Just a little textile porn for my friends who are into this sort of thing…Aunt Casey and Cousin Amy, we’re speaking to you.
In 2015 we brought home a heap of khangas; the traditional swahili fabric with distinct patterns and borders, usually used for clothing. Hopefully it was okay that we instead made them into the coolest roller blinds ever. Seriously. So. Awesome.
There’s different patterns in each room – you’ll just have to come by some time and see them all – those pops of color really brighten our days! Fast forward to 2019 and it’s no surprise that we started fabric shopping as fast as we landed in Tanzania.
Tanzania has two types of what we think of as “African fabrics”: kitenge and khanga. A kitenge is a longer piece of printed cotton fabric (6 or 12 meters) that has a wax to it and a heavier weight. Mostly they are made in Congo and Nigeria (or China – apparently they have a HUGE knock-off market). The khanga is a smaller cotton printed piece that comes in one size (maybe 10ft?). They are much lighter weight and made in Tanzania or Kenya. This time, we bought some (ok, lots!) of each.
Let’s start in Kigoma where David walked us all over looking for the fabric market one day; four or five hours, but no luck. I figured maybe they didn’t sell fabric in Kigoma, just finished clothes. The next day David insisted we try again. “Anner, if at first you don’t succeed…” Ugh! Okay. Time for another hot, long walk, but what else are we doing today? Off we go. This time he led us right to the fabric market…a mere 10 meters from where we stopped the day before. So. Close. I’m super glad David made me persist.
The buying frenzy began! There were sooo many amazing prints, we just didn’t know how to choose. The lady above ended up making a fine sale of about nine pieces when the day was done! So, so, beautiful.
After buying we had a snack next to the Happiness Fashion and Curio shop. Turns out that Happiness is a person and her sister is Loveness, a tailor. When life drops that in your hands, you’d best get some clothes made!
When we picked up our custom amazing shirt and skirt (yes, we chose the fabrics at the market and have all the leftovers!), I asked if I could purchase some fabric scraps. I figure even scraps are good when the crafting itch strikes. First we had to explain what a “scrap” was. After that, Loveness said she uses all her scraps to make coasters and jewelry. Fair enough.
Next we were off to visit Monica, a hard bargaining shop owner we’d gotten some souvenirs from previously. She wanted a small fortune for her scraps and certain ones she wouldn’t sell at all, so you know she uses them. David fought hard and we came to a price we were happy with and Monica tolerated. Scraps!
The next day we were having another snack by the Happiness Shop when Loveness tells David she has a surprise for me. You guessed it — a bag of scraps! Very nice of her and it was a full on gift.
In the nearby town of Ujiji, home of the Stanley and Livingstone Museum honoring the famed meeting and “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”, we passed a seamstress and David asked if we could buy scraps. They looked very confused and dumped out a HUGE bag of scraps and told us to have our pick. When it came time to pay they said no one buys scraps and took the 10,000 TSH we offered….a little less than $5. They seemed stunned we were buying their throw-aways. You know what they say, “One women’s trash is another’s craft supply.”
Yep, buying fabric in Kigoma went swimmingly, but we weren’t done. Not by a long shot! We shipped all those babies home (hope they make it!) and headed off to Tanga, David’s home town where we bought all our fabrics in 2015. Arriving on the day before the yearly Eid celebration, the street market was exactly like a US mall on Black Friday — a place you definitely don’t want to be. It was crazy-town – a million people, lots of yelling into megaphones, hot, dusty and a seller’s market.
Lucky for us, the fabric selling area was off the main street so we had a little oasis of peace to shop in. When we found the fabrics I scanned the place and looked for the female sellers. I purchased from men in 2015 because I liked one of the khanga prints, but for the past four years I’ve regretted not supporting the women instead. If traveling has taught me anything, it’s that women take care of families so I try to buy from women as they are the best chance their kids will go to school. Okay. Editorial complete.
David negotiated a good price — about the same as 2015. I knew whatever we paid first is what we’d pay all day as all the vendors were around this concrete square. Then it was game on as Aaron and I picked three or four fabrics from each of three different women. In the end I also bought a few from one guy because, like last time, I loved one of the prints.
Remember we said we shipped home all those fabrics in Kigoma? Well, that more than tripled their cost so we decided all these Tangan ones will just travel home with us. Thank you stow-away-duffel-bag that we brought from home for literally this exact reason!
Now, what to make? What to make? Send us your ideas. What would you do with them?
Perhaps we need to build an addition so we have more windows…