Shweshwe: the tartan of South Africa

Join me in an “Everyday Delights” month

This month I’m going back to my roots for this blog by focusing on finding everyday delights. “Be observant” is one of my Happiness Resolutions, so I aim to find something every day that makes me stop, notice and perhaps pause for thought: a great piece of design, a quirky object, something that I might be grateful for, something wondrous, something mundane. I won’t be posting every day, but I might do once a week. Its always easier said than done, but it’s time for a challenge.

If you’d like to join me, please do – the more the merrier! Post a photo, or a story and a photo – it’s up to you. I’d really love to have you along for the journey. Use the tag #EverydayDelights, pop a link to your post in the comments or create a pingback to this post.


Today I’m showcasing beautiful South African fabric known as Shweshwe, a printed dyed 100% cotton fabric widely used for traditional South African clothing, characterised by intricate geometric patterns of florals and stripes, diamonds, squares and circular designs. South African women have been wearing it since the 1850s and it has been described as the denim or “tartan” of South Africa.

“Shweshwe is the cloth of choice for outfits for traditional ceremonies. It is a common thread in the fabric of South African life: worn by kings, politicians and socialites and also by rural women as they gather firewood or fetch water.” [Source: A stylish ode to Mama Afrika]



There are three reasons I’m showcasing it.

One: September – Heritage month in South Africa

Former President Nelson Mandela said this about Heritage Day:

“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.” [Source: SAHO]

September is when we celebrate our rich heritage as well as the lives of those who fought for freedom and democracy. With such diverse cultures and a turbulent political history, finding a common heritage for our country can be problematic. As a result most South Africans choose to mark the day (24th September) by having a ‘braai‘, an initiative suggested by Jan Scannell (otherwise known as ‘Jan Braai’) – this is something almost every single South African has in common, a love for cooking outdoors.

Everyone except me that is – I’m not a major fan of the “meat frenzy“. So, I find other ways to celebrate our diversity and showcasing this fabric is my small contribution to celebrating our rich heritage. 

Two: Reminders of Africa

When I visited a local eatery a few weeks ago I spotted some wall art that had been made using this fabric and it inspired me to buy some to use at a later date.

My Artist Date this week was to track down some of this fabric. I headed to our only fabric store, Jacksons on the High Street. They had an amazing array of colours to choose from: the original indigo, bright red, chocolate brown, beige, black, bottle and light green, turquoise, salmon, pumpkin, shocking pink and yellow/gold. The bolts of cloth were stacked diagonally on the shelves and colour coded. Within each colour, the different geometric patterns showed themselves – dots, circles, swirls, triangles and more. The fabric has a distinctive smell which comes from special oils used in the processing and has an almost cardboard-like firmness and a stiff, starchy feel which softens once the fabric is washed.

I bought ½ a meter of each of these designs in my favourite colours – pink, purple, indigo and turquoise to complement each other. I want to do something creative with them next year when I return to the UK to live, to remind me of my time in Africa. For now, the ‘what‘ isn’t important – I have the materials on hand for when inspiration strikes!

Fun fact! Whilst other fabric is usually 150cm wide, shweshwe always 90cm wide. 

Three: It’s produced locally!


The only place in the world where shweshwe is manufactured is a few hours drive from where I live in the Eastern Cape: the Da Gama factory in the rural village of Zwelitsha near King William’s Town.

Feel inspired to join me for more everyday delights in September? Please do! 

Use the tag #EverydayDelights, pop a link to your post in the comments or create a pingback to this post.

Debbie blog sign off 2018

Sources used in this post:


11 thoughts on “Shweshwe: the tartan of South Africa

  1. Val says:

    Beautiful fabrics. What dyes were traditionally used and are they still?
    When you mentioned the smell, it reminded me of the smell that imported Indian cotton has – usually, I think, from turmeric.
    I’m in the UK (mid-Wales). Winter’s on its way and you’ll certainly need some brightness!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debs Stott 🌳 Everyday Delights says:

      Hello again Val. Thanks for reading back through some of my posts, I really appreciate it!

      I had a look at the manufacturer’s website about the dyes. It says “The process is still done traditionally whereby a weak acid solution is fed onto the fabric, bleaching out the distinctive intricate white designs.” They are big on using the traditional methods and upholding the traditional values, so I guess they do. The fabric is stamped on the back to verify its authenticity. Interesting isn’t it?

      As yes, the smell of Indian fabrics, I remember that now you mention it.

      I am a little worried about coming back in the UK winter, but at least I’ll have the spring to look forward to! It will be my first challenge!

      Liked by 1 person

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