Shweshwe Hazel dress

Shweshwe Hazel dress Shweshwe Hazel dress
Sometime ago I got a message from Emily who has just opened her online sewing store in South Africa. She offered me a few metres of Shweshwe fabric of my choice to use for my sewing. Maybe I’m ignorant, but it was the first time I’ve ever heard about Shweshwe fabric so of course I was quite interested. When I browsed around her store and saw the fabric, I realized that I’ve seen them before but I just didn’t know the name of that fabric. The more you know!

Shweshwe is 100% cotton that is preserved with starch in the same process that was used in past centuries to enable merchants to ship the fabric on long sea shipments. The starch gives the fabric it’s distinctive stiff appearance, smell and taste. Shweshwe must be washed in cold water before sewing to remove the stiff starch.

Emily’s store, Stitch, provides Shweshwe fabric by Da Gama Textiles, one of South Africa’s oldest and leading textile companies that produces the 3 Cats brand of original Shweshwe. Dagama still produces the original Shweshwe using traditional methods. The fabric is fed through copper rollers which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing a weak acid solution to be fed into the fabric, The acid bleaches out the distinctive white patterns. For more about this fabric, you can read it in the store page here.

Very interesting, isn’t it? I love all the bright colors and the geometric patterns. I finally made a decision after spending time browsing this page, and chose this red and blue Shweshwe fabric.

Shweshwe Hazel dress
Shweshwe Hazel dress

The fabric came a couple of weeks later. The patterns are called New Mountain (red) and New Rope (blue). The fabrics were indeed covered in starch and were quite stiff. After washing them, they became softer. Not very soft though, I should say that they are a bit heavier than quilting cotton fabric. But I imagine that this fabric will become softer with every use, maybe like Indonesian batik. The colors, however, stay as bright as they are after washing! These fabrics screamed summer to me!

The width of the fabric is only 80 cm, fortunately 2 meters of it was just enough for a summer dress for me. The pattern is Hazel Dress by Colette Pattern. I cut size 0 with a bit of alteration to make the bodice smaller. Not enough fabric for the pockets though!

The dress is unlined and has an invisible zipper on the back. I made a quick muslin for the bodice first because Colette pattern bodices are always quite too big for me. The skirt is just a couple of rectangles so the sewing went quite fast. The reasonably stiff fabric made it even easier. Sometimes I didn’t even have to use pins at all.

It is starting to be quite hot around here, but I’m ready for summer! Thank you Emily!
Shweshwe Hazel dress Shweshwe Hazel dress
Shweshwe Hazel dress Shweshwe Hazel dress

Fabric is New Rope Shweshwe from Stitch in South Africa.
Pattern is Hazel Dress by Colette Pattern, size 0.

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  • I love the blue fabric. Super cute!

  • Gorgeous! I had never heard of Shweshwe fabric before, so thank you for the informative post! I’ve also always loved Colette’s Hazel – this reminds me that I’ve been meaning to make this patter forEVER!

  • isabel

    Hi Novita – love the jeans and will order this pattern for my son. He looks about the same size as your husband. I bought the new Burda jeans pattern but it is very skinny, so I haven’t actually made it up yet.
    By the way, yes, the Shweshwe will soften – after a few years of constant use you will have the most delightfully soft fabric that you are thoroughly sick of!! When I was a student it was rather trendy to make loose pants out of it – cheap and indestructible – nowadays, not so cheap, but much more variety. I am not sure if DaGama also produce this, but you get some which is double-sided ie a different print in each side. I don’t know if this kind is also made according to traditional methods, and it is slightly thicker.

  • Barbara

    How interesting about the Shweshwe fabric, and it looks great
    on you! The other color is gorgeous, too! Love reading your
    blog; you have a beautiful family! Take care!

  • Before I read through your post, I looked at your Shweshwe dress close-up photo and Indonesian batik’s pattern slipped in my mind (but off course have to omit the bright blue color)… I like your choice and the dress is perfect for summer!

  • Awesome! The dress is adorable and I loved learning about Shweshwe. The tradition and rich history make it even more appealing!

  • Bev

    What a beautiful dress. I have never heard of Shweshwe fabric before. It sounds so interesting as a fabric. . Too bad South Africa is so far away and the price of postage is horrible. As always you make the nicest clothes. Love to see what
    you will make next. Loved you husband’s jeans also . Be well and enjoy your sewing.

  • This dress is so pretty! The fabric is really interesting– I’ve never heard of it, but the process sounds so unique! Really cool!

  • That is super interesting. I had never heard about Shweshwe fabric but isn’t it great that a company is doing something the way it was done hundreds of years ago?

  • Fun to try out a new fabric. I love the detail in it! I’m hoping to work on a Hazel dress soon. I think I’ve found the perfect fabric for it. Thanks for the tip on creating a muslin for the bodice. 🙂

  • Super cute dress! I’ve never sewn a Colette pattern before, but this turned out great on you! I love the bright blue…very summery and cheery!

  • I haven’t heard of this type of fabric before but it’s very beautiful. I love your Hazle and can’t wait to see wht you do with that red fabric!

  • The fabric is beautiful and your dress is just lovely. I’ve never heard of it before either, so off to look at those links further – thanks 🙂

  • Pretty! I have never heard of that type of fabrics but I like how it shows up in the pictures. Would you recommend the hazel dress pattern for petite who are petite?

  • This is so cute! Never heard of that fabric before either but it looks pretty. Would you recommend the Hazel dress pattern for a petite person?

    • Sorry for posting twice. I thought my first post didn’t show up. :-/

    • Yes I would! It is a very simple dress and very easy to fit 🙂

  • Sarah

    Love the dress! Your blog is one of my favorites- you always provide helpful info on your alterations, which helps me get a good fit as well. I have this pattern but have been unsure how to alter- what did you do to the bodice to make it smaller?

    • I made a muslin for the bodice and basically just pinched on the seam allowances until it fits… 😛 For this dress is especially the front diagonal seams. It was quite easy for fitting because the bodice is sleeveless and has lots of vertical seams 🙂

  • Deb

    Beautiful Novita. I have been following your blog a few years now and your style is gorgeous