What is Shweshwe?

If you’ve hung out with me for more than 10 minutes, you’ll definitely have heard how much I adore Shweshwe. But what exactly is Shweshwe? A verb? A noun? A dance? Well, the short answer is ‘YES!’


Sweshwe your life!!

Shweshwe is, in brief, one of the most iconic South African fabrics, and is an absolute favorite of mine to use for its bold and distinctive prints. The fabric is extremely stiff and easy to work when freshly printed. Once washed it takes on a soft texture, while keeping its strength to last longer than most cotton prints.


(I had to include this dress I made for my violin teacher as it really shows just how gorgeous this fabric is)

Shweshwe is a discharge-printed fabric, which means that patterns are etched onto a dyed fabric and then exposed to a weak acid solution, which leaves the etched designs exposed. Originally the fabric would be dyed indigo and the etched design exposed in white. This colour combination is still HUGELY successful as a fashion fabric!

This method of fabric printing was developed in Europe as early as the 18th century, and the fabrics naturally found their way to South Africa along with all the other people and things heading over from Europe at the time.

Image result for shwe shwe historical images


In the 1840s, French missionaries presented King Moshoeshoe I of the Basothos a gift of this printed cloth. The intricate patterns and durable fabric were an instant hit, and ‘iShweshwe’ soon became an iconic element of traditional South African dress.


Production of discharge-printed fabrics began in South Africa in 1982 when Da Gama Textiles started producing the Three Leopards brand of fabric. By then, the colours of the prints were no longer limited to just indigo and white, and today my credit card melts every time I look at the available options of this excellent fabric.


A decade later and Da Gama Textiles purchased the sole rights to own and produce the Three Cats range of designs. The copper rollers – upon which the original designs are impressed – were shipped to the Da Gama factory in the Eastern Cape, where they are still used today in the traditional discharge-printing process.

Image result for shwe shwe three cats


Today, Da Gama Textiles is the only known producer of indigo-dyed discharge-printed fabrics in the world, and continues to supply South Africa and countries abroad with this iconic style of print cotton.


Shweshwe is always printed on 100% cotton, making it incredibly durable. The fashion fabric is also always 90cm wide instead of the usual 150cm. Just believe me this is a BIG deal in the fabric world!

So now you know that Shweshwe is an iconic South African work of art, and not (strictly speaking) a dance that requires strenuous hip movements. It’s beautiful, versatile and comes in just SO many designs! So Shweshwe up your life and Shweshwe yourself down to The Green Tailor, where you’ll find Shweshwe service for a Shweshwe price – not to mention an extensive range of Shweshwe.


And Unrivalled Tailoring Services.

This post is an adaptation of the original written by Christiaan Naudé, which you can read here.

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