Friday, October 24, 2014

Gwen Marston talks about South African Textiles

Photo Credit:  All photos by Grady Marston
Close up of Elephant
Fish, Elephant, Rhino 44" x 72"
Signed by Lucia. Chain Stitch embroidery on black ground

South Africa

I found all of these South African textiles at one of the large national quilt shows. They were irresistible for a number of reasons. 
-First, ever since I began making quilts in earnest I’ve been interested in what my sisters around the world are making with their needles. 
- I look for work that is original, fresh, and embodies authentic folk art qualities. 
-I find these pieces inspirational for my own work, as Folk Art textiles the world over share common characteristics. 
-Lastly, I feel almost compelled to support women who rely on their sewing skills to support their families, whether or not the work is traditional or contemporary. 

The first two panels are embroidered with a chain stitch on black ground.  The first Fish, Elephant and Rhino panel is well designed and beautifully made. One of the things that made it completely irresistible was the identifying initial on the Elephants and Rhinos.  And the same is true for the Wart Hog Family who are all wearing their “W” stands for Wart Hog shirts.  Both of these panels are also signed, which I like to see.
The Wart Hog Family 44" x 25"
Signed by Annah. Chain stitch embroidery on black ground.
Close up of Wart Hog

These next four small panels were made by a woman’s cooperative called Women on the Move. While pieces are more primitive in execution than the first two embroidered panels, visually they hold up equally as well.
Drawing on animal and birds familiar to them, the shapes are appliqued and then surrounded with pieced borders. Sequin and bead embellishments and thread work including running stitches, an assortment of embroidery stitches (running stitch, buttonhole stitch, featherstitch, herringbone, couching and others that I would need Sue Spargo to identify for me) were then added in a playful, “liberated” style. They are not backed, and the edges are not finished.  

Dog 15.5" x 12.5"
Camel 14" x 13"

Giraffe 13.5" x 15.5"
Guinea Hen 15.5" x 12.5"

The two embroidered pieces shown below were made by a group of people known as the Venda, who live in the very north of South Africa. They live in a harsh land where only thorn trees and baobab trees survive the dry climate. They subsist by keeping chickens and goats and growing a few root crops and use their embroidery skills to help support their families. These pieces, based on Venda folk art stories are sold by a cooperative called Tambani African Embroidery. The embroidery is very well done. A small card from Violet Manngwe tells me about her life.  “I live a quiet life with my husband and six children. Work is very scarce here where I live and money from embroidering helps me a lot. Last month I bought a school uniform for my youngest child. A school uniform is very important.”

Two Embroidered Pieces 5.5" 9"
The fruit tree was made by Esnath Nenzhelele and the bird by Violet Manngwe, who initialed her work.
Thank you for the Guest Post, Gwen.  For more from Gwen, visit

Last but not least, a round of applause for the photographer please!


  1. Hallo Pam and Gwen,
    You should come tour our beautiful country. Valerie Hearder often organises craft tours to see all the beautiful craft we have on offer.

    1. That is a lovely invitation. Thanks for dropping by the blog Titia!