The handwritten description of the panels of this appliqued piece reads as follows:
1. Sekai and her husband are fighting.
2. Sekai tells her friend and they are leaving the village.
3. They are at the traditional doctor.
4. They are going back home.
5. She prepares the food with some charms.
6. Life is sweet. Sekai is coming to fetch water and the husband is switching some maize. They are living happily.
Not too long ago, I saw a small appliquéd wallhanging with the intriguing name of African Love Potion. I’ve always been a sucker for a story, and this little quilt used a series of six pictorial panels to colorfully illustrate a tale of marital discord with a happy ending. I was hooked—I had to have it!
It was only after I bought the wallhanging that I realized there was a folded scrap of ruled tablet paper tucked into a pocket in the last panel. The paper contained a description of each scene, handwritten in pencil. Captivated, I was determined to learn more about it. The place at which the piece was purchased told me only that it was “Weya” appliqué.
So began my pursuit for information about Weya appliqué, with the internet and Google providing the keys to unlock the mystery. I learned that Weya is a rural area of Zimbabwe where extreme poverty is the norm, AIDS affects one in four adults, and women are often the heads of households. In the late 1980s, the German Volunteer Service asked art teacher Ilse Noy to develop an economic assistance project to help Weya women become financially self-sufficient.
Noy, knowing that the Weya women already had needlework skills, came up with the idea of teaching them to make items that could be sold to tourists, among which were narrative, pictorial wall hangings similar to the one I purchased. At its inception, the Weya Textile Project worked with nine women. Today, hundreds of women make such pieces and their work is shown and sold throughout the world. Ilse Noy went on to write a book about the project entitled The Art of the Weya Women.
Noy encouraged the women to depict stories or themes that reflected their own lives and experiences. Many of the pieces show everyday domestic duties, such as grinding corn to make cornmeal, brewing beer, or caring for children. Others illustrate beliefs and attitudes, and deal with such topics as marriage, relationships, sexuality, death, ancestors, spirits, and desires.
The project (and its offshoots) has generated the same sort of controversy that surrounds most ethnic art produced directly for the tourist trade—namely that originality and true artistic merit are sacrificed to a production line approach.
I was dismayed to find that the piece I purchased was not signed, and the description did not include the artist’s name, an omission that lends weight to such criticism. However, by all accounts, the appliqué pieces have generated much-needed income, with a byproduct of self-esteem for the women who make them.
With the controversy in mind, I looked at my little wallhanging afresh. It still charms me, and I think about the anonymous (to me) woman who made it, knowing that it helped her provide for herself and her family. That’s not so different from so many of our quilting foremothers who plied their needles with the main purpose of providing warm cover and who, nevertheless, managed to express their artistic talents as well.
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Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
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Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
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Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
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Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
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Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
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Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
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