The arrival of the indigo cloth emerged after the 1652 establishment of a seaport at the Cape of Good Hope. Natural indigo dye was obtained from the Indigofera Tinctoria plant.
In its raw form, the 100% cotton fabric was heavily starched in order to protect it from the damp as it travelled across the ocean in the holds of ships sailing between Europe and Africa. The Xhosa were the first to adopt the fabric from the settlers and they soon began adapting it to give it the uniquely African feel that it retains to this day. It was the Xhosa women who gave it the name “Shweshwe”, imitating the swishing sound of their skirts as they walked.
Original Shwe Shwe carries a watermark on the back and is now available in a large variety of colours – blue, red, brown, aqua, green. Some of the ranges available are: Three Cats, Three Leopards, Fancy Prints, Coral Tree and Toto Shweshwe.
Shweshwe has a distinctive prewash stiffness and smell due to the starch which was previously used to preserve the fabric. Shweshwe fabric fades with washing in a manner similar to denim.
More information: http://www.shweshwe.co.za/story.html
And here are a few of the special things I have made out of South African sourced ShweShwe.