On Rain and the Night Sky

I am wallowing in the green relief brought by summer rains. So, that’s the first part of this post. And now to write about a recent quilting adventure.

The theme for the 2021 Brother South Africa quilting contest is Africa Inspired! It is a well-known fact that the natural beauty in this part of the world is spectacular. The inspiration is endless and at first I could not think what to do for my entry in the competition. One of the basic rules for writers is to start with what you know, and perhaps it was this piece of wisdom that prompted the bright idea to start with the fabric (rather than an image). So I focussed on shweshwe, that distinctive African fabric.

To digress a little and to quote from a previous post: “The word shweshwe is pronounced as it is spelt. There is a long story of how this indigo printed European fabric came to be popular and acculturalised in South Africa. When I was a girl we called it German print. Apparently the name shweshwe came to be used because French missionaries in the 1840s gave the cloth to Lesotho’s King Moshoeshoe I as a gift. It was known in Lesotho as shoeshoe, after the King. The word was later modified to shweshwe (www.dagama.co.za).”

There are now a plethora of shweshwe designs in a range of colours. A distinctive feature of contempoary shweshwe cloth is the intricate circular motif in many of the designs. It is easy to imagine these dotted circles as stars. This led to the decision to stitch the African night sky. Anyone who has been to the Karoo will know that the stars there shine brilliantly and brightly. One of South Africa’s greatest writers, Herman Charles Bosman, claimed that the stars are closer in the Groot Marico (the area where he sets his stories). I trust he would agree that this statement is also true of the stars that shine over the Karoo. But I digress again. Here is the quilt I made, using the circular motifs to represent the stars in the African sky.

Night Sky. 70 x 70 cm.

The motifs were cut from three different shweshwe fabrics and appliquéd onto the reverse side of a square of shweshwe cloth. This happily contains the Three Cats stamp, also in a circular format, which was incorporated into the design. The “stars” were hand stitched onto the background, using gold thread. Sections were hand quilted with the same gold thread and then the piece was machine quilted in curved lines, using my walking foot. A happy discovery was rayon thread in a gold colour. This thread stitched perfectly, with no snapping and snarling (as metallic thread can do) and gave a nice gold shimmer to the work. I snapped the photograph below while stitching the curved lines.

I must give credit to Leah Day, whose website Master Walking Foot Quilting was most helpful and clear. One of her tips is not to make too sharp a bend in the curve when quilting wavy lines. I did not follow this advice and regretted it. It was indeed very difficult to negotiate those sharp curves with my walking foot. (The reason for ignoring the tip was that I wanted the machine quilting to follow the line of the “milky way”.)

And that’s the story behind my Night Sky quilt. It is bound with a striped Kaffe Fassett fabric.

Starting Block

Here is a sneak preview of what is currently under my machine. I am bonding beautifully with my brand new Bernina B435. Thank you again Bernina for drawing my name out of the hat at the end of the Round Robin challenge.

25 thoughts on “On Rain and the Night Sky

  1. What a beautiful piece! And very fitting to the theme in my opinion. One of the things I vividly recall from the one trip I made to South Africa is the huge number of stars that we could see in the night sky during a night tour we did in a wild park. I had never seen so many stars at the same time! There is just too much light pollution in Europe.


  2. I enjoy seeing where the theme takes you, Mariss. While I haven’t experienced the African night sky, I have experienced the night skies of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area (knowns as the BWCAW or BWCA). With no city lights the stars come out in abundance, so your quilt reminds me of them. I love the quilting, and had I done it, I would’ve been a renegade with that Milky Way quilting, too. When there’s a will, there’s a way – right?!


    1. Of course the stars also shine on America ! The BWCAW sounds exciting and magical.
      So glad my quilt reminded you of seeing abundant stars. Thanks for your kind comments on the quilting and for your solidarity regarding the milky quilting way. Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I did unpick a few of the raggedly stitched curves and smoothed them out with some hand stitched disguised as machine stitches. Ha!


  3. Thank you again for introducing me to shweshwe cloth…I found a wealth of info online about its origins and continued uses within indigenous communities. An African gem that is giving back to it’s peoples, for sure…and to us ordinary quilter-types as well.


  4. Mariss, just wow and amazing – the talent you have to respond to a theme that fits with your ideals. As for winning a machine, I think I may have missed that post – but still having new “gadgets” is always a nice addition to ones craft…


  5. Oh, wow! Beautiful artwork, Mariss. And the story behind your Night Sky quilt makes it even more beautiful as it reminds me of home. I learned my first entrepreneurial lessons from the age of 10 at my mother’s store (in the countryside) selling Da Gama fabrics to the locals. And yes, isiShweshwe was called German prints, in those days. 😀


    1. Oh, how cloth can make connections. I am moved by your isiSheweshwe story. It was from such a store that I first bought it to make a skirt, and in those days it was only available in blue or brown prints


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