Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Today I'm Wearing... Nimble Fingers

This season’s affair with embellishment took me back to my school days and a bit of my Natalian heritage.   Fashion has seen a return to all things hand-made.  A return to a focus on the artisan and craftsmanship, an indulgence in time and slow, pain-staking processes.  There is a concentraion on embroidery, embellishment, detail and beading.

Born and bred in Durban, my roots are firmly in its coastal soil and I admit my ear lends itself to Zulu before any other native language.

At school, my all-inspiring art teacher made us investigate the Zulu tradition of beading and what is called the incwadi, or love letter.

The Zulu nation is famous for its intricate and spectacular beadwork.  Whilst in the past beads were made from shells, bones, eggs, seeds or stones, modern works usually make use of plastic beads.  Sad days.  The beads commonly used in Zulu history were, however, glass which was a result of trade between other African cultures and countries such as Egypt.  The glass beads become a precious commodity in the Zulu culture, and in turn, became the tools for a precious practice close to the nation's heart: the making of love letters.

What makes the beading of the Zulus so special and intriguing is the unique messages each beaded square or love letter conveys. 

I love it that this tradition started with and is still commonly produced by women.  Why does this not surprise me?  Trust the woman to code her beading into a tiny square no bigger than a matchbox for her perplexed lover to try and decipher.  And our boyfriends think smes are implicit...

There is no single, correct meaning but rather a few varied interpretations of the colours used in the love letters so no real comfort there to the poor Zulu warrior... just further conundrums I'm afraid!
-       white:            represents purity, true love or hope
-       black:           grief, loneliness, disappointment in love
-       red:              indicates intense longing, great love, or great pain
-       Yellow:          wealth or lack of it
-       Green:          jealousy
-       Blue:             faithfulness


We can only hope this art form, taught to the young girl at her mother's knee, is passed on to ensure the survival of this ancient craft into the modern age.

Dress: All Saints

Dress: Forever XII

Shoes: Woolies

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