Shweshwe Designs
(21 Sep)

shweshwe fashion

Shweshwe Designs 

Shwe-shwe (or schwe schwe) fabric was introduced to South Africa with German settlers in the 19th century, but over time Xhosa women, who took a liking to the stiff indigo-dyed fabric, replaced their animal skin clothes with shweshwe. It is said to be named after the sound the skirts make when you walk.

Palesa Mokubung’s bold original fashion label, Mantsho, marries retro glamour with a tasteful tribal flourish to create quintessential street courtier.

The divine creation of Mantsho garments are inspired by Palesa Mokubung’s personal cultural and social experiences and this is how Mantsho relates to the people. Mantsho is of high quality in terms of design, fabric and production, using fabrics of high quality.

Mantsho (meaning ‘brutally black‘) is undeniably setting a new global fashion and attitude trend.

The origin of blue cloth started in Europe, when cloth was imported from Asia, mainly from India. In the East they used a natural indigo dye that was obtained from the Leguminous Genus, Indigofera plant – a long, tedious process. During the 19th Century, Central / Mid European textile manufacturers developed a printing style on indigo dyed cotton fabric. Towards the latter part of the 19th Century in about 1890, a German factory developed a synthetic indigo dye that is still used today. This fabric was manufactured and printed in Czechoslovakia and Hungary by Gustav Deutsch who emigrated to England in the 1930's. This factory, machinery and expertise was later purchased by Blue Printers Ltd. in Wigan. Eventually there were 4 companies producing this print style, the largest being Spruce Manufacturing who produced the most popular brand name 3 Cats, which was exported to South Africa.

The introduction of blue print to South Africa was with the German settlers in 1858 / 9 who settled in the Eastern Cape and Natal. The demand from the German Settler woman prompted traders to import this fabric from Europe, thus during the nineteenth century the Xhosa women gradually replaced their animal skin garments with newly available cotton ones. The “school” woman, who were educated at mission stations, started to dress in European style dresses to cover their bodies, enjoying the blue hue the indigo gave their skin. Many people wonder why the original Shweshwe is so stiff when new: the answer lies with the history, when during the long sea voyage from the UK 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.

The production of Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric in South Africa started in 1982 when Tootal (a UK based company with all the necessary recipes and expertise) invested in Da Gama Textiles. German Print was then produced under the Trade Mark of Three Leopards, the South African version of the Three Cats trademark that was produced in Manchester. At this time Tootal also introduced a range named Toto. Two new colour ways were added – a rich chocolate brown and a vibrant red. In 1992 Da Gama purchased the sole rights to own and print the branded Three Cats range of designs.

 

The process of the production of the fabric 

To date Da Gama Textiles still produces the original 'German Print', 'Ujamani' or 'Shweshwe' at the Zwelitsha factory in the Eastern Cape. The process 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 it and leaving the traditional white design. The fabric can easily be identified for its intricate all-over prints and beautiful panels. Today Da Gama Textiles is perhaps the only known producer of traditional Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric in the world.

The typical uses of Shweshwe fabrics

The typical use of the fabric is for traditional ceremonies in the rural areas, thus ensuring a constant demand for this particular fabric. In certain cases, special designs are produced for very important occasions such as Kings' birthdays and other national festivals. Today this fabric has become very fashionable, and praise must go to our young South African designers for their renewed interest in our original traditional fabric to dress a nation. Their designs and creative use of the fabric is portrayed at the opening of parliament and main social events on the South African calendar.

Palesa Mokubung

Palesa Mokubung started her business ‘Mantsho’ in 2005.  She is currently studying to get her Bachelor of Arts in design. She has returned to university as she feels is has been very inspiring, it gives her a much deeper appreciation for her craft because of the intensity of the challenge it upholds. Palesa has received much recognition as a designer over time, including being nominated for both Marie Claire 2007 and True Love 2010 Fashion Awards.

She has supplied various stored across the world and has met many well-esteemed designers through her travels. Her garments are a wonderful combination of being bold, experimental, fresh and always inspired with an effortless Afrique Aesthetic; she reaches out to women who aspire to be style leaders and trend dictators in their circles.

Background to Shweshwe fabric

The origin of blue cloth started in Europe, when cloth was imported from Asia, mainly from India. In the East they used a natural indigo dye that was obtained from the Leguminous Genus, Indigofera plant – a long, tedious process. During the 19th Century, Central / Mid European textile manufacturers developed a printing style on indigo dyed cotton fabric. Towards the latter part of the 19th Century in about 1890, a German factory developed a synthetic indigo dye that is still used today. This fabric was manufactured and printed in Czechoslovakia and Hungary by Gustav Deutsch who emigrated to England in the 1930's. This factory, machinery and expertise was later purchased by Blue Printers Ltd. in Wigan. Eventually there were 4 companies producing this print style, the largest being Spruce Manufacturing who produced the most popular brand name 3 Cats, which was exported to South Africa.

The introduction of blue print to South Africa was with the German settlers in 1858 / 9 who settled in the Eastern Cape and Natal. The demand from the German Settler woman prompted traders to import this fabric from Europe, thus during the nineteenth century the Xhosa women gradually replaced their animal skin garments with newly available cotton ones. The “school” woman, who were educated at mission stations, started to dress in European style dresses to cover their bodies, enjoying the blue hue the indigo gave their skin. Many people wonder why the original Shweshwe is so stiff when new: the answer lies with the history, when during the long sea voyage from the UK 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.

The production of Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric in South Africa started in 1982 when Tootal (a UK based company with all the necessary recipes and expertise) invested in Da Gama Textiles. German Print was then produced under the Trade Mark of Three Leopards, the South African version of the Three Cats trademark that was produced in Manchester. At this time Tootal also introduced a range named Toto. Two new colour ways were added – a rich chocolate brown and a vibrant red. In 1992 Da Gama purchased the sole rights to own and print the branded Three Cats range of designs.

To date Da Gama Textiles still produces the original 'German Print', 'Ujamani' or 'Shweshwe' at the Zwelitsha factory in the Eastern Cape. The process 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 it and leaving the traditional white design. The fabric can easily be identified for its intricate all-over prints and beautiful panels. Today Da Gama Textiles is perhaps the only known producer of traditional Indigo Dyed Discharge Printed Fabric in the world.

The common trademarks or brands, which are Three Cats, Three Leopards and Toto 6 are authenticated by a backstamp on the fabric. Our traditional users have their own means of verifying the fabric by touch, smell and taste to ensure that they purchase the genuine fabric and not a reproduction. The indigo also fades with washing in a similar manner to denim. The Three Cats range is sourced from a closed library of designs whereas the Three Leopards range introduces new designs on a regular basis.

The typical use of the fabric is for traditional ceremonies in the rural areas, thus ensuring a constant demand for this particular fabric. In certain cases, special designs are produced for very important occasions such as Kings' birthdays and other national festivals. Today this fabric has become very fashionable, and praise must go to our young South African designers for their renewed interest in our original traditional fabric to dress a nation. Their designs and creative use of the fabric is portrayed at the opening of parliament and main social events on the South African calendar.


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