The Shweshwe Corset Part 1: The Fabric

Shweshwe corset pattern on blue shweshwe fabric

The first project for this all exclusive corsetry blog: the Shweshwe corset! This is a project that I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, ever since I ran rampant in a fabric store, feeling up all the Shweshwe and fantasising about what a fantastic material it is for corset making.

Shweshwe is a 100% cotton fabric manufactured in the traditional way using copper rollers which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing the transfer of a weak discharge solution onto the fabric. While this fabric is now inherently very African, it initially came from India and was brought to South Africa by German settlers. It was first adopted by the Xhosa who made it their own and began adapting it to give it the uniquely African feel that it retains to this day.

Traditional African woman wearing Shweshwe

Shweshwe as it is still worn in parts of Africa. Note the mix of colonial style and the more traditional African influences. Photo from Injabulo

Fashionable Shweshwe dress

Fashion Shweshwe: outfit by South African designer Bongiwe Walaza

These days it is hot stuff in the fashion industry and this is why  just had to get on the bandwagon and make some Shweshwe creations of my very own!

While you’re looking at African fabrics, make sure to check out these Commemorative Cloths or fancy prints as well. 

The Shweshwe that I chose was probably not the best design for the type of corset I decided to make, but it is beautiful and very feminine, which makes it ideal for my purposes. This particular cloth is designed with the panels of a skirt in mind, and the panels can be clearly seen on this image.


Close up of Shweshwe

Close up of ShweshweAfter the first wash the fabric felt significantly softer and more pliable, since the starch left over from the printing process had now been completely removed. This left me a bit worried that it might not be the best material for corsetry after all. I decided to make the base of the corset out of plain cotton twill which will be stronger and less likely to stretch or distort, and then use the Shweshse only as the decorative outer layer and the plain Shweshwe for the lining.

Now on to the pattern –>