Lehakoe™ is the Basotho word for something that is precious, like a gem or a jewel or your daughter. Made from the real traditional Basotho blankets and the real traditional SeSotho fabric isishweshwe, these traditionally Russian dollies are a convergence of Southern African tradition and European tradition. Much like the colourful “Rainbow Nation” there is nothing ordinary here.
One day I was sitting at work, thinking of nothing in particular – as one does, when I had a spark of an idea. Right then and there (I was running a report, so I really wasn’t doing anything, not really stealing my employer’s time) I grabbed a piece of note paper and drew a picture. I seriously do believe that this idea was sent to me from Above, but that’s a discussion for another time.
At home I started working on patterns (in between the household duties, of course) and discussing it with my husband and eldest daughter.
I was to deliver two bags to a very nice copyright lawyer I know – Mariette du Plessis from Adams & Adams, and while I was there I mentioned it to her. She immediately said she would like to order a few sets. Before she’s even seen the product or asked about the price. That’s how awesome she is!
Originally the idea was to make the dolls from shweshwe, Basotho blankets and African wax prints. Shweshwe and wax prints are easy enough to come by, even though shweshwe is quite expensive.
I already had some African wax prints bought for something else (you’ll see those a bit later in the year) and some shweshwe. The problem was the Basotho blankets.
I had it in my head that I would actually have to go to Lesotho to obtain those. Fortunately for me, there is a lovely Basotho lady who works with me. I asked her if she could bring me back a couple of blankets next time she goes to Lesotho. Without hesitation she said “yes, of course” and then she said “but why don’t you just buy some at the factory?” Yes, indeed, the real Basotho blankets are made right here in South Africa at a factory in Randfontein by Aranda Textiles, you can read more about the tradition around Basotho blankets on their website
ArandaTextiles are the only manufacturers of the real Basotho blanket; any others that you see are copies
Well. Of course the first chance we got, my husband drove me out to the Aranda factory (it’s actually quite a distance from us, two hour’s drive) and instead of buying only two or three as the plan was, we ended up buying a pile of blankets, because they were so much more reasonably priced than originally thought, although still veerryy expensive.
Then came the prototyping. I started making a set, and then noticed on the selvedge of the African wax prints that they all said “Made in China” or “Product of India” I went back to my fabric store and took a look at the mounds of what is classified as African wax prints. None of them seem to have been made anywhere in Africa. I did some internet research, and couldn’t find one single fabric factory in Africa that made these.
Now since my idea hangs on the “Europe meets Africa” thing, I felt that this just would not do. I want it to have an African soul. So I scrapped the wax print. I know that most people wouldn’t know the difference, but I would!
I would love to say that all of the components of the dolls are made in South Africa, or even Africa, but no-one can tell me exactly where the felt I use to for the faces, the thread I sew it with or even the acrylic stuffing originates from. But the main parts, the visible parts – the important parts, are South African.
I would love to use other Truly South African fabrics too, but since the prices are close to impossible under normal circumstances, the dolls would be unaffordably expensive. Unless there’s someone out there willing to give me a reasonable deal (hint-hint)?
I used white felt for the faces of the dolls purely for the sake of contrast. I draw the faces by hand with permanent, non-toxic ink, as I noticed that most Matryoshka dolls have simple faces and I love the look thereof.
I used white, visible thread to sew it together to emphasise the handmadeness (yes, I just invented a new word) of the dolls.
Let me tell you, those blankets are THICK,
and very hard to work with alongside the much thinner shweshwe.
I had to use a pair of utility scissors to cut it, and after cutting a few sets, my hand was aching! And it’s almost impossible to get the pieces to be exactly the same, so you’ll see at the sides they don’t match 100%. Then turning the dolls inside out after sewing ended up to be a nightmare too. You know how you normally leave only a small gap for turning and stuffing? The blanket is so thick that I tore the first one to pieces in the turning effort. So I have to leave a hugegap for turning and then having to sew that huge gap by hand afterwards.
So, now you know why a set of these dolls are on the more expensive side.
I discussed the whole thing with my lovely colleague, making sure no-one will be offended by the use of the traditional blankets, asking her advice on names, and so on. She is almost as excited as I am over the “birth” of these dolls. Thank you, Tsepiso, you are more valued and appreciated than you will ever know!
I already have ideas for modifications and embellishments, so keep an eye out for that.
When the first “real” set of prototypes was finished, my little girl loved them so very much, I gave her the big one, which has been sleeping with her ever since and even travelled with us for our long-weekend away. The middle one I gave to Tsepiso for her little girl and the third one was sent to my cousin’s little girl.
So, there you have it, the story of Lehakoe™!
© 2013 Heavenly Handmade All intellectual property rights in the design and fabric combination of the LEHAKOE™ dolls vest in Cecilia Steyn, t/a Heavenly Handmade and may not be copied or reproduced or adapted without her permission.