African Fabrics and a New Side of Pretoria

After living in Pretoria for nearly two years now, I thought I knew the the city fairly well.  Turns out I didn’t.

I’m leaving for the US in five days, and my sister asked me to bring her some African fabrics.  I’ve seen women selling beautiful fabrics on the streets in other African countries, but I’ve never seen it sold on the streets of South Africa, so I wasn’t sure where I could pick it up for my sister.

Then last week at work, a South African co-worker named Nonjabulo was wearing a colorful head-wrap that seemed to be raw fabric.  I asked her if she knew where I could buy some locally.  She told me that she knew a place, but that she would have to take me because it would be too dangerous for me to go by myself.  “Besides,” she said.  “You’d never find it.”  I wondered for a moment if it would be worth taking my life in my hands for my sister’s recent fabric fanaticism.  But then I quickly decided to suck it up and go.

Nonjabulo and I headed out after work on Friday.  I thought the fabric store was in Sunnyside, a neighborhood a few blocks from the USAID compound in Pretoria where I work.  As diplomats, we’re told to be careful in Sunnyside.  After driving 15 or so minutes through Sunnyside, I asked Nonjabulo if we were still in Sunnyside.  The streets had become much more congested and the neighborhood much more … exotic (for lack of a better word).  Nonjabulo replied that we were now in West Pretoria.

Eesh!  As American diplomats, we’re not actually supposed to go to West Pretoria and I knew I could get in a bit of trouble from our security office if they knew I was there, but we continued onward, nonetheless.

This part of town was so different from the Pretoria I know, and I couldn’t believe I was in the same city.  It was a completely different world!

After another five minutes or so, Nonjabulo told me to pull into a parking lot.  The lot was packed but after circling a bit, we found a parking spot.  We then starting walking through a maze of shops, mostly clothing.  I’ve been in markets like this before in both the Middle East and the Far East, but this one was different; much more congested.  Also, in most of the other markets I’ve been to, there have been a fair amount of western tourists.  This market was entirely locals and I was the only westerner for miles around.

When we arrived at the fabric shop, my eyes grew large with excitement!  The colors and patterns were AMAZING!  I was specifically looking for African wax fabric, but I also bought a few samples of South African Three Cat fabric.  Have a look:

My sister is going to LOVE me!!! (If I can fit it all in my suitcase.)

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4 comments

  1. ATB · June 25

    Fabric is always the best thing to buy anywhere!
    Beautiful fabrics you found

  2. Susan Ball · June 26

    Awesome, Erin! It’s always worth it to go on an adventure and try something new.
    Gorgeous fabrics!! I am just a little jealous!

  3. austinma93 · June 28

    Did your friend tell you about washing this type of fabric? Wax prints typically need to be soaked in salt water to set the colors and even then you want to wash them separately. I just bought a bunch before leaving Mozambique and my maid insisted on processing them all for me so they wouldn’t get ruined.

    >

  4. Ray Of Africa · July 17

    These are absolutely beautiful. I wanted to buy some to incorporate into my unique Bandana designs I’ve been working on.

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