fairylight beadwork

The current development and appreciation of this work, is kept within the paradigm of oral history (as it is undocumented) risking disappearance once this generation passes on:


Hats: Large cone shaped headdresses called inhloko/ischolo attenuate the heads and necks of married women. Today these hats are made from string and cotton, whereas hats in other parts of Zululand were traditionally made from gathered hair. Wire templates in various shapes, worked with plastic beads decorate the surface of these hats with a variety of stylized flowers, butterflies and soccer motifs. The finished designs radiate outwards as much as 60-80 cm from the hat, using the face as a focal point. These hats illustrate a division of labour as men suggest and design the templates while women execute the product, a dual crafting method unique only to this particular area.
Beads on garments: Today beads used on hats and garments are plastic, not glass. Plastic is cheaper implying a shift from traditional practice for economic expediency. Previously on garments, beads were woven into square or rectangular designs as autonomous panels. Now they are visually more fully integrated into the costume and part of the larger design. A larger scale of bead is preferred suggesting change to designs with organic shapes, as assembly is faster and pieces are easily recycled and adapted.
Coloured beads are encrusted into groups directly sewn onto fabric adding a sculptural dimension to the garment. At night, this would be heightened when one imagines the magical effect of flickering firelight playing over the surface of this bead work. From the bottom of skirts the hanging additions of beads, small bells, curtain rings and pull tops, besides being kinetic, have an auditory effect. A happy sound.
The regular pace of walking for the wearer, creates a rhythmic beat when the beads slap against the stiff undergarments adding an additional sensory experience to these garments. The sheer weight of these costumes and hats causes the wearer to move slowly changing the body language, pace and movement of the individual. This aspect adds gravitas and grace to their bearing giving these women an air of dignity and authority. The importance of this work is that the roots of Zulu culture are nurtured and perpetuated for their children in contemporary times by the sheer will and artistic personality of these remarkable women.