A (much more specific kind of) Dress A Day

by Erin on October 26, 2006

shwe shwe

Ann sent me a link to her blog, She Wears Shwe Shwe, where she posts pictures of women in South Africa wearing traditional shwe shwe fabric.

Needless to say, I love this project. Not just because I love the dresses and the gorgeous fabrics (I do) but also because Ann seems to be going about this in such a lovely and respectful way. She asks permission to photograph the wearers. She gets their mailing addresses so that she can send them a copy of the photo. She asks them questions about their dresses. Who made it? What design decisions did they make? What do they want to tell her about it? If she can (she's often driving when she spots women in shwe shwe) she offers the women rides.

There's a difference between photographic exploitation and photographic celebration, and I get a more celebratory feel from this site. I hope you do too.

This shwe shwe wearer is Rachel. She made this dress herself, out of two complementary prints. Look at the pockets!

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Elisa October 26, 2006 at 8:33 am

What a beautiful dress, and what a beautiful concept! As it happens, my sister is named Rachel, and she was the VERY FIRST person that I knew of to make her own clothes with contrasting prints. We just thought she was nuts, until suddenly everyone was doing it! That fabric is luscious.


SDMC October 26, 2006 at 8:40 am

How beautiful! Often it is the person that makes the dress, not the dress that makes the person. (Although a good dress helps on a bad day!) I always love to have a touch of the history behind something.


Anonymous October 26, 2006 at 9:30 am

Awesome!! Thanks for sharing this.


Gigi October 26, 2006 at 9:41 am

Thank you for sharing Ann’s blog with us – I love it. Just last night I was thinking how sewing bonds me to so many other women through the generations and across the planet. Beautiful!


Carrie October 26, 2006 at 9:57 am

Wow! Ann writes one cool blog! thank you for sharing with us.


Anonymous October 26, 2006 at 11:08 am

What a beautiful site. Thanks for sharing!!!!


Zegi October 26, 2006 at 11:09 am

Love the dress, and how she carries it off in tennies! Beautiful!


Jonquil October 26, 2006 at 11:13 am

*Nice* use of textures.I just googled to see where I could buy the fabric, for I am shallow.


Kristine October 26, 2006 at 11:16 am

I don’t often comment, this one gives me pause…Gentle humility is oh, so much grander than all the splendor of royalty.


Thoughts on Life and Millinery. October 26, 2006 at 11:16 am

Lovely fabric and something on the head…to finish the look, always.


Anonymous October 26, 2006 at 11:24 am

Beautiful, the interesting part is that these women most likely, do not use patterns of any type, everything is cut freehand. My greatgrandma, grandma, mama and aunt all cut freehand and do the most beautiful work you have ever seen. To me that is REAL skill…me, unfortunately, I was born with the love to sew but somehow my skill for freehand cutting got lost in the genepool. I started with Vogue patterns when we were poor and could barely afford it but it had to be Vogue designers, nothing else would do. Since then I have learnt patternmaking and can help myself.Wearing dress is much more interesting than trousers!


Robinson October 26, 2006 at 11:32 am
vespabelle October 26, 2006 at 12:39 pm

jonquil, I don’t think it’s shallow to want some of that fabric! Beautiful fabric and dresses for everyone! (here’s an article about the use of shweshwe in modern design with a bit of history of the fabric.


Carol October 26, 2006 at 7:29 pm

Goodness! The African Fabric Shop linked from Ann’s website has some beautiful stuff (and they accept PayPal and ship to the US). I wish some of the hand-dyed fabrics were available in greater than 1/2 meter pieces; I’d love to make a sundress from the Langa Lapu Crackle River or Bush Stream. I may have to get some of the beautiful Three Cats fabric, but it’s hard to choose just one (or two, or three).


anna October 26, 2006 at 7:53 pm

You might give Stonemountain and Daughter in Berkeley, CA a call–they have a great selection of African fabrics and are a pleasure to work with.anna


Linmayu October 26, 2006 at 8:55 pm

How fabulous! I love how the women are wearing beautiful dresses, yet are comfortable and quite capable of going about their business, walking long distances, carrying heavy loads, etc. Here in America, someone wearing a dress with sneakers would probably find herself on the pages of Glamour magazine with a black bar over her eyes, and that is sad.


