Monday, December 21, 2009

JJ Schoeman

I produced this custom-dyed twill for JJ Schoeman for SA Fashion Week 2005. This particular garment went with him all the way to New York Fashion Week in the same year.

JJ supplied me with plain white twill and a brief for "something African." I began by planning the layout in dressmakers chalk on the fabric to make sure that the shapes were evenly spaced and proportionately sized. It was a tedious job stitching in each shield shape by hand. Each one had to be individually stitched and shaped.

First, I crush dyed the fabric in golden yellow. Then, I added another layer of brown dye. After rinsing all the excess away thoroughly with lots of clean water (I would hate to dye the model too!) the stitching was unpicked to reveal the pattern.

JJ turned it into this stunning catwalk creation!

See how he has cleverly added beadwork to compliment the dyed shapes. The natural wooden beads were a good choice to add authentic detailing in keeping with the natural look and feel of the cloth. Central Africa has a rich culture of tie dye and I often look to the textiles from Kenya and Ghana for inspiration.

This beautiful picture was taken by Ivan Naude for SA Fashion Week. Ivan has tracked my work through his lens for some time now and most recently he took the pictures for my book, Contemporary Dyecraft (Metz Press). Find out more about this amazing photographer at

Have a great day in full colour!

Kind regards


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Marion & Lindie

There has been renewed interest in the work I produced for the catwalk since my book is about to launch. I dyed this flowing chiffon silk dress for Lindie Grenfell for her 2005 SA Fashion Week collection. She supplied me with a white "shell", some colour swatches and instructions where she wanted the colours placed.
It is quite a challenge to produce exactly what the designer requires, especially under tight time restraints. I had 24 hours to turn this around. There was no time to play.
I created the white split between the two colours by binding the fabric very tightly with elastic bands along the line I wanted. Then I suspended the garment to hang into a bath of blue dye. I drained that off, turned it around, and hung it into the brown mixture. Lindie added delicate detailing with spattering of matching sequence to give it life.
Although I had produced hundreds of fabrics for the catwalk by this stage, I had always worked behind the scenes, and this was my first show that I actually saw the finished garments strut down the ramp.
Whenever I look at this picture I am filled with a surge of emotion as I remember how it felt. If the camera had panned to me in the audience at this moment, it would have captured me, sobbing uncontrollably at the sight.
I work on the messy end of textiles. I work far back in the production process and do not always get to see what I have helped to create. I can understand the lure for designers who produce shows year after year. It is a powerful emotional experience to see something that you have envisioned in your mind's eye, step onto the catwalk in lifesize glory.
Have a great day in full colour!
Kind regards
* Picture by Ivan Naude and used with his permission.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wild Fig

Do you like the dress in this picture? The white shell was manufactured for me by Wild Fig clothing. Lara Hunt and Yoriko Alty joined forces in 2007 to create this feminine label that is fast becoming a staple of the local fashion scene.
They use quality fabrics and focus on interesting, yet simple design details and finishes. They have access to full pattern making facilities, sampling, grading and production, which makes it possible for them to reliably create fresh looks on a regular basis. Wild Fig clothing is always fresh and stylish. Although I added the distinctive rainbow colouring to this dress, part of its beauty lies in the simple lines of the cut and elegant drape of the lush fabric that Yoriko selected.
This dress is a real head-turner. Every time I go out in public in it, somebody stops me to compliment me on it.
You can buy Wild Fig clothing at The Space (The Zone, Rosebank, Johannesburg), Salvation (Menlyn Shopping Centre, Pretoria), Dice (East London), Harbour Bay (Plettenberg Bay), Wild Orchid (Paarl), The Velvet Purse (Johannesburg), Que (Bloemfontein), Juno (Willowbridge) and Occasions (Somerset Mall). Look out for this label if you like to feel feminine.
Look out for their collection at Audi Fashion Week between 20-23 January 2010.
If you would like to learn the secret of how I dyed in the rainbow, look out for this dress in my book, Contemporary Dyecraft (Metz Press). It will be available from 25 January 2010.
Have a great day in full colour!
Kind regards

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Crafts Bring Hope To Vulnerable Communities!

