I’ve been buying embroidery from the Intuthuko Sewing Group since African Threads began. My relationship with them goes back over 20 years when I was visiting South Africa in 1992 and met Celia de Villers through our mutual quilting interests. Celia was asked to start up this sewing group 10 years ago as an income generating project in the desperately poor Etwatwa Township. Celia, Susan Haycock and Mrs Clarence Nkosi work tirelessly to develop markets and keep this group going.

This group makes embroidered quilt squares, cell phone bags, knitting bags, shopping bags and large wall hangings on commission. All have hand embroidered images of township life, traditional images, grandmothers, clinics. Sometimes I see images about the impact of HIV/AIDS. This embroidery is the sole income for these mothers and grandmothers, most of whom are single. They live in desperately poor conditions and some of them live in cardboard shacks. Most of them have families dependant on them for basic life necessities.

It was a thrill to finally meet the embroiderers after so many years of seeing their work and learning about them through their stitched stories. We spent an afternoon talking and visiting. I presented gift bags of embroidery floss collected by women’s groups in Canada. The women in turn surprised me with a gift of a hand-embroidered wall hanging. They then sang me a song of appreciation in 5-part harmony. There is something profoundly moving in the strong voices of African women in chorus. The embroidered hanging they stitched for me is their self portrait and depicts the Intuthuko Groups sitting together, sewing.

This group has won various prizes for their collective quilts and hangings including the prestigious FNB (First National Bank) Vita Crafts Award for their Journey to Freedom embroideries celebrating 10 Years of Democracy in South Africa. Please watch the amazing VIDEO animation of the embroidery showing the ending of apartheid.

Scarf for the Grandmothers National Walk

woman wearing scarf

Sanna wearing the scarf

The main concept behind this scarf project was to give the work of making the scarf to needy women in Africa, rather than get a scarf made in China. I was asked to help find women’s groups in Africa who’d be able to undertake this huge production. Intuthuko helped make 7,000 brightly colored scarves for the first National Walk organized by the Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers of Canada who walked in solidarity with African Grandmothers in June 2010.

The scarf production created significant income for Intuthuko and another sewing group called Women for Peace. This photo shows Mamma Sanna wearing one of the scarves. The National Walk is now an annual event organized by Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers across Canada and continues to provide income for the women.

In June 2010 the Intuthuko group was finalizing the process of re-organizing themselves into a co-operative.

Co-ordinator Celia de Villiers wrote to tell me how much our orders mean to the women: