A quilt is defined as a type of blanket, traditionally composing of three layers of fibre which are a woven cloth top, a layer of batting or wadding and a woven back using the skill of quilting. Botswana held its first quilting exhibition recently that attracted many stakeholders among them representatives from Office of the President, American Embassy and Contemporary African Fabrics Accessories (CAFA). Agnes Brook of Dudubrook Quilting Loft celebrated 25 years in the art and business of quilting. She said that it was in 1990 that she started quilting when she had her first child. Brook said she wanted something that will keep the child clean when they travelled in the car, and that is when she started designing a quilt. She said though she got no idea what she was doing by then that quilt is still being used today. Bing a well-travelled person that she is, Brook said she did her researches in countries like Canada, United States of America and in the Middle East. She said it is in the United States that she saw a 500-year-old quilt and saw another very old one in England at the museum where they could not disclose how far back it dated. Brook then realised that there is no business as such in Botswana, and wanted to be that person who brought quilting to the country.
She got her sewing machines the Middle East and Asia, saying that they became her best friend and always ensured she carried one whenever she travelled. She said when she relocated home in 2007 she found out that there was no quilting shop anywhere in the country. She contacted Bernina, which is the maker of the machines, and then she became the distributor for Botswana. “I am a dreamer, I believe in myself, and I pushed myself to be where I am today,” she said. On what inspires her craft and the artwork that she chooses to do on the quilt, Brook said she is inspired by a lot of things surrounding her. She gave an example of the hut quilt, which she said resembles the hut that she used to live in back then when she stayed in Shoshong. She did the hut quilt when she was in Abu Dhabi and missing home.
On what distinguishes quilts from any other kind of fabric and making them to have quite a long shelve life, she said that to make quilts, they use 100% cotton. She said that apart from the traditional way where quilts were mostly used for bedding, they are now used as wall hangings, serviettes, decoration, nurseries and for many other special occasions. Among the names given to the quilts are Mmabodutu, Phatana, Montshiwa and Let’s go and Play. These names are given in regard to the artwork that is seen on top. Brook is also teaching women quilting, having started with women at Anglican Church and disability students at Kgale Hill CJSS. Economic and Commercial Officer from American Embassy Chansonette Jun said that it is exciting to see Botswana entrepreneurship getting into another level. She said this just adds to the rich arts and crafts heritage that Botswana already has. She said in USA quilting is very popular, with over 16 million quilters and it generates the same amount of revenue that Botswana gets from diamonds. She said this is just to show how the business is big in USA and how it is treasured by many. “In USA there is always a time when someone receive a quilt as a present. I hope it will also become the important fabric in Botswana that will enhance growth in the exports sector,” Jun said. In partnership with Da Gama Textiles and Cowie Trading Company in South Africa, CAFA unveiled the quilted national heritage cloth which has heads of the late founding president Seretse Khama, which Brook has already started using for quilting. When talking about it, Business Developer at CAFA Banusi Mbaakanyi said they have created the piece in order to commemorate his life. She said this is to honour the transformation that he brought to the impoverished and internationally uncertain state that Botswana was at the moment, transforming it into one of the world’s fastest growing economies. “He pursued foreign policy that looked toward establishing allies to improve Botswana’s relations and image and this resulted in general prosperity within urban and rural areas,” she said. Mbaakanyi said this should go a long way in showing cultural heritage. On explaining the symbols on the cloth Mbaakanyi said the blue fabric is called Dinaledi and it demonstrates the numerous stars above denoting the limitless knowledge Khama had, while the brown cloth depicts ‘mapako a kgotla’ which denotes national unity. The chain around the portrait is said to be symbolic of the word Seretse, meaning the ‘binder’, illustrating his aspiration to bind the nation together as well as the region as a whole. All the proceeds of the cloth are said to go to the Lady Khama Charitable Fund.