The CDP Trust is an NGO in Bertrams, Johannesburg. Charlotte and her tireless crew are helping abused women and refugees to change their lives and find hope of a better future.
The trainers at CDP use visual arts to stimulate victims to talk about their situations and face their realities. The creative experience promotes healing as they speak about what has happened to them.
The images that they create are used further as the basis for the Arts For Advocacy programme. The evocative images are far more powerful than any that any design agency could come up with to convey their message. From these artworks, CDP generates slogans for T-shirts and artwork for posters and brochures that are used by organisations such as POWA to plead their case to Government.
Do you know that many female refugees who flee their homes for fear of their lives, only reach South Africa to be raped by the very people to whom they have turned for help?
Sitting in meetings talking about the plight of these people does little to alleviate their suffering in the real world. Many of the women who come to the centre are financially dependent on their abusive spouses and are not able to extricate themselves from the financial trap they are in.
This is where handcrafts bring hope. A woman can go out, gather a few basic raw materials, make product with her handwork and sell it for money. She can go through the whole cycle in a matter of days. Imagine how empowering a few hundred Rand can be for somebody in such a situation?
I trained at CDP Trust in 2008. In 2009 they were short on budget and I was not called in again to teach. I felt it would be a pity to allow the thing I had begun to fizzle out just because somebody told me there is a recession. I invited one of their trainers to a refresher course, on me, to keep the momentum going.
Nirupa invited me to their year end function to see what she did with that knowledge and how she passed it on to forty more women. I started sobbing when I walked into the wall-to-wall display of dyed garments and fabric. I cannot even begin to describe how I felt when I met a lady called Grace, who in a few weeks had gone from being unemployed, to being self-employed! She arrived at the event with a sack full of dyed T-shirts and fabrics that she had made. She is selling them in the community and she is feeling a new sense of empowerment. She says her children are particularly proud of her.
I am grateful that my work has led me to such an amazing life experience. Thank you Nirupa and Charlotte for doing such an amazing job.
Have a great day in full colour!
Kind regards

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cultivating Visual Arts In South African Schools

I am very excited to finally be working on a product for South African schools! Minimax is an amazing company run by Sunet Wagner, a passionate social entrepreneur and performing artist, and Jackie Skeen, her "uber-efficient" right hand.

They run intensive workshops for school teachers to teach them about all the ins and outs of presenting a school stage production. They unpack the process step-by-step to help teachers to know where to start, through to final production. They talk about a wide range of topics like choreography, basic styles, staging and lighting, costume design and planning.

Are you a school teacher? Would you like to upskill yourself in the visual arts? Visit today and learn more.

In 2010, Minimax is including some of my techniques and offerings as part of their DAC Workshop offering. You might ask yourself what fabric dye and prints have to do with theatre productions? What about sets and costumes? My fabric dye and print techniques can be utilised to create stunning sets, props and costumes on a shoestring budget. Slipstream and Minimax are aware of the challenges facing teachers in today's world and we are customising products to suit those specific needs.

I have always loved the theatre and I still feel like a child when I sit down in a seat in the theatre and wait with baited breath for the production to begin. The culture is slowly disappearing from schools under financial and social pressures and I would hate to see it disappear completely from the school curriculum.

Ironically, I belive that the arts have huge potential to heal both our social and our economic ills, if we could cultivate a strong national culture.

Theatre productions help children to develop self-confidence as they are encouraged to project themselves to the world. They learn presentation skills that they can use as adults in business. They learn about their relationship with the world. They learn that sometimes it can be a good thing to be in the spotlight. They learn about relationships and people as they work together to make the production work. They enjoy positive feedback when the audience engages with them. Some will pursue it further and become part of the economy as actors. Others will have some fun.

It is a great privelege to be working with such an amazing company and I am looking forward to the work we are going to be doing next year!

Have a great day in full colour!

Kind regards


Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Do Ten Year Old Boys And Quilters Have In Common?

