The Eersterivier Embroidery Project near Tsitsikamma in the scenic southern Cape has turned around the lives of 70 women who had little or no income before. You’ll find their brightly decorated squares appearing on bags, placemats, quilts and pot-holders at a number of shops in the Tsitsikamma area.

Did you know?

Social workers find that stitching and colours chosen reflect the embroiderers' emotional states.

The story of the Eersterivier Embroidery Project started in 1998, at a weekly prayer meeting in the Tsitsikamma area of the southern Cape.

One of the farmer's wives of that dairy-farming region suggested regular meetings with the often-impoverished women who lived and worked on farms here.

The monthly meetings were a great success, and from them, several projects were launched, including the Eersterivier Embroidery Project, which started in 2003.

It began with an initial order for decorated pot-holders - which sold out in a matter of weeks.

Now there are 70 women in the Tsitsikamma area making brightly embroidered cloth squares.

With needle and thread, the women illustrate simple hand-drawn designs of country scenes: birds, sheep, people, flowers, chickens.

The women embroider from home, in their own time. For most it's a welcome addition to the family coffers - used for their children's education, clothes, appliances, insurance or savings. For others, it's their only income.

The women are paid per embroidered square produced, and the fact that their names are part of the work is a source of great pride.

But producing the embroidery is only the first part of the story. Nearby is the pretty Moravian Mission village of Clarkson, 170 years old. The Clarkson Sewing Project, under the leadership of Victoria Lawack, puts the final touches to the embroidered squares.

Victoria's group of a dozen seamstresses take each square and put it on a backing of shweshwe, a traditional African fabric. Then the product is fashioned into bags, pot-holders, tablecloths, ponchos and placemats, ready for sale under the label ‘Tsitsikamma Eersterivier Embroidery'.

The original farmers' wives, haven't stopped there, incidentally. Now they're busy uplifting one of the local schools: creating a library and computer room, vegetable gardens and a preschool.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Eersterivier Project Organisation
Tel: +27 (0)83 613 0274 (Leonie De Lange)

Oudebosch Farm Stall
Tel: +27 (0)42 285 0562 (Dewald Niemann)

How to get here

The easiest place to view a good selection of the Eersterivier embroidery products is at the Oudebosch Farm Stall. From Tsitsikamma, heading towards Port Elizabeth, you'll see the Eersterivier-Kareedouw road. Turn off the N2 and head for a few kilometres towards the sea. You'll soon encounter a crossroads, where Oudebosch is situated.

Around the area

You could go cheese-tasting, try a canopy tour, bungi-jump, or simply enjoy a walk through the forest in this beautiful part of South Africa.

Where to stay

There are many options in the Tsitsikamma area, including the Tsitsikamma National Park.

What to eat

Oudebosch Farm Stall serves great coffee and cakes. They also have South African specialities like roosterkoek and bobotie.

Best buys

Take home some embroidered placemats or a quilt - it will likely become a family heirloom.