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Design Indaba Expo 2010: Heartworks Stitching Club

Teddy bears and linens colorfully hand-embroidered by a women's club in South Africa

by Brian Fichtner in Design on 07 March 2010

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Nestled in a small display cube within the Cape Craft and Design Institute's exhibition at the recent Design Indaba expo, Heartworks Stitching Club's hand-embroidered teddy bears immediately caught our attention with their bold colors and one-of-a-kind appliqué.

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Founded by Margaret Woermann, owner of the Cape Town crafts boutique Heartworks, the Club began over five years ago in an effort to empower local craftswomen while contributing to the city's creative pulse. With early assistance from Durban needlecraft artist and women's self-help teacher Leonie Malherbe, the stitching club started as a core group of local Cape Town women. Several years later, it's evolved to include over 30 members, from Xhosa speaking participants to men and women from Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Central to the process of creating the bears (comprised of over 20 pieces), is a celebration of the individual. Woermann, who mainly assists with orders and material procurement, leaves the creative process entirely to the embroiderers, who develop their own particular design language.

The resulting collection, beautifully patterned with animals, people, houses, flowers and other whimsical imagery, has already been quite successful—recent examples include substantial orders for the Gap and a children's project in Afghanistan—but the stitching club produces a multitude of other products, including pillows, tablecloths and hearts. The thread connecting all the efforts is the conviction that a skilled community can produce desirable products of enduring value. Woermann writes: "I believe that the time for subsidized projects—'buy me because you feel sorry for me'—in this country is over, and that a project that is self-sustaining and produces beautiful work—'buy me because I am beautiful'—is the way forward."

We think the Heartworks Stitching Club is ripe for some forward-thinking design collaborations. If you're interested in working with them, or if you'd like to order a bear (pricing ranges from R295 to R695 depending on the size) contact Margaret at woermann [at] iafrica [dot] com. Check out more images after the jump.

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