Women connect through quilting

Madeline Marsburg's twin, Beverley Rebelo of Zimbabwe, added the hand and the birds on the right.

The fabric of our lives is woven with colour and texture and drawn together with threads of friendship across the miles and days.

This is what Renee de Beyer, president of the Good Hope Quilters’ Guild, wrote to inspire quilters across the country to take on the Pan-African Friendship Quilt Challenge.

In November last year, local quilters were twinned with quilters in African countries, mainly Namibia, Zambia, Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe. “Our South African quilters were looking overseas for inspiration and ideas, seldom making contact with quilters on our continent,” said Ms De Beyer, of Pinelands.

Each quilter was given a similar packet of six fabrics and a suggested size for the central portion of a quilt. After three months, during which participants communicated over the internet and by cellphone and WhatsApp, the twins swopped their completed central blocks and then began to work on each other’s creations. A quilt journal accompanied each block, with the quilters keeping notes on the quilt’s progress, how they felt and what was happening in their lives.

“About 100 quilts are being made and the second round has been completed. Each quilter now has her own original block back, with her twins’ additional work on it. She will now complete the quilt and they will be hung at Fynbos in the Boland, an exhibition held in Stellenbosch in October. Some of the twins from across the border will be at the exhibition to meet their South African counterparts and see their quilts hung together,” said Ms De Beyer.

“It’s a true challenge, as the choice of twins was random and each quilter had to get to know the other in order to understand where her twin was going with the design of her quilt. In some cases, a traditional quilter was faced with working on an art-type quilt, something she would never attempt normally.”

This was not the case with Tokai quilter Tania Botoulas Pope. She was drawn to the challenge by the idea of sharing a quilt, making a new friend and stretching her skills. She chose to make a map of Africa, soon realising how little she knows of Africa. She spent hours googling the countries she added to her quilt, dreaming of visiting some she had heard of from her twin, Riëtte Wasserfall, in Namibia.

Both twins kept their projects a surprise until they met when Riette came to Cape Town in February. “I felt like I had reconnected with an old friend,” said Ms Botoulas Pope. Gifts were exchanged and tea drunk before finally opening each other’s quilts.

“Surprise… Riëtte had chosen friendship as her focus … and both of us embroidered sayings onto our quilt tops,” said Ms Botoulas Pope.

Ms Botoulas Pope plans to continue sharing her quilting progress and also to visit Namibia.

Morag Scordilis of Plumstead had a different experience. Also twinned with a Namibian, she was stumped and surprised when she received her twin’s quilt block. Ms Scordilis describes herself as an art quilter who loves to work with colour, art techniques and threadwork.

“I chose a pictorial design and based my quilt on the theme of Namibia choosing colours to reflect the sand, wind, dry climate and the recent water shortage – women fetching water, their colourful clothing bringing balance and brightness. I believed I’d be twinned with another like-minded art quilter,” said Ms Scordilis. However, her twin, Sannie Vermaak, is traditional and Ms Scordilis received a kaleidoscope block.

“I agonised for a long time on how to add to it and finally decided to do a border in one of the blues that she’d used. I was pleased with the result as it seems to have bridged the art world and traditional quilting,” she said.

“The exercise encouraged me to think out of the box. Being a newish and traditional quilter I dread to think what poor Sannie must have made of my very pictorial, art quilt but I was delighted with the borders that she added. I feel that she too managed to bridge art and traditional quilting,” said Ms Scordilis.

She would also love to visit Namibia and share some of the art techniques that South African quilters use.

Madeline Marsburg of Plumstead is an art quilter who likes to try new things. She is fascinated by faces and that’s what she chose for her quilt while her twin, Beverley Rebelo of Zimbabwe, chose a guinea fowl on a hexagon patchwork background.

As Ms De Beyer says, in many of the quilts it’s difficult to see where one quilter stopped working and the other began. This is evident with Ms Marsburg’s and Ms Rebelo’s quilts. Ms Marsburg added proteas and Table Mountain to Ms Rebelo’s quilt and Ms Rebelo added a hand and some birds.

Shirley Sisson of Glencairn Heights was twinned with Amal Sarkiss, an Egyptian living in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Ms Sisson made an African map in sandy, earthy batiks with raw edge appliqué.

She was very happy with the quilt that she received from Amal and added a border with log-cabin corners and appliquéd winding stem and small hearts.

Asked what she has learnt from the challenge she said it is not easy to work on a quilt that was conceived by someone else. She is very happy with the additions that Amal has made to her quilt.

Ms De Beyer says the challenge has been an amazing success, with friendships growing across all borders. “Through this interaction each quilter has learnt more about her sister and the challenges she faces. Women have connected, made friends, been touched by the plight of their fellow African women and the amazing creative energy that’s grown from this initiative,” said Ms De Beyer.

* To view the quilts, visit Fynbos in the Boland exhibition from Thursday to Saturday October 6 to 8, at Bloemhof Girls’ School in Stellenbosch, from 9am to 5pm. For further information about the exhibition and Good Hope Quilters Guild, call Renée de Beyer on 021 531 4429, 082 663 5640, or visit www.goodhopequiltersguild.org.za