Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Map of patterns - Wax print and Blaudruk

I knew about a few more patterns that had travelled far: one was batik and wax print which came from Indonesia via Holland to West Africa in the 19th century thanks to the enterprise and flair of Dutch traders who managed to marry the ‘sparkle’ of the cracked wax effect with more local African designs and meanings. The best ‘Veritable Hollandaise’ is still made in Dutch factories.

The pattern I have used on my map, is one my friends Hannah and Patience helped me buy in Brixton market. The pattern is called ‘Afe Bi Ye Asen’ in the Twi language of Ghana and it means that ‘Every year things happen’ – life is never straightforward as you would wish but takes you on detours and roundabout ways, which in the end can be beautiful and life-giving – just like this pattern.

Another ‘pattern on the move’ I have used in Southern Africa, is very familiar to me from an ancient and beloved skirt of my mothers. It is called ‘shwe shwe’ or ‘Isishweshwe’ which has a distinctive pre-wash stiffness and smell. During the long sea voyage from Europe to South Africa, starch was used to preserve the fabric from the elements and gave it a characteristic stiffness. After washing, the stiffness disappears to leave behind a beautiful soft cotton fabric.

Perhaps the name is derived from the swishing sound this starchy fabric makes as the wearer walks along. ..the inspiration for Shwe shwe comes from the Blaudruk (literally blue print) cloth once produced in small towns and villages throughout most of central Europe.

Genuine blaudruk was first resist printed and then dyed in indigo – but by the second half of the 19th century, European factories hit on the idea of using indigo discharge or pattern bleaching to imitate the genuine resist printed blaudruk. The cloth was intended for export to South Africa – to be sold to German and Dutch settlers who were accustomed to the look. But english missionaries made use of the cloth to cover up bare-breasted indigenous Xhosa and Zulus, who then absorbed the fabric into their own culture.

Blaudruk was being produced by Mycocks of Manchester until 1992. In 1992, Da Gama, a South African company, purchased the sole rights to own and print the branded Three Cats range of designs, and incredibly had all the copper rollers shipped out to their Zwelitsha plant, based in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

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