Friday, July 3, 2015

We're All Ears :: July Inspiration

When I was attending the UW-Madison campus in the late 80s-early 90s the most popular class to take was African 210: The African Storyteller. This class was taught by the dynamic and engaging Professor Harold Scheub. He was well known on campus and over his 40+ years there he taught the African Storyteller class to over 22,000+ students!

I remember coming into the lecture hall for the first time. It was jam-packed, one of the largest on campus in Bascom Hall. I am sure it was a fire hazard as every seat was taken, and people were standing or sitting in the aisles. He would pass around these clipboards that had lists of the class names and you would be required to sign in that you were there. Attendance was mandatory. And you better not be a minute late. That was never tolerated.

Prof. Scheub was a masterful storyteller, although he would say otherwise. I believe that his time spent with these skilled tale-tellers taught him a thing or two! He artfully mixes ancient tales with modern literature, giving us a glimpse of this faraway land through words. Armed with a clunky tape recorder, Scheub lived among the people for 10 years in Southern Africa and logged four of those years walking the tip of the continent and logged over 6,000 miles. He could speak many languages, including the clicks and clacks of the Xhosa tongue along with Swahili, and Yoruba. He collected over 10,000 examples of this rich oral tradition, including some epic tales that would go on for days.

If you are interested, here is a little video of Prof. Scheub as I remember him telling one of his favorite tales, The Tale of the Beautiful Partridge.

Quite by accident, I stumbled on the primitive folk art quilts of the Siddi people. Coincidentally, an exhibit of these quilts was mounted by a professor of art at UW-Madison named Henry John Drewal called Soulful Stitching.

The Siddi peoples of Karnataka (a South Western part of India) are descendants of early African immigrants and slaves brought to India by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. They escaped slavery and moved to the Karnataka area to form their own independent African diaspora community.

They have maintained their African customs and identity while also adopting and adapting many aspects of Indian cultures. The patchwork quilts, known as kawandi, have a uniquely African vibe to them. You can spot them hanging on the lines to dry and draped over walls, each with a highly individualistic look that gives it sort of a fingerprint of the maker as well as special touches for the one who has been gifted this quilt. Often these quilts are given to children, hanging in their suspended cradles, to comfort them during the monsoon season.

The textiles mix together a well-worn array of discarded clothing fabrics in vibrant colors, and I think that each one really tells a story. While each quilter has a distinct style, they all seem to share the same opinions as to quality, beauty and the need to "finish properly" the corners. They use triangular patches called phulas or flowers, to add that little bit of flair to the edges. Crosses or crescents are sometimes incorporated into their designs for women who are Catholic or Muslim. Baby quilts in particular are often bejeweled with lots of small, colorful patches called tikeli. The back of the quilts are discarded sari silks.

Per Prof. Drewal, Siddi quilt making can be either a solitary or communal event, with a large one taking up to 4 months to complete.. "The quilters start at one of the corners of the sari and work their way around it, usually in a counterclockwise direction," he says. "They fix patches made from the family's old clothing to the sari with a running back stitch that eventually covers the entire quilt, both patchwork top and sari bottom. Some quilters create small, close-spaced stitches, others spread them further apart. The stitches exhibit a distinctive rhythm that is part of the individual quilter's visual signature."

Prof. Drewal has set up the Siddi Women's Quilting Cooperative to sell the quilts as an income generating project. He also takes the 32 quilts to display them in galleries around the country. Wouldn't it be amazing to own a piece like this filled with light and love and history?

Our inspiration for July are these folk art patchwork quilts from the African diaspora Siddi peoples. I think that they look like visual stories played out in bright colors and special fabrics.

Show us your interpretation of this primitive African art and storytelling.

To participate in the We're All Ears creative challenge:

Make earrings inspired by this inspiration.
Write a post on your blog.
Add your exact blog post URL link to the
InLinkz code right here on 
Friday, July 17th.


  1. Oh I love this concept, I just started making pendants out of fabric patches and i think i'll make earrings too now

  2. I love storytelling and quilts so this is especially interesting to me.

  3. I love it I am in the middle of making a quilt right now for my daaughter so I can relate perfectly!