What do ten year old boys and quilters have in common?
They both love lino block prints!
In my recent in-store activities to promote my book, I have been delighted by the response from the young boys. I was at Chamdor Faktry Sales in Northlands Deco park demonstrating how easy it is to print with lino blocks. These two lads could not get enough and wanted to try out every stamp in my box. The smiling faces tell the rest of the story.
It is such a magical moment, when a student realises that they have just laid down their first print on cloth...and it was easy! Even kids can do it!
Before the Industrial Revolution, all fabrics were made by hand. Prints were applied with hand carved wood blocks and hammered metal designs. In the Hippy era, linoleum floor tiles became the favoured method because they were soft to carve and easy to handle. Printmaking became more accessible to women as the medium changed to a softer material that they could handle.
Today, linoleum floor tiles are only really used by crafters and, since nobody is putting it on the floor anymore, manufacturers have made it thinner and thinner and the artist's lino that you buy today is only a sliver thick.
I have converted to the modern rubber version that is butter soft to carve and work with. It is not prone to "chunks" coming out with the blade in cold weather like the old version. Rather, it gives smooth crisp cuts and clean prints.
Have a great day in full colour!
Kind regards

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stoned Cherrie 2005

2005 was by far the year where I took the most risks, creatively, and it paid off in a big way. I bought hundreds of meters of white habotai silk and set to work dyeing it up in a variety of season colours and themes. I took these silks to the local designers in Johannesburg to see if they would buy them.
Nkhensani (Stoned Cherrie) was delighted with what I had made and she bought up most of my stock. She turned the habotai silk into flowing kaftans, layered skirts and feminine blouses. Through the course of that year, my silks showcased at Fair Lady Lifetime Achievers Awards and SA Fashion Week, two of the most prestigeous events on the local fashion calendar.
This was the most intensive creative work of my career to date and I felt myself being stretched by the process. It became a challenge for me to create something so beautiful that the designer simply had to have it. It became exciting to try to make it in the colours that they were already using in their collections to make sure of the sale.
From this starting point I went on to produce stock items for the Stoned Cherrie store and fabrics for garments for celebrities, singers and even a Miss South Africa pageant.
Stoned Cherrie is such an iconic brand, it was a great and honor and priveledge to be part of the Stoned Cherrie story. As the pictures of the events emerged in the press, I waited in anticipation with the scissors to cut them out and add them to my growing scrapbook. I never got over the excitement of such a "find". Every time it happens, I still have a small heart attack. Is that something that I made?
And I think back to the day I made it... It was a risk. I was uncertain. I thought it was terrible the first time I looked at it. Would she like it? Would she like it enough to buy it? These are big questions for a creative person to face. I like to take rejection so personally.
Lucky for me, Nkhensani liked them and bought them. My risk paid off and I became a part of the South African fashion narrative.
Have a great day in full colour! (Go out and take some risks.)
Kind regards

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SA Fashion Week 2005

SA Fashion Week 2005 was by far my most exciting season in fashion. By this time I had enough confidence in my abilities as a custom dyer, to take on all the big names in the local industry. One by one, I walked into their studios and showed them my samples, and one by one they placed their orders.

Matters were complicated when my car was stolen outside a client two weeks before the event. If it was not for the intervention of two of my very dear friends, Sandra Bennie and Tanya Healey, I would not have been able to deliver on any of my promises to the designers. They patiently drove me all over Johannesburg for the next two weeks to deliver my orders, and they made sure I got to every show that I had to see.

Looking back, I am still not sure how we pulled it off.

In the end, the outcome was nothing short of miraculous to me. In spite of the odds, my custom hand-made fabrics were utilised by six different designers at the event that year. They were, Stoned Cherrie, Sun Goddess, Black Coffee, Marion & Lindie, JJ Schoeman and Vino Moodley. (The picture is a Stoned Cherrie creation. The photo was taken by Ivan Naude and is used with his permission.

I had finally proven to all my naysayers that tie dye does not belong only to the hippies. Dye techniques have been used on textiles throughout ancient history and they are as relevant in fashion today as they were thousands of years ago.

I challenge you to do a Google search. Type in "Shibori" and see what you find?

Have a great day in full colour!

