Even though the Red Location Museum/Cultural Precinct has been forcefully closed by community protestors since October 2013 (due to their outstanding housing rectification demands), the Laphuma-I-Khwezi cooperative are making great strides in creating stunning felted products
The dream for a felt making project in Nelson Mandela Bay, has been carried passionately in the heart of Dorelle Sapere from the MBDA for quite some time, especially as our City is the main (harbour) exporter to international destinations of the much sought after merino wool produced in the Eastern Cape. EPWP was hence approached to sponsor such a project, which they subsequently endorsed with financial support.
In support of this initiative, the Director of the Metro’s Recreation Arts Culture, Ms Veliswa Gwintsa, proposed that the Red Location Arts and Crafters be considered for the respective felt making training.
Mark and Iona, felting artists from Heartfelt in Bathurst, subsequently began training members from the LaPhuma-i-Khwezi Cooperative, as well as the Marketing Officer from the Red Location Museum, since April 2015 (on a once-weekly basis) towards creating felted scarves, table runners, mobile phone covers, handbags, nuno felting, hats, shoes, etc. In due course they stated that they have been overwhelmed by the Coop’s progress and artistic skills. These women have obviously fallen in love with the felt making project – to such an extend that they hardly take lunch or tea breaks and they even take works home with them over holidays or weekends, to do finishing off touches.
The style of felting done by LaPhuma-i-Khwezi, has moreover taken on a unique African and specifically Xhosa style. It is truly wonderful to perceive their visualisation and design style incorporated into their works.
Felting products have become extremely popular globally. All the more, although these hand crafted items are highly prized, supplies do not seem to meet popular demands out there. It is certainly about time that Nelson Mandela Bay should invest into the development of felt making.
The Red Location Arts and Crafters Project was initially organised by the Red Location Museum since January 2011. The intention was to draw community members closer with regard to benefitting from the escalating tourism influx to and from the Red Location Cultural Precinct. It was seen as essential that community members be equipped with creative skills whereby they would eventually be enabled to produce and earn a living from uniquely manufactured products, which would, if well crafted, carry the brand of the Precinct.
During 2011/12 the Diaz Quilters Guild came on board and apart from their great support, additionally donated materials and several sewing machines to the project.
BY 2012 a MOU was furthermore reached with regard to the project – between Ward Councilor Kolisile Frans, Isiseko Senkonjane / Swallows (SA) and the Red Location Museum (for fundraising and training opportunities).
From 2012 the NMMU Business Department also reached out to provide support, and ran several workshops in providing the group members with much needed business skills (especially with regard to establishing a Cooperative) and the know-hows in setting up an online Etsy Shop.
In 2012 six dedicated members from the group finally clubbed together and registered a Cooperative by the name of LaPhuma-i-Khwezi
From small and humble beginnings, they have been initially been taught skills, among other, in:
- the making of handmade quilts, textile jewellery, paper beads (by the Red Location Museum Marketing Department);
- creating textile flowers (by Angie Franke from the Diaz Quilters Guild) as well as development in
- business skills, how to establish a Cooperative and setting up and running an online Etsy Shop (NMMU Business Department).
The first stage of training felt making is drawing to a close by the end of June 2015. Hopefully EPWP and/or other possible funders would be encouraged by the keenness and progress made around this project – towards developing it into a super industry. This project certainly seems to offer great sustainability options. With such a creative and enthusiastic group of felting making participants, it seems that this kind of felting project would with support indeed rise to much higher heights. It would also provide the City with unique and authentic products.
Mark and Iona have kindly offered to market the completed products from the felt making project during the Grahamstown Art Festival.
Before then the group expressed a desire to have an exhibition/fashion show of their works being organised locally, in order for Citizens, Visitors and Tourists to get to know more about this initiative. They would also love to get feed back on the works they created.
Author: Annette du Plessis
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