The Life of Indian Fabric

The life of fabric is an interesting and sometimes lengthy journey. Before a garment of clothing arrives in your closet it can have lived a very long life through several countries and even continents passing through hundreds of hands. While traveling through Rajasthan India searching for Indian fabric, I was able to see first hand just how enchanting its journey can be.

Women of Jaipur wearing Indian fabric

Women dressed in colorful saris walk down the street in Jaipur’s pink city near Hawa Mahal.

On the rattling bus to Pushkar from Jaipur I gazed out the window at the woman walking past dressed in rainbow pop-colored saris and pondered the life of fabric. Having just spent a week in Jaipur sourcing textiles from bazaars and dealers I had seen so many exquisite pieces of Indian fabric both old and new, some as old as 150 years. I had also spent a few days in Saganeer and Bagru where the traditional age-old block printing technique originates. In the villages there, literally in every back garden or out in the countryside on sugar cane farms, you’ll find the artisans, creating prints from small wooden blocks or large metal screens onto meters upon meters of mostly cottons and silks.

Indian fabric traditional dyeing technique

At Block Print House in Bagru, Deepak’s 80 year old father has been following the journey of a fabric’s life for 40 years. He uses mango leaves to naturally dye cotton green. He sinks the fabric in the boiling vat using a wooden stick to absorb the dye.

My travel companion, South African artist, Lyndi Sales, decided to do a 3 day course in Indian block printing and natural dying at the Block Print House in Bagru to learn the ancient technique herself. She explained later that she wished she had more time. 3 days just wasn’t enough to transform a piece of cotton into a work of art. Deepak, in his early thirties, who runs the family business – Block Print House, explained to us that the craft had been in his family for over 100 years with the technique passed down from generation to generation. Over a boiling vat of mango leaves coloring its water a deep green, we met Deepak’s father, a happy and hard-working man. In the distance bold yellow pieces of cloth fluttered in the heated breeze strewn across a rope tied from tree to tree. On another stretch of land laid dozens of long pieces of cotton dyed indigo drying on the grass in the sun awaiting their next phase. The indigo pieces once dried, would soon be moved inside onto the long wooden tables where a group of young men were working. There, they would be stretched across the canvas-covered tables and printed by hand with wooden blocks. The wooden blocks are chiseled into flower, shell or geometric designs used to stamp the fabric in an alternative dye color. Sometimes the designs are multi-faceted with a block print within a block print. The possibilities are literally endless.

Indian fabric prints are made using chiseled wooden blocks

An artesian is seen here chiseling a wooden block used in Indian Block Printing.

Various sized wooden blocks used to print on Indian fabric

Wooden blocks made as stamps for the Indian fabric come in all shapes, sizes and designs.

Indian fabric getting block printed at the Block Print House

At work; block-printing Indian fabric stretched over a long canvas-covered table at Block Print House in Bagru.

And then there were the pieces of cloth that we came upon in bazaars after talking with knowledgable Indian fabric merchants who collect vintage fabrics throughout India. It is not unusual for a piece of cloth to act as an heirloom within a family. A cross stitch door hanging for instance can be symbolic of their Hindu religion incorporating various gods and animals onto the cloth and hung in sacred spaces for protection. Some of the most beautiful pieces of Indian fabric I came upon in Jaipur were 150 year old off cuts from dresses that had been hand-picked and collected by fabric merchants. Some of the villages were so remote that the merchants did not trade in money, but rather in spices, appliances or other necessities. I decided to buy a dozen of the off cuts and use some of the block printed silks and cottons I had bought to re-design new dresses incorporating the heritage fabrics into contemporary designs. My intention was to not let this fabric’s journey end.

Women in a Factory working with Indian fabric

A piece of block-printed Indian fabric has already had a very long life before it ends up on a manufacturing table at this factory in Saganeer.

Indian fabric on the road in a truck

Stacks of folded block-printed Indian fabric are loaded onto a truck to be transported to their next destination. Transport trucks like this one in Jaipur are commonly adorned with intricate designs and drawings of the Hindu Gods.

