African fabric – Shwe shwe

ls side

One of my best memories of childhood was fabric shopping with grandma.  They lived on a farm and once a week, she and my grandfather would have a bath, get in the Chrysler (my grandpa loved gigantic American cars), and trundle off to the bustling metropolis of Kroonstad.  Over Christmas, we would go along and she would buy us each a bolt of cloth for our mother to make us an outfit.

My grandma was extremely fat, hugely obese, but she carried it with a total lack of apology and an enormous amount of style.  She always wore a dress with large bright flowers, a huge hat and gloves.  As the Chrysler swept along the dusty roads like a great purple ship, she would hold up one gloved hand and wave like the queen at the children running along the road shouting “sweets”.

I can’t look at this fabric without thinking about her.  Back in the day it was dirt cheap.  and stiff, lordy, it was stiff as cardboard.  It took a good few washes before it softened enough so it didn’t scratch unbearably.  Nobody can agree on the origins of the name, but the one I like most is that it is the sound a shwe shwe skirt makes as the wearer walks past.  A fabric named after a sound, lovely!

But anyway, shwe shwe is super-trendy again, it’s Afro-retro chic, look at this fabulous corset :

shwe shwe corset

Have a look at this one and these

david tlale

The manufacturer’s website is full of great stuff.

But predictably now it’s no longer cheap.



South African writer, crafter and all round animal lover
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