Anonymous October 26, 2006 at 9:57 pm

Ah, dresses with sneakers. Why is it that we can’t wear a dress *and* have comfortable feet? On a recent week-long trip to Disney World (excuse the banality), I saw only 4 women in dresses. It was warm, and a free-flowing dress would have been more comfortable than being cinched up in khaki shorts and tee-shirts. But of course, cute shoes don’t cut it when you’re walking 10 miles a day. So, we leave our comfortable and pretty dresses behind because we need to wear sneakers. To do otherwise wouldn’t be *pretty* (to reference the recent post). Excuse the rambling, but WHY must we choose between the two, or risk being labeled “What Not to Wear”?


MinaW October 26, 2006 at 10:28 pm

These fabrics would make fun Duros…Love the dresses and the wearers, and their style, with the hats and the shoes.


kmkat October 26, 2006 at 11:35 pm

This was so cool to read and see. My son spent his semester abroad last year at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; at the end of his semester my other son and I flew to SA and the 3 of us spent 8 days sightseeing from Cape Town to Jo’burg. I wish I had known about shwe shwe then — I’d have sought it out to buy.


Floridaprincess October 27, 2006 at 1:05 am

Thanks for sharing Ann’s blog with all of us. The shwe shwe dresses are beautiful. I like the blue one with the pockets. Its my favorite. They are all pretty tho. I have always wanted to go to Stone Mountain & Daughter fabric store. Well maybe one day. Sigh!!!


yvette October 27, 2006 at 3:18 am

Thanks for sharing this site, the dresses and fabrics are wonderful.


Nora October 27, 2006 at 10:27 am

This site is so cool. It’s sort of an anti-“go fug yourself”: ordinary people (not famous or especially skinny or rich or glamourous), wearing clothes that are handmade (not off-the-rack or designer), using fabric with historical, local significance (i.e. not of-the-moment nor cutting-edge fashionable). And yet they all look beautiful, dignified, and unique (AND comfortable).There’s a lesson (or three) there…


South African living in the US October 27, 2006 at 12:15 pm

Who would have thought that I would come to learn the history of SeShweshwe from a blog about dresses – in America!!! I never quite understood why my grandmother insisted on calling anything made out of isiShweshwe ‘isiJalimane’ (the German). Sometimes I get so amazed by how this world is being brought closer and closer. Thank you so much.


MinaW October 27, 2006 at 12:36 pm

Carol Check out Dharmatrading, a dye supply place. They carry the suppies for sun-printing. Now is the season, while the leaves are starting to fall, on a day that’s still warm. You lay the pretreated fabrics out in the sun with leaves over them. Or, what I do with fiber reactive dyes, adhere the leaves with spray adhesive. Spray the dye, with a fine mist. Perhaps several light sprays, letting dry between. Not a heavy spray, or it will run.Then once it’s dry, you can add more leaves, and spray again, maybe in a darker &/or related shade.You can suspend the fabric between sawhorses, or just lay it on the grass. A 2 yard piece is easy to work with; you can do a couple at the same time.Ah, leaf-dyes … time for me to go do some.


Clare October 28, 2006 at 4:50 am

Thanks for sharing this blog with us. I went to Africa earlier this year and one of the things I especially liked was how stylish all the women looked. I was intrigued by the colour matching — in some places it was as if they had totally different ideas about what colours ‘go’; and in other places everything was carefully matched and co-ordinated.I came back with a couple of lengths of fabric. I’m about to move in with a friend who has her own sewing machine and a bit more nous than me. Let the dressmaking lessons begin.


Gigi October 28, 2006 at 11:00 am

Who says you can’t wear Keds with a dress? Frankly, I’d rather see a cute cotton dress or skirt with sneakers (not to be confused with athletic shoes!) on a hot summer day than boring, unflattering shorts. I say, fewer shorts and more dresses all around. You can’t beat the air-circulation, either. 😉


roseanne April 17, 2008 at 6:56 am

whoever sent this this nasty dress is insane, that is not a original shweshwe material, it is pure fake, the material is even bad,please dont ever humiliate sothos like that, i am sure you are as fake as that ugly dress.


The Vine Community May 9, 2008 at 4:57 am

Roseanne, who on earth do you think you are? I live in South Africa, i see shwe shewe every day of my life, i can assure you that the dress is not “fake”, what makes you say that it is?


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