As the bus pulled into Pushkar an ancient Hindu city surrounded a holy lake, I thought about the story behind the sacred city. According to Hindu theology, the lake at Pushkar was created by Lord Shiva’s tears, which he is believed to have shed after the death of his wife, Sati. The story goes that when Sati died, Shiva cried so much and for so long, that his tears created two holy ponds, one at Pushkar in Ajmer and the other at Ketaksha, which literally means raining eyes in Sanskrit. Seldomly in India, is there a city or place that does not have an intricate story attached giving it sacred status and a deeper meaning. So too could be said for the fabric of this region where a piece of Indian fabric is not just a piece of cloth but has its own story, creative origin and ongoing journey.

Sneak Peak into the Indian fabric collection that will be on sale soon

One part vintage off- cut, one part cotton ikat, one part block printed cotton silk = A sneak peak of Amy on a Journey’s India- the Life of Fabric collection coming soon.

To view AMY ON A JOURNEY’s,  INDIA -Life of Fabric collection, stay tuned on Instagram  (amyjourney) for the next pop up exhibition!

If you miss the pop-ups, don’t worry! Amy on a JOURNEY will be trading at SPIRITFEST in March 2018.  Hope to see you all there!

Sat nam x









Best Craft Markets of Oaxaca, Mexico


Locals at Tlacolula market selling organic cofffee from the region. Every Sunday locals gather by the thousands to trade craft, crops and other essentials.

My fascination with Oaxaca all began when wandering through the markets of Rosarito, in the northern Baja Peninsula of Mexico. All the incredible handmade embroidery of cloth came from this area, as did art about the dead, black pottery and two of my favorite addictions coffee and chocolate. I had to go.

2 weeks later I was on a plane via Mexico City to Oaxaca City deep in the southern central tip of Mexico. What I did not realize until I arrived was that it was not just the burgeoning cultural capital city but the entire region of Oaxaca that was rich with artisan craft. Markets were not just confined to the city limits. There were different markets for everyday of the week and artisans would gather outside of churches and alongside thousand year old spiritual ruins to trade sometimes even without money but in commodities of other resources that they needed. This place was beyond my imagination and expectation.

Here is my list of the BEST MARKETS OF OAXACA



In Oaxaca City itself you will find the wonderful bustling market of Benito Juarez, which is divided into 2 large squares of stalls right across the cobblestone street from one another. One is the craft side and the other is the food side of the market. This market is exceptional because here you will find textiles, rugs, embroidery, mescal, hats, baskets, candies, leather even crispy crickets (a Oaxaca delicacy) from all 8 regions of Oaxaca. You can generally find everything you may find in the outlaying markets but for a fractionally increased price. Benito Juarez is open everyday of the week including Sunday.


Women from Oaxaca weave color baskets outside Benito Juarez Market in the heart of the city.


Just a few blocks from Benito Juarez you will find the artisan market in Oaxaca city. Here is where you will find the best quality craft of mostly cloth within the city. Artisans send usually another family member to come into the city from outside regions of Oaxaca to trade their craft. You will find similar craft at Benito Juarez but a more extensive collection especially of embroidery. This market is quiet and relatively small, a few rows of stalls inside but it is packed with intricate designs from all 8 regions and certainly worth a visit if it is handmade craft you are interested in. Spend a bit of time in each stall, as there is variety and hidden gems at each trader’s spot you just may have to go through the stacks to find them.



Located 44 kilometers east of Oaxaca City

Mitla is a very spiritual and important site to the Zapotec culture. The name Mitla is derived from Nahuatl name Mictlan, meaning place of the dead while the Zapotecan name is Lyobaa meaning place of the rest. The ruins here are unique because of complex building of tombs and walls decorated with elaborate mosaics of fretworks dating back to 900 BC. Mitla was the main religious center for the Zapotecan people dating back to pre- Columbian time representing the beliefs of Mesoamerican s that death was the most consequential part of life after birth. They had incredibly sophisticated systems of construction, writing, calendar, agriculture and irrigation long before the Spanish arrived. It was in Mitla that the Zapotecs built this gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

On the outskirts of the ruins is the market place composed of several dozen stalls trading alongside ancient cacti. The embroidery and cloth is extensive and you will most likely meet the actual artisan or someone from their family here trading.


Located 32 kilometers southeast of Oaxaca City.

Tlacolula market is the largest and oldest indigenous open-air market in Mesoamerica. For hundreds of years locals from the area have been gathering here to trade in crops and craft on market day every Sunday. The market stretches nearly 2 miles long and sellers from throughout the region come to trade their harvests here to other locals from the area. This is generally a food market; though you can find craft it will not be as extensive in quality and quantity. The trading happens outside the 17th century Dominican complex. There is amazing people watching to be done here and a real feast for the senses! Don’t miss it on a Sunday!


