Theme: Designing With Compassion

The tiny village of Rorke’s Drift in KwaZulu-Natal has, since 1962, been home to a world-famous art and craft centre renowned for, among other things, its beautiful handwoven tapestries and iconic rugs.

On a visit in 2017, maker, journalist and curator Gary Cotterell was shocked to find the weaver’s looms standing still, due to a lack of funding. He reached out to the centre’s manager, Sibongile Princess Tyler, who jumped at the idea of bringing together top local designers and artists to create collaborative, contemporary pieces that would showcase the incredible craftsmanship of the Rorke’s Drift weavers.

The first project was a range of leather-and-carpet bags created with Cape Town-based lifestyle brand Research Unit. “The Drifter bags are truly amazing,” says Cotterell, explaining that every woven panel is a unique expression of the artisan that designed it.

“For many years, our weavers have worked on large carpets, so this was an exciting challenge for them,” adds Tyler, of the process that involved creating geometric patterns on a much smaller scale. She goes on to explain that all weavers who come through the centre are guided through the entire process, from spinning and dying the pure karakul wool, to pattern design, dressing the loom and weaving. “Most of the women have been weaving grass mats their whole lives, so they start their training with a very good understanding of how the craft works.”

Plans are in the pipeline to commission a second range of bags that will feature tapestries by top local artists such as Nandipha Mntambo, Jody Paulsen and Cameron Platter

“Because Rorke’s Drift is so remote, we can very quickly forget the Centre exists,” says Cotterell. “These wonderful skills are part of our national heritage, and we need to protect and celebrate them, to make sure they are here forever.”

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.