Not so lost in Lesotho

Today’s post is very, very special. My friend, Jen, a talented spinner/knitter/weaver herself, writes about her experiences travelling to Lesotho and the significance of the yarn industry there.

As a dedicated knitter I try to do my bit for yarn tourism whenever I go anywhere. I was recently visiting my friend, Mahesh, in Lesotho and Felicia has graciously granted me guest blogging rights to tell you about my yarn experiences there.

Some of you may not know where Lesotho is. I didn’t, until Mahesh moved there and I looked it up on a map. It is a small, mountainous country completely surrounded by South Africa. The mountains provide plenty of grazing land and as a result the Basotho people raise a lot of livestock — including sheep and goats. I strongly suspect (based purely on speculative observation, not statistics) that there may be more sheep, cattle, horses and goats in Lesotho than people — you can’t go anywhere without seeing some sort of grazing animal, usually accompanied by a herdboy dressed in Basotho blanket and some sort of hat. Some of you will be familiar with lovely South African mohair (for instance, Be Sweet, which you can find here in Vancouver at Urban Yarns) — well, Lesotho produces mohair as well. So I was pretty excited to see what Basotho yarn tourism had to offer.

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Rug weaving

First, I visited Elelloang Basali Weavers. I would have missed the building entirely were it not for the clotheslines festooned with newly dyed yarn, drying in the sun in the yard next to the road. The inside of the building is inspirationally lined, floor to ceiling, in columns of pop and beer cans (how many Fantas does it take to weave a rug?). Inside, 3 or 4 women were busily weaving blankets and rugs on basic, 2×4 framed tapestry looms. I watched them painstakingly weaving small sections of complex patterns using their fingers — this is nothing like using a big floor loom or even a table loom. Awed into submission, I bought a rug for probably more than I should have paid, thinking, if these women can spend that long on weaving one inch of rug, I can certainly pay for it.

2006-12-18_Elelloang%202.jpg
A spinning wheel made from a bicycle wheel

Remembering my stash, I then plucked up courage to ask about yarn. It turned out that not only do the Elelloang Basali Weavers weave, they also prepare, spin and dye their own yarn. The spinning takes place on a simple, homemade wheel made out of a bicycle wheel (making me think of Charkas for Africa, affixed again to a basic wooden frame. Here is a photo of one of the weavers pretending to spin for my benefit (for the camera, of course, as the wheel wasn’t set up, as you’ll see if you look closely!). Awed again at the thought of how long it must take to spin a rug’s worth of yarn on a bicycle wheel, I then bought a kilo of worsted-weight washed mohair yarn.

2006-12-18_Lesotho%20Scenery%201.jpg
Lesotho Landscape

Still reeling from the pop cans and the yarn, we got back in the car and drove to Leribe, a bustling town in north-western Lesotho, stopping along the way to take photos of the sublime scenery. I wanted to visit Leribe because of the Leribe Craft Centre, which was set up to provide support for disabled women. It turns out that Leribe offers entirely different products than Elelloang Basali… beautiful, finely woven scarves and shawls, gorgeously patterned tablewares, and even intricate knitted and crocheted shawls that made my own attempts rather humbling. And all done in the same soft, fine mohair that took my breath away. I bought shawls and scarves there for everyone I knew and then peered over the shopgirl’s shoulder and saw this:

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Floor-to-ceiling handspun mohair yarn room

Babbling incoherently, I somehow made it known that I wanted to go inside and look. I successfully fought off the temptation to throw myself on the pile of mohair (just how comfortable is a 6-foot-high pile of mohair?) and restricted myself to fondling it. It transpired that the shopgirl herself had spun most of it and to my surprise she was kind enough to make a gift of some to me. Here I am, weighing my mohair, surrounded by yarn. Do I look giddy?

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Giddy Jen, weighing mohair
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Bart, the sheep-about-the-house

That was it for yarn tourism in Lesotho, but here is a gratuitous sheep photo. This is Bart (who knows how to pose for the camera), the sheep-about-the-house at Malealea Lodge, a lovely place high up in the mountains that you should all visit once in your life just to see the view.

The special thing about my Lesotho yarn experience is that it brought home to me just how spinning and weaving is still very much women’s livelihood in many parts of the world. In a place like Lesotho, where there is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and many men work as migrant labourers in South Africa, the ability of women to support themselves becomes especially important. So think about where your yarn comes from the next time you supplement your stash, and do your bit by buying products from organizations like Be Sweet and Leribe Craft Centre, to support women who, like you, love to spin and weave — but for whom every metre spun, every inch woven, goes to support their families.

– Jen

  • debbie

    thank you jen for sharing such an eye-opening yarn experience in lesotho! especially amazing was the weaving with fingers and likewise the spinning on a bicycle wheel! here we consider weaving and spinning luxuries as hobbies where we can spin and weave as we please…i agree it must have been a very humbling experience…thank you felicia for sharing jen with us!

  • debbie

    thank you jen for sharing such an eye-opening yarn experience in lesotho! especially amazing was the weaving with fingers and likewise the spinning on a bicycle wheel! here we consider weaving and spinning luxuries as hobbies where we can spin and weave as we please…i agree it must have been a very humbling experience…thank you felicia for sharing jen with us!

  • http://thymeformom.blogspot.com/ Lavender

    I started drooling at the picture of the mountain of mohair yarn! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Beautiful post.

