Friday, September 30, 2016

African Fabric Month

Today is the last day of September, and I just learned that it's African Fabric Month. (Who decides these things anyway?) Anyway, it seems a propitious day to resume my blogging, and to celebrate my recent return to working with the intense, unusual, dynamic and oh-so-African fabrics that I have collected over the years. This quilt is called An African Journey, and was the first quilt I designed using the fabrics that my dear Sweetie had been bringing me back from Uganda for a number of years in the 90's. And not surprisingly, this quilt is still one of my favourites.

Alice Asiimwe (holding the quilt in the photo) made African Lightening during the nine years we worked with her and with the Bitengye Designers in southern Uganda. On a previous visit I had brought her a book of quilt patterns, and she presented me with this stunning quilt when we returned the following year. It's a terrific example of how large swaths of African wax fabrics can be combined with solid black fabric, yielding dramatic results. The mix of primary colours in the African fabrics also contributes to the success of this quilt.

"Who Will Make the Clothing" was my contribution to a fund-raising event for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which gives assistance to women who are grandmothers and widows in Africa, due to HIV/AIDS. It was based on a photo I took of a woman in the market in the town of Mbarara, sewing away on her treadle sewing machine against a backdrop of the African fabrics she was offering for sale.  A not uncommon sight in most countries in Africa.

During the years I operated Kitambaa Designs, I did much of my fabric shopping at Nalugo Traders in Kampala. The "real wax" fabrics I purchased there came in flat folds of 6 or 12 yards, and we always had terrific fun choosing the "rolls" to bring home with us to sell in Canada. The young woman or man helping us would climb up on the desk until she/he could reach the fabric we had chosen, and bring it down to add to our pile, seen here on the left.

The most wonderful place of all to see the fabrics, however, is when it is being worn by African women. Sometimes made into a full garment and sometimes worn as a wrap around their middle, on top of a more North American dress, they all look beautiful to me, as seen in this group of widows and grandmothers from Kikagate.

This grandmother holding her grandchild, the child's parents having died from "Slim", is another example of how gorgeous these fabrics are when worn by African women. I've seen lots of white women wear African fabric garments, and have several myself, but somehow they never look quite the same. But with so many people these days having experienced visits to Africa or having worked in various African countries, we are more and more likely to want to give voice to this time in the making quilts that tell the stories of our time there.  I know that this is my desire. So after a time of exploring various other creative directions, I find myself excited to be returning to this passion. I knew in my bones that there were more Africa-inspired quilts to be made, and am looking forward to sharing them with you on this blog in the weeks to come.