On a recent visit to South Africa and knowing of my love for fabric, I was taken to a shop selling the beautiful fabric known as Shweshwe.  There was only a small selection but it was all so nice it was hard to chose which one to buy.

Shweshwe is a printed dyed cotton calyco that is used to make traditional clothing like dresses, wrap-arounds and aprons in South Africa.  It was originally only available in indigo but is now a available in many colours.  Shweshwe has been descibed as the denim of Africa.

A brief history of the fabric

  • was originally only available in blue which is why it is known as ‘indigo cloth’.
  • once printed in Manchester, England in the 1930s.
  • worn by South African women including many brides since the 1800s

Who makes Shweshwe?

The Three Cats brand produced by the company Da Gama is currently the largest producer of original shweshwe. They are based in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. They have evolved the fabric by employing talented artists and designers.

The company imported large patterned copper rollers, used to print designs on the material, which was washed with weak acid to produce its intricate white patterns.

Limited Designs

Limited designs are also released to commemorate certain people or events.   There is a Nelson Mandela shweshwe. It is from the ‘Madiba’ range by Da Gama to celebrate the life of the former president of South Africa.

Shweshwe is now used in contemporary fashion design, upholstery, quilting and is also used for making accessories.

Best wishes and thanks for reading.  Sarah