Located 29 kilometers south of Oaxaca City

Every Friday is market day at Santo Tomas Jalieza. The art market lies between the church and the courthouse. Not only can you meander through the market stalls of artisans displaying their work of belts, bags, rugs and anything else they weave on the loom, but you can even go into some of the local artists homes and observe how the products are made on the original looms.


Located 28 Kilometers southeast of Oaxaca City

The market area in this small town brings together many of the town artisans and vendors every Monday to trade their unique rugs of this area. Weaving in this village dates back to 500BC. Though the earliest weavings were made using cottons today they are loomed with wool. The designs here are incredible and extremely intricate and are from not only the Zapotec but also the Navajo and also more contemporary designs. Many of the dyes are made from natural products such as a small insect called conchinilla, plants and roots. The looms are all hand –operated, and weaving is done by both men and women.

Topiaries From the Elgin Valley

In the heart of the Elgin Valley on Brookelands farm, men and women of the Grabouw community are gathering seeds, sticks, leaves, stems and flowers to create holiday-inspired, handmade topiaries. Andrea’s Topiary Creations employs disadvantaged men and women from the local farm community to craft and create the topiaries. My partner Grant and I made the trip out, just an hour outside Cape Town, to visit Andrea’s Topiaries and meet some of the talented crafters who make these creations by hand.

Local crafter, Franklin, uses indigenous cape fynbos to create handmade topiaries in the Elgin Valley.

Local crafter, Franklin, uses indigenous cape fynbos to create handmade topiaries in the Elgin Valley.

The farm boosts generations of bursting protea bushes and all sorts of indigenous Cape fynbos. At the moment the farm grows oranges and lemons, but is moving towards growing only blueberries in the near future. On the farm, guests can stay at the cosy, charming stone cottage for two and meander through all the botanical life with a natural stream running right under your doorstep. All of the “farm charm” can be thanks to Andrea’s elegant style and Rob, her husband’s love of the bush, farming and creating amazing spaces in nature.

A glimpse of county farm life in the main house on Brookelands Farm.

A glimpse of county farm life in the main house on Brookelands Farm.

What started as a hobby for farm owner, Andrea, and her daughter Kate fourteen years ago has developed into a thriving business supplying locally sourced and community crafted topiary creations to the hotel and interior design industries. Cape indigenous foliage is used to create works of art in the form of bunnies, reindeer, wreaths, trees, hearts, baskets and more.


This holiday season why not gift the ones you love with a locally- made, indigeously crafted topiary. The holiday forest scent lasts for years and each creation is treated to maintain its colour indefinitely. It’s a gift that keeps on giving year after year.

Hand- Crafted Baskets of Africa Take Time and Patience

Hand- crafted baskets from Southeast Africa take time and patience when ordering in large quantities, but the wait is certainly worth it.

In a quieter part of the world, one which is out of reach to the internet and the spinning worlds of social media and Amazon.com, where nothing is just a click away, but rather seasonal and controlled by the rains, is where villages lie under dozens of species of palm trees. It is here in Southeast Africa in Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa where many of the world’s baskets are woven into works of art and then distributed through the world to become household items that are as common as a laundry basket.

Satrana woven baskets. A specific weave endemic to Mozambique

When ordering satrana woven baskets and pouches, one can chose either natural or colour, from this one supplier, however, one can not chose the specific color. Papyrus supplies can sometimes be limited in villages and they get what they get in terms of coloured papyrus.

Satrana is a certain kind of weave specific to Mozambique. Baskets are commonly woven with the non-threathened papyrus grass. Recently I had a customer contact me, inquiring about lead times for this specific satrana woven basket. There are a handful of suppliers in Cape Town trading in baskets made in Mozambique and Madagascar. Headaches can be many when dealing with a world that is almost off the grid, yet produces some of the most beautiful handmade craft in all the world. Suppliers in Cape Town first need to pinpoint the crafters in the villages, establish that they are using non-threathened palms and then employ entire villages to meet heavy demands and big orders from the Western World. One really needs to appreciate that beautifully crafted things take time and patience, a lot of patience. Lead times for orders of 1000 can take up to 6 months in some instances.

Basket Handbags

These satrana woven pouches have strings attached and make a beautiful summer handbag. They retail between R250- R500.

