Saturday 14 May 2011

Made from the heart, feeding the belly

Something I love to do in Cape Town is check out the latest in locally-created arts and crafts. What's being sold on pavements, at traffic lights, in market stalls, and what's made it into the shops? When resources are few and making ends meet is a daily struggle, inventiveness and creativity become a life support for many. Scrap metal, telephone wire, plastic bags, paper clips and fabric scraps are transformed into as many different functional and decorative objects as the imagination can dream of.

Can you guess what this dress is made from?

No? Sorry, you'll have to wait until later in this post to find out! ...

People with the means to do so have been quick to spot the commercial value of supporting struggling craftspeople with talent. But how much of the profits return directly to the artists and their communities?

Heartworks (above and below) has been a favourite place for me and my daughters for ages. Started by Margaret Woermann, with the intention of promoting "artworks made by the heart, but with the ultimate objective of feeding the belly", giving talented but marginalised people the opportunity to earn a living,  she travels all over the country looking for talent. As well as finding stock for her shops she develops relationships with many crafters that help them grow their businesses.

A new discovery for us on this trip was T Bag Designs, right next door to the township of Imizamo Yethu, in a corner of this historic building in Hout Bay ...

... where a group of 20 previously unemployed township residents work on a collective creative project making artefacts exclusively from used tea-bags.

Friendly and welcoming Russell Chitanda, above left, showed us around their workshops. As this group has become better known, local residents of Hout Bay and even people from far-off countries (Hillary Clinton was one well-known visitor) send or bring in stashes of used tea-bags. The dried tea-bags are  (clockwise from left below) emptied out, ironed flat, painted and/or cut out in shapes ...

They're then decorated, glued, embossed, embellished in a hundred different ways to make cards, notebooks, découpage boxes, coasters, tea-light holders, placemats, wrapping paper ... even the dress in the first pic above!

(Did Hillary buy the card at bottom right, above?)

Finished products are sold in the factory shop, above, as well as at the craft emporium at Cape Town's Waterfront. I think my favourite of all are these delicate, hanging tea-bag angels ...

You can find out more about the people who make TBag Designs work over here. And just a few more organisations that promote South African craft fairly and responsibly (as far as I know) and have beautiful products include Monkeybiz, Montebello (will be a later post), and Streetwires. To read and for photos that inspire, look at Shack Chic (and here), or Craft South Africa. Go take a look - you might get as hooked as I am ...


  1. What a fabulous idea! I LOVE all of it. First, I thought the dress was made of wood chips. The card designs are incredible. What a bunch of creative artisans. Thanks for posting this very unusual and talented group.

  2. Karen, reading this post has just made me so glad that I ever entered into the wide world of blogging, and that somehow we have connected.

    I love seeing how people with wit and artistic eyes can turn any material into something to be treasured.

    These tea bag capturers are a fantastic example of spinning straw into gold.

    Over the past decades, I have had many ideas about South Africa, and would love to go into greater details with you in a quieter place. Your posts have really given me a great update.

    I thank you so much, and do hope we can continue the conversation.


  3. Necessity being the mother invention has inspired such talented makers. As a card maker, I take it so much for granted that if I need supplies I only have to click a few buttons and supply a few numbers and hey presto!

    Very humbling yet uplifting post Karen.

  4. Just amazing! And so creative!
    I love it all!!!
    Unfortunately we never see anything like here. Would definitely buy here and there to support these talented people.
    Thanks for your wonderful posts Karen.


Related Posts with Thumbnails