Most of the wire weavers come from an area just outside of the city of
Durban, South Africa. It is a sprawling informal settlement with
basic houses - usually handmade with whatever they can find to use as
materials (i.e. old corrugated iron sheeting for roofs on mud or wooden
A few of them have more sophisticated homes of bricks but the majority
in very temporary type structures with no electricity, running water or
sewage systems. Very few of the weavers have had formal education -
although their children are now attending schools. The
community was settled when they were forced to abandon their shacks in
areas affected by political violence in the 1980's.
basketry was innovated by master weaver Elliot Mkhize in the
early 1970's. Basket weaving is a craft passed down through tradition
the group of wireweavers are a disparate group of women and men many of
whom had no previous weaving skills who took to making baskets as a
due to unemployment.
The origins of
telephone wire is traced to Zulu night watchmen in urban areas who - to
banish loneliness and boredom on night shifts took to weaving colored
wire around their traditional sticks. Soon this technique was adapted
to making - izimbenge- beer pot covers -
the wire plates we have today. Today this craft has developed hugely in
creativity and diversity of uses.
technique is unique to the greater Durban area. The designs that are
incorporated relate to beadwork patterns and have been
extended to include figuration and text, usually depicting objects or
their own daily lives or text that has some personal or social meaning
them. As of late the HIV red ribbon is more and more commonly seen - an
of the scale of magnitude of this disease. It is ravaging the African
population who are often compromised through impoverished situations-
lack of nutrition and poor housing .
The other technique
that has now developed is the soft wire method which requires weaving
of the colored wire as they would in making grass baskets. They
do not coil the wire but weave creating
colorful, stylish shapes combining shapes of spirals and dots. For the
soft wire they
begin with a ring at the top which is a wire circle the size of the top
the bowl. They use approx 12 pieces of wire. For the small 11 cm bowls
each piece is wound around the top for a few cms and then hangs down.
next piece is repeated. From here they can begin to weave with the long
hanging down. They have to work around a specific shape- a common shape
the round bowl which is easily obtainable from discount plastic shops -
more complex shapes use fibreglass as a base.
The bracelets are woven around a pilchards or bean tins - something
they can easily obtain.
The hard wire plates are differently made. They go from the inside out
- with the wire being wound around the core wire in outward circles-
much harder on the fingers!
The children are taught from a young age and from 11 plus are
encouraged to try their hand at weaving. Children only get involved
from a social position - they imitate what they see just as our
children might start to knit at
a young age. They are certainly not put to work to weave as it were.
of the bowls we buy are made by young children. They get involved as a
just by living with mothers or fathers who weave. Many of the weavers
and socialize while working - it is done while sitting with family or
as part of their daily activities rather than going out to work. In
way children may or may not be inpired to start the craft themselves
are not put to work.