One supplier decided to try to bridge the gap between long lead times and bigger orders. The supplier imported Raffia in rolls from Madagascar, to meet orders more efficiently and produce baskets locally in Cape Town using the traditional woven method. This way a supplier can have control over the process, not needing to worry about containers being shipped over the Indian Ocean, or rains causing delays in production. The raffia also becomes a more cost-effective way to ship as the weave is more pliable and can be compressed when packed, eliminating added air space and decreasing volume and therefore freight cost.

For more information on bulk ordering these beautiful baskets: availability and supplier cost and style comparisons please contact amyonajourney@gmail.com


MADWA, woven crafts Madagascar to Swaziland

MADWA, based in Cape Town, South Africa, is a social upliftment project working with artisans in Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. All woven crafts of Madagascar products are made using natural sustainable materials and each product is hand crafted by the traditional weavers empowering individuals and often times entire communities to use their craft skill to achieve economic stability and independence.

Madwa boasts a large range of products including baskets using papyrus, clutches and bags made of raffia and papyrus, bins, laundry baskets and large baskets made from umtsala, crocheted floor mats using grass, textiles of lambas: hand-woven, cotton throws and woolen blankets; all handmade locally using traditional craft.

My most favorite addition to the Madwa’s range are the raffia crocheted throw pillows with feather down inners. At 60 cm x 60 cm they make a perfect throw cushion, large enough to sit on and beautifully crafted for a sun-deck or porch.

Woven throw pillows madagascar

Raffia crocheted throw pillows

To request a catalogue and prices of Madwa’s current range please contact by email: amyonajourney@gmail.com


Design for Tomorrow: Open Design Festival in Cape Town


Can design change the world? According to The Open Design Festival, who opens their neon green programme with a quote from possibly the greatest thinker of all time, Albert Einstein, it can and it is. Einstein said, We cannot solve the complex challenges of the future by doing what we’ve done in the past. We need to think and act differently.” How do we get everyone to think outside the box when we’ve predominantly been taught to stay within the lines?

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The Open Design Festival is being held in 4 locations across Cape Town: Woodstock, V&A Waterfront, City Hall and Langa from 13-23 August 2015. It aims to inspire new ways of thinking with a host of mediums to activate our minds from workshops on architecture for children to expos of vintage toys to rails of nouveau African chic to talks on career, education, and socio-economic development not much is left to the wayside. And much if not most of the festival is free of charge thanks to The City of Cape Town and an array of creative sponsors.

As anything vintage always peaks my interest, I began the Open Design Festival at the charming and historical location of Cape Town’s City Hall. On the 2nd floor of the City Hall in a room all to its great own, were hundreds of decade-old toys arranged as art around the room. I have always loved toys: plastic, tin, wood, anything with a bright demeanor to bring a child’s face to life. For some people, toys are seen as clutter not to be included in the decor throughout one’s home of design and modern satisfaction. I have never seen toys that way, and it was inspiring to see an entire exhibited celebrating toys as art.

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For fashion, there were many exciting new designers to peak my interest, including AYA, who uses African textiles combined with tailored cuts to give the African chic a powerful lift. I found an incredible vintage coat, that at first sight looked more like a couch on a hanger but once on it was a 70s retro-piece of note with linear quilted genuine leather panels and big green coat buttons. Belted, she was a complete score! This find was found on The Godmother’s rails whose collections can be viewed regularly along with other collectors at The Threads Project at 349 Albert Road in Woodstock.

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Down the passage past the collections of ART books on tattoos and raw food cooking for kids, was an interesting stop at a Maker’s Station where one could watch art in its process at the Exhibit: Lessons in Transformation by artists Katherine Bull and Warren Editions collaborating in print, engraving and performance about none other than the great Nelson Mandela’s famous speech within those very walls at the Cape Town City Hall. Next door were two more giant rooms filled with some of South Africa’s most celebrated artists making their customary provocative statements. Works by Brett Murray, William Kentridge and Christo Basson were just some of the thought provoking art on exhibit in an initiative called HOST.


Brett Murray


If what you see at the Open Design Festival isn’t enough to get you thinking outside the box, then perhaps it will awaken your heart. To quote one of William Kentridge’s pieces now on exhibit at the City Hall, “If you have no eye then use your heart.

Dassies by Christo Basson

Dassies by Christo Basson