Zulu basket weaving has been passed on from grandmothers and mothers to daughters over generations. Women use different grasses such as ukhasi, or ilala palm leaves to create functional baskets used in the household to for example store jewellery and laundry.
While Angeline’s basket weaving is embedded in traditional Zulu culture and she uses the same weaving techniques, materials and natural dies, her contemporary shapes and bold designs are totally original. She explains that she has received training in different aspects of operating a craft business, but not in design. Her designs are her own, and she says that she does not do research to come up with the designs – the ideas come to her.
‘You have to look to yourself for inspiration’, she says. The shapes of baskets are often inspired by forms around her, such as the shape of a leg, whereas inspiration for the patterns come from children, homes, animals, plants and other objects.
To weave she uses sustainably harvested ilala palm, wrapped around a core of ukhasi grass. The palm fronds are coloured using natural dyes: Boiled leaves of the umthombothi tree make black, umnqandane a grape-like wild plant gives a light brown colour, and to create grey the grass is soaked for days in water with rusted tins.
The business of basket-weaving
In 2007, Angeline was given an opportunity to attend an international trade fair in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Since then she has participated in more trade fairs in the USA, in New York and Atlanta, as well as in Germany, Italy and Kuwait. But she says that Santa Fe is still her favourite and the trade fair that has brought in the most business.
Today, Angeline’s basket-weaving business supports her family and a growing network of craft producers as she trains other women in the artform.
To meet the demand of delivering on increasing numbers of orders, Angeline outsources to a core group of about 15 siblings and nieces, who have all been trained by her. For large orders she is able to expand this circle to about 25. Even though some of them live in far-flung villages, they all come to her homestead to work. These days she is able to use WhatsApp to communicate with most of them, but some still do not have smartphones, and she has to call them or send messages.
Her daughter Nokukhanya also weaves beautifully, and she would love to one day own her own shop or supply export markets like her mother Angeline is doing. Nokukhanya would also like to teach others the skill of weaving and looks forward to following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming a successful business woman in Hlabisa.