetic indigo was discovered by a German chemist in 1862.
She lived in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
What a fascinating website. I love reading the history. The Inkwali Prints are especially gorgeous. Thanks for introducing this Sherri!
I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this fabric. The fact that Da Gama Textiles is perhaps the only known producer of traditional Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric in the world is very special. I hope demand increases and that it continues to stay available.
I love tradition and that nothing modern has changed the way they do things. Some of those bright colors are amazing. I’ve got the 3 links open, time to go shopping 🙂
it was interesting to find out that skilled users of this fabric verifying the fabric’s authenticity by touch, smell and taste to ensure that they are purchasing the genuine fabric.
It is amazing the authenticity of these beautiful fabrics. I had never heard of them before and it was neat to learn. Thank you
As a Brit I was interested to read that the fabric travelled from Manchester UK !!
Peacock Feather Hot Ice Turquoise is beautiful!
Love indigo dyed fabrics.
The indigo dyed fabric is fantastic. I am really drawn to it and will buy some for my stash!!
Thank you so much for such an interesting post.
Did you know that Da Gama Textiles is perhaps the only known producer of traditional Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric in the world. ?
A fabulous post, great interview with Celeste, absolutely stunning fabric. Best part? You are taking time out from a very busy life to keep us enlightened. Thanks so much, I keep learning from your blog. I need to order some of this beautiful fabric for my girly girl twirly dress stash. Stay warm, winter is back 😉 Love that your sweet hubby gives you and his beautiful daughters flowers on Valentine’s Day. Take care.
So cool to learn about Indigo and the process(es).
Da Gama Textiles still produces the original ‘German Print’, ‘Ujamani’ or ‘Shweshwe’ at the Zwelitsha factory in the Eastern Cape and is. still done traditionally whereby fabric is fed through copper rollers which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing a weak acid solution to be fed into the fabric, bleaching out the distinctive white designs. The fabric can easily be identified for its intricate all-over prints and beautiful panels
The history is very interesting and although I have not heard about Shweshwe fabrics before today, I’ll be looking for them in fashion, interior designs for home, jewellery, accessories, etc.
The fabric is very durable…Celeste still wears a dress she made from it 25 years ago!
Here is an interesting fact: During the 18th and 19th centuries European textile manufacturers developed a block and discharge printing style on indigo cotton fabric. In 1862 a German chemist developed synthetic indigo.
Thanks for the chance to win.
I learned indigo dye comes from the fermented leaves of the indigo plant, which is a legume!
Interesting that the fabrics are not reproductions. Lovely.
Love the indigo classics!
I liked learning about the history and the fact that it looks great when ironed.
I learned that Da Gama Textiles is perhaps the only known producer of traditional Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric in the world.
Real indigo fabric dates back as far as 1592!
I am a South African living in Saskatchewan, Canada. I love shweshwe, I’m so excited to hear I can find it Canada. I have lots of dresses made from it. Life time quality.
May you please provide me with more info, I would like to place an order, if possible.
Wonderful Nwabisa! I’m so glad you found me! Meerkat Shweshwe’s shop is here: http://shop.meerkatshweshwe.com/ The owner Celeste is wonderful, and they have a huge selection. So good to hear from you!
Wish shweshwe wasn’t just limited to de gama – more selection would be nice.
Thanks for letting us know Elevin! I believe Céleste limits her stock because their shweshwe is created in the original historical method. Since I don’t know a lot about this fabric I should likely defer to her though! I’m sure she would not mind if you sent her an email about it 🙂
The places i have found indigo shweshwe in the US previously have completely disappeared. Do you know where it can be purchased now? So hard to find!
Hi Sue, You can find indigo shweshwe here: https://shop.meerkatshweshwe.com/ It’s a great shop with authentic fabric from South Africa.