Kind regards


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Marianne Fassler

Marianne Fassler has enjoyed a career in fashion for more than 35 years. She started out as a fine artist, and very soon decided that her passion for clothing should be her commercial creative outlet. Her eclectic style and attention to detail have kept her at the forefront of the industry for all these years. No mean feat in an industry that sees labels rise and fall overnight.
Marianne does business into Europe with her Leopard Frock label and her children's range, named after her granddaughter, Sibella, is a staple in children's boutiques nationwide. She showcases at fashion shows locally and abroad. She is as active in the industry now as she has ever been.
She is probably best known for her leopard spot prints to which she has always been partial.
Marianne has a passion for hand embellished detail on her garments and will go to great lengths to set them apart with custom dyeing and hand made beadwork.
I produced commercial finishes for Marianne for some years. I produced my famous Floating Hearts five seasons running. They were still selling well when I declined to do any more. These finicky little dyejobs are very tricky and my nerves simply could not take them any more. I also produced the signature ribbing used as trim on many of the garments. We started with a pink rib knit or viscose lycra wich I bound up tightly with elastics. The fabric was then painstakingly dyed in three colours. Because the pattern worked out too sparse on the fabric, it was necessary to untie the fabric and repeat the whole process from scratch to fill in the visual spaces. Marianne's work was always a labour of love for me, and more about aesthetics than the money.
Marianne has been kind enough to write the Foreword for my book, Contemporary Dyecraft (Metz Press). Look out for it in stores next year and see what she has to say about hand dyed finishes in fashion.
See her collection at
(This picture supplied with kind permission for use in the book.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Crafts have the potential to change lives. Throughout the centuries, textile crafts have provided the basis for cottage industries around the world. They provide a means for start-ups to differentiate their products from the masses, to create competitive products that they can sell.

I teach into this space at NGO's and skills development centres like Out Of The Box in Germiston.

I recently received very powerful feedback from the CDP Trust where I trained in 2008. This centre works with refugees, abused women, homeless people and social workers to improve the plight of the most vulnerable people in our society. Although they did not have it in their budget to bring me in again this year, the colour bug has bitten at the centre and Nirupa Singh keeps the dye culture going. Two of the ladies that I trained in 2008 have just ordered dye to make products for Christmas, and one of the ladies that Nirupa trained is doing the same.

It is very rewarding to see small seeds take root and grow to provide hope for other people.

If you want to learn more about the activities of some of the Social Entrepreneurs that I deal with, you can go to

I have stumbled on an authentic online social entrepreneur who supports local hand made goods. Follow her compelling blog at

Have a great day in full colour!

Kind regards



Sunday, November 8, 2009

Anna Castleman

Anna Castleman is a talented fiber artist and my personal muse. She "sees" colour and texture in the most astonishing way. This "painting" is created from mixed media. You are looking at dyed threads, sculpting medium and other fiber sources. Anna even used the lint from the bag in the washing machine to build up the illusion of rocks in the foreground of the picture.

Anna Castleman has put her busy hands to work on a myriad of projects over the years. She has a deep love of the theatre industry and has produced hundreds of costumes for various productions over the years.

Before she retired, she was an entrepreneur with her own costume hire business.

Since her retirement she keeps herself busy with quilts, sculpture, and anything else she can find to get up to with fabrics.

This giving lady volunteers in skills development centres where she goes in on her own time to train ladies and share her knowledge. During an in-store promotion at Chamdor Faktry Sales a few weeks back, I met two ladies that she trained in 2008. They were there buying some fabric to turn into products that they can sell. She generously shares her knowledge to give others a shot at a brighter future.

It has been a great honor to get to know such a talented fibre artist and she will continue to inspire me in my work always.

Have a great day in full colour!

Kind regards


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Contemporary Dyecraft

The journey of this book began on 2001, when I began writing the first draft. It took me five months to lay down the first copy. I did my research in the stores. I walked into the craft section of every bookstore I went into and picked up all the books by local publishers. The Metz Press books all had a certain look and feel in my hands and I decided that this was the publisher for me.

I then spent some years trying to get hold of the publisher. I sent volleys of e-mails and heard nothing back from Metz.

On a level I gave up and moved on to other focusses. After all, you cannot kill all of your time on one thing.

Then, in 2007 I went to Cape Town to teach at Keen On Crafts with Craftwise Magazine. I had a free session where I could choose to do any craft that I wanted to and I decided to do embroidery. The teacher was a wonderful lady called Fransie Snyman. She asked me if I was not interested in writing a book, since I knew so much about my medium. I told her about my dream to publish. She told me that she had written a book and could put me in touch with her publisher, Metz Press.

I sent a volley of e-mails to the address she gave me, and heard nothing.

Six months later I went to the Keen On Crafts with Craftwise Magazine event in Pretoria. A friendly blonde lady walked up to me, and introduced herself as Wilsia Metz. Her sister Fransie, had told her all about me. She had signed up for my class.

From there things have flowed and Contemporary Dyecraft is almost a reality. It will be available in stores from January 2010!

My advice to aspiring writers : Never give up.