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Title: Shweshwe  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: South African fashion, African art, C change, Rakematiz, Airdura
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Sotho woman wearing a brown shweshwe dress

Seshoeshoe or Seshweshwe ()[1] is a printed dyed cotton fabric widely used for traditional Sotho (South Africa & Lesotho) clothing.[2][3] Originally dyed indigo, the fabric is manufactured in a variety of colours and printing designs characterised by intricate geometric patterns.[4][5][6] Due to its timeless popularity, shweshwe has been described as the denim,[6] or tartan, of South Africa.[7]


Xhosa women in traditional costume wearing indigo shweshwe aprons
Xhosa woman wearing a head scarf made from indigo Seshweshwe (on the right)

The local name Seshweshwe or Seshoeshoe is derived from the fabric's association with Lesotho's King Moshoeshoe I,[8][9] also spelled "Moshweshwe". Moshoeshoe I was gifted with the fabric by French missionaries in the 1840s and subsequently popularised it.[8][10][11]

It is also known as "German print",[5] sejeremane in Sotho,[10] and ujamani in Xhosa, after 19th century German and Swiss settlers who imported the blaudruck ("blue print") fabric for their clothing and helped entrench it in South African culture.[6][8][11][12]


Seshweshwe is traditionally used to make Sotho dresses, skirts, aprons and wraparound clothing. Seshweshwe clothing is traditionally worn by newly married Sotho women known as makoti and Xhosa women.[9][10][13][14] Xhosa women have also incorporated the fabric into their traditional ochre-coloured blanket clothing.[7][15] Aside from traditional wear, shweshwe is used in contemporary South African fashion design for women and men from all ethnic groups,[5][9][12] as well as for making accessories and upholstery.[16] It is also used in the United States as a quilting fabric.[4][17]


Chocolate brown shweshwe

Seshweshwe is manufactured with an acid discharge and roller printing technique on pure cotton calico.[4][5][9][18] It is printed in widths of 90 cm, in all-over patterns and A-shaped skirt panels printed side by side. The fabric is manufactured in various colours including the original indigo, chocolate brown and red, in a large variety of designs including florals, stripes, and diamond, square and circular geometric patterns.[7][11] The intricate designs are made using picotage, a pinning fabric printing technique rarely used by contemporary fabric manufacturers due to its complexity and expense, although the design effects have been replicated using modern fabric printing techniques.[4]

Previously imported to South Africa from Europe, the trademarked fabric has been manufactured by Da Gama Textiles in the Zwelitsha township outside King William's Town in the Eastern Cape since 1982.[8][9][10][11] In 1992 Da Gama Textiles bought the sole rights to Three Cats, the most popular brand of the fabric made by Spruce Manufacturing Co. Ltd in Manchester, and the original engraved copper rollers were shipped to South Africa.[15][19] Da Gama Textiles has made shweshwe from cotton imported from Zimbabwe and grown locally in the Eastern Cape.[13][17]

The local textile industry, including seshweshwe production by Da Gama Textiles, has been threatened by competition from cheaper inferior quality imitations made locally and imported from China and Pakistan.[9][11][13][20] The genuine product can be recognised by feel, smell, taste, sound, a solid colour from dyeing and trademark logos on the reverse side of the fabric, a smaller than average 90 cm fabric width and stiffness of the new fabric from traditional starching which washes out.[4][5][6][12] As at November 2013, seshweshwe production by Da Gama Textiles had reduced to five million metres per annum.[6]

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e
  5. ^ a b c d e
  6. ^ a b c d e
  7. ^ a b c
  8. ^ a b c d
  9. ^ a b c d e f
  10. ^ a b c d
  11. ^ a b c d e
  12. ^ a b c
  13. ^ a b c
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^

Further reading

External links

  • Shweshwe in the British Museum collection
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