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GRAHAMSTOWN - CRAFT (article first published : 1999-07-3)

Not even the sternest heart could fail to be cheered by the glorious riot of colour presented on the Ilengelihle Women’s Project’s stand at the PX Village of this year’s Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. This project, which is based at the Fort Hare University, produces a range of highly attractive soft furnishings such as cushion, duvets, tablemats, top sheets and bags.

The women use old needlework traditions but infuse them with modern ideas and interpretations. Styles such as log cabin, strip sewing and cross stitch are represented in strong vibrant colours and adorned with beadwork.

In 1993, a basic adult education programme was started in line with the University of Fort Hare’s strategic plan to reach out and impact positively on the community in and around the Alice region in the Eastern Cape. Out of this grew African Adrenaline which was launched in 1996. The nine founder women then formed themselves into a collective called Ilingelihle. The University of Fort Hare provides support in terms of transport to and from the project’s base on the campus.

Ilingelihle now comprises 15 seamstresses and seven skilled beadworkers. Three of the group members, Nomtandazo Mpathi, Vuneka Chisa and Beauty Lili, are manning the stall in Grahamstown which displays the group’s work including some of their own.

Cushions and quilts interpret log cabin design in rainbow-coloured spirals while pillowcases, top sheets and Continental pillows feature praerie points. “We call it Tsolwane,” says Nomtandazo Mpathi. “It means “sharp edges”.” Using patchwork applique, embroidery and beadwork on good quality sheeting, these are items that can easily be put in the washing machine.

Prices are reasonable for such intricate work. A double bed duvet, which takes about one and a half weeks to create, costs R1 200 while a quilt costs R1 600 with Continental pillows at R300 (R260 without inner). Elegant pillowcases go for R55, top sheets at R200 and cushion covers are R125 (R95 without inner) with the more elaborate cushions at R140 (R110 without inner). Funky satchel bags average at around R100 and the charming place mats are R40 each.

Intricate and impeccably made, the crafted pieces of the Ilengelihle Women’s Project truthfully represent the name of the product, African Adrenaline. You’ll find them at the PX Village (on the City Hall side) and you can’t miss those stunning colours. Otherwise contact them on (040) 653-1439 or fax (040) 653-1915. Write to Ilingelihle Project, Wesley Hall, University of Fort Hare, Alice.


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