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bout The Weavers and Weaving Techniques

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 very basic houses - usually handmade with whatever they can find to use as building materials (i.e. old corrugated iron sheeting for roofs on mud or wooden walls). A few of them have more sophisticated homes of bricks but the majority exist 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.

plate Wire basketry was innovated by master weaver Elliot Mkhize in the early 1970's. Basket weaving is a craft passed down through tradition but 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 necessity 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.

plate This coiling 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 animals in their own daily lives or text that has some personal or social meaning for them. As of late the HIV red ribbon is more and more commonly seen - an indication 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 .

softwire 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  beautiful 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 of 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. The next piece is repeated. From here they can begin to weave with the long pieces hanging down. They have to work around a specific shape- a common shape is the round bowl which is easily obtainable from discount plastic shops - the 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. None of the bowls we buy are made by young children. They get involved as a hobby just by living with mothers or fathers who weave. Many of the weavers sit and socialize while working - it is done while sitting with family or friends as part of their daily activities rather than going out to work. In this way children may or may not be inpired to start the craft themselves but are not put to work.

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