26 April 2013 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Abafazi: Turning crochet into design

Elouise van der Merwe – working with the women of Lydenburg, photographer Kim van Rensburg and stylist Trevor Conn – is pushing the boundaries of design to create unique and beautiful items of clothing and homeware.

Abafazi founder Elouise van der Merwe. All pictures courtesy Kim van Rensburg

Elouise van der Merwe’s enthusiasm for the unfettered pursuit of creativity animates her every word – 'Although I’m sure some people think I’m plain crazy,' she says, speaking from her home in the small town of Lydenburg in Mpumalanga.

She is the organising force behind Abafazi, an informal, collaborative project that is giving the art of crochet a new lease on life, and giving the small group of women she works with a wonderful creative outlet.

I feel in my heart I am trying to tell a story. We learn more about what we’re doing with every piece we create.

When Elouise moved to Lydenburg about six years ago, the mom/architect/designer learnt about a project at the local church, where Tannie Hannie van der Merwe had been teaching women to crochet since the early 1990s. While Elouise has always been interested in design, she’s seldom seen it better expressed than in the honesty and authenticity that she finds in the work of Abafzi, where artists like Gladys Dube and Sara Mtweni show an innate feel for texture, colour and gorgeous beadwork.

Elouise was excited about the potential of the work that the women were doing and asked some of them to collaborate with her. Today, this small group is using crochet to create funky, original clothing designs and homeware.

While at first Abafazi was a way for Elouise to involve herself in the life of the town, it’s been more rewarding and educational than she could have imagined. Her interest in a more authentic approach to design has changed how she sees herself and the town she lives in. 'I feel in my heart I am trying to tell a story. We learn more about what we’re doing with every piece we create.'

She is careful to stress the organic nature of the project, which isn’t part of a grand social or commercial scheme. 'Nothing is prescribed; I work with how people are comfortable working, and most of it is done from home,' she explains. There is nothing pretentious, or pious, in her approach. She laughs often with a mix of self-reflective humour, and empathy and insight that allow her to see the women she works with as artists in need of a creative outlet.

Working like this makes for a slow process and, at present, Elouise herself buys most of what her team creates; 'We don’t really sell it yet as we’re not ready for that.'

Perhaps it’s this exploratory approach that has attracted professional photographer Kim van Rensburg to the project, along with renowned stylist Trevor Conn. Both have collaborated with Abafazi on a number of occasions, facilitating photo shoots with local models that show off some of the team’s gorgeous creations.

'I think the motivation for all of us comes from enjoying the freedom of being creative,' says Elouise. 'When you do something creative for a job it is easy to get stuck in a rut and miss the new and scary stuff.'

For more information, contact Elouise on + 27 (0)72 443 4815, or email evdm1@mobileemail.vodafonesa.co.za. Visit Kim’s new website, www.kimtracey.co.za, and find out more about Trevor here: www.trevorconn.co.za.

comments powered by Disqus