Fetching cotton rugs – at Barrydale hand weavers
It would be pouring with rain on the day we visit the hand weavers in Barrydale. We run into what appears to be an old school hall, which we later learn is the town’s former ‘bioscope’ and are greeted by Tivane, whom I have already met over the weekend at the Montagu Village Market where he can usually be found manning a stand selling rugs on a Saturday morning.
He steps down from the stage (it’s one of those typical old halls – wooden floors, stage at one end, gallery on the other) onto a freezing cold floor where we stand shuddering at the combination of wet and wind, and welcomes us. Carol is on her way, but in the meantime, Tivane is more than happy to show us the ropes, quite literally, since he runs production here and has been weaving rugs for what must be close to 25 years.
The hand weavers of Barrydale produce gorgeous rugs. They also make other amazingly beautiful items like throws, shawls, table wear and even handbags, but it is their rugs that have got us interested in the project as not only would we like to own one, but we think that locally made items like this deserve a blog or two written about them.
The project has a bit of a history, we soon learn, once Carol joins us, donned in at least one clothing item she has made in her weaving history. Essentially Barrydale hand weavers are a group of people, who otherwise would probably be unemployed, and who meet daily to weave rugs and fabrics on wooden hand looms the good, old fashioned way. The building in which they meet is filled with wooden looms and a spinning wheel, used primarily to wind bobbins, or at least Tivane has fashioned the former spinning wheel to serve this purpose.
Photographs -Left: Tivane / Centre: Andiswa busy weaving / Right: Cezslyn knots
Tivane and Carol Morris, who is responsible for establishing the weavers and is also the proud owner of Mud, a gallery and restaurant on Route 62, the main road through Barrydale, go way back. They were intially both involved in another weaving project in Swaziland, when Carol’s daughter was but a young child (Catherine Morris now runs Green Home, a successful biodegradable food packaging distributor that recently won a sustainability award).
To cut a long story short, and to forward wind some twenty five years, Tivane periodically phoned Carol, now based in Barrydale, to cajole her into starting a similar weaving project to the one they had run together in Swaziland, in Barrydale. Carol’s resistance worn thin, she relented and Tivane made the move to the cold(er) climes of the little town that today runs a very successful project.
The hall is virtually devoid of rugs when we begin to look around. The project has a stand at the stadium in Cape Town for the World Cup, so anything they have produced in the last six months, and they have been working around the clock, is now proudly selling to supporters of soccer. But there are still enough rugs to choose from, and a display area set jauntily around a wardrobe and mirror, shows a number of throws, scarves and the like to give one a good idea of what this group of weavers is capable of.
Photographs – Left: Barrydale Hand Weavers shawls / Centre: Cloth / Right: Carol
Of course, it is a wet Monday, so not many of the weavers are in evidence, but Carol shrugs and explains that if they want to come in when it’s raining, they usually call Tivane who goes to collect them in his car. As we’re chatting, one lost soul enters the realm, but he’s here to paint shelves by the looks of things.
Tivane is busy explaining the ins and outs of a loom and how the different pedals (it’s rather like playing a piano) allow for different patterns to emerge, and how, if you are doing an intricate design on the rugs, you can’t be caught chatting, as you’re bound to make a mistake! The rugs here are mostly plain, or striped as a consequence – you need a lot of experience before you can start producing intricate patterns, although the weavers, as they gain confidence and are brave enough to attempt it, can use their initiative when it comes to introducing colour and pattern into the woven products.
Tivane is responsible for teaching each newcomer to the group how to weave. Learning the trade is an ongoing process, one to which he is more than dedicated, and it isn’t unusual to find him in the old bioscope over weekends. In the alcove at the back of the hall we find Ansie, who has just been hired to oversee quality. She’s had years of experience. Next to her is Czeslyn, who is busy with the painstaking task of knotting every little thread that runs through the rug, so that it won’t unravel – a process that happens by hand. She’s got the rug held in place with a hefty, old fashioned weight so that it can’t slip off the table.
Photographs: Barrydale Hand Weavers, Barrydale, Karoo
Andiswa is busy weaving a rug, as we stand discussing the ins and outs of this craft with Tivane, who is Mozambican by birth and speaks five languages, although no Afrikaans. Not that he lets this discourage him despite being out here virtually in the Karoo. A weaver he might be by trade, but his personality is one of an entrepreneur. He is passionate about his product, loves his work and is always happy to convert one to the joys of weaving.
There is a lot of thumping and thudding as the wooden panels are pulled and pushed to tighten the weave of the rug, and Tivane shows us the raw cotton that is piled high in the alcove at the back of the hall, and how it is used in weaving. He is a font of knowledge, and I’m not surprised that Carol hands over much of the running of the project to him.
By this stage I’ve got Carol draped in colourful shawls, while I try and photograph her, and we’re looking through the rugs draped along the front of the bioscope, so that we can choose one for our bathroom floor. Rug acquired it’s definitely time to move on to somewhere a little warmer and we wave goodbye, happier and one rug richer for the experience.
Visit Barrydale Hand Weavers:
Address: “Belanti”, Laing Street, Barrydale
Telephone: +27 (0)28 5721729