  • http://thymeformom.blogspot.com/ Lavender

    I started drooling at the picture of the mountain of mohair yarn! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Beautiful post.

  • shelley

    Thanks for sharing the experience, Jen.. and thanks Felicia for sharing it on your blog! =)

    *grin* It’s an amusing thought that our usually calm and composed Jen would want to throw herself onto the 6-foot-high mohair pile. But then.. if she had carried out that action.. then I would really want to see a picture of that! =P

  • http://heatherknits.wordpress.com Heather

    Wow, that must have taken some dedication! I have tried yarn tourism in some not-so-knitter-friendly areas with less successful results. What gorgeous scenery, too!

  • http://heatherknits.wordpress.com Heather

    Wow, that must have taken some dedication! I have tried yarn tourism in some not-so-knitter-friendly areas with less successful results. What gorgeous scenery, too!

  • Michelle

    Jen, thank you for sharing your amazing soul inspiring journey with us!

  • Michelle

    Jen, thank you for sharing your amazing soul inspiring journey with us!

  • http://jumpsheep.blogspot.com Therese

    Bravo, Jen, and thank you, SweetGeorgia, for bringing this story to us!

  • http://jumpsheep.blogspot.com Therese

    Bravo, Jen, and thank you, SweetGeorgia, for bringing this story to us!

  • http://www.unwindknitting.net Stephanie

    Wow. What an amazing and inspirational story. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.unwindknitting.net Stephanie

    Wow. What an amazing and inspirational story. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://thewoolenrabbit.typepad.com Kim

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I am awed by that pile of mohair!

  • http://thewoolenrabbit.typepad.com Kim

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I am awed by that pile of mohair!

  • shelley

    Thanks for sharing the experience, Jen.. and thanks Felicia for sharing it on your blog! =)

    *grin* It’s an amusing thought that our usually calm and composed Jen would want to throw herself onto the 6-foot-high mohair pile. But then.. if she had carried out that action.. then I would really want to see a picture of that! =P

  • LindaK

    Thank you so much for sharing that with us. What an experience for you.

  • LindaK

    Thank you so much for sharing that with us. What an experience for you.

  • http://toknitisdivine.blogspot.com Leanne

    Thanks to both of you for the great post! I travel regularly to Mozambique, where, to the best of my knowledge, there is no yarn industry. Your post makes me want to tack on a side trip to Lesotho on my next trip!

  • http://toknitisdivine.blogspot.com Leanne

    Thanks to both of you for the great post! I travel regularly to Mozambique, where, to the best of my knowledge, there is no yarn industry. Your post makes me want to tack on a side trip to Lesotho on my next trip!

  • http://judelbug.typepad.com/the_urban_shepherd/ judi

    Thanks for the terrific guest journal piece… as a weaver, spinner and knitter who seems to always think she needs more equipment … this is a lovely reminder as to the exact reason I don’t. Inspiring women…

  • http://judelbug.typepad.com/the_urban_shepherd/ judi

    Thanks for the terrific guest journal piece… as a weaver, spinner and knitter who seems to always think she needs more equipment … this is a lovely reminder as to the exact reason I don’t. Inspiring women…

  • http://cinereous.blogspot.com sarah

    Really interesting. Thank you for sharing that reminder that what I do for pleasure is what others must do to earn a living.

  • http://cinereous.blogspot.com sarah

    Really interesting. Thank you for sharing that reminder that what I do for pleasure is what others must do to earn a living.

  • http://threefatesfiber.net/blog moiraeknittoo

    Absolutely wonderful entry. I love seeing these windows into other fiber craft folk around the world. And now I have a couple more places to add to my fiber shopping list! Thank you again for sharing, both of you!

  • http://threefatesfiber.net/blog moiraeknittoo

    Absolutely wonderful entry. I love seeing these windows into other fiber craft folk around the world. And now I have a couple more places to add to my fiber shopping list! Thank you again for sharing, both of you!

  • http://whisperingpine.org blossom

    thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with us. i enjoy reading your story, it is beautifully written and thoughtful.

  • http://whisperingpine.org blossom

    thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with us. i enjoy reading your story, it is beautifully written and thoughtful.

  • http://crowcallingwoman.blogspot.com C4G

    How inspiring! I am in awe at weaving, but I don’t have the patients to do it myself.
    Did you ever decide on what drum carder to purchase? I found your November entry and I am trying to decide myself what to go with. I am thinking the Strauch 405, but still am not sure. It comes with a lot of goodies, that is for sure!

  • http://crowcallingwoman.blogspot.com C4G

    How inspiring! I am in awe at weaving, but I don’t have the patients to do it myself.
    Did you ever decide on what drum carder to purchase? I found your November entry and I am trying to decide myself what to go with. I am thinking the Strauch 405, but still am not sure. It comes with a lot of goodies, that is for sure!

  • http://marilynreichert.blogspot.com Marilyn Reichert

    I was looking for some yarn shops in the Vancouver, lower mainland area (there are none downtown Vancouver!!), and in my search I came across a list of knitting supplies stores – including one that has a bad link. Then when I googled that bad link (penelope fibre), your blog came up to your May 27, 2005 page where you have a link to penelope fibre – and I think you should know that is not a good link and you should probably remove it. I called the store phone number, and it is no longer in service. But the actual link, on your site, and on google search, leads to a porn site… which is one of the down sides to the www world… I tried to find a way to notify you without posting a public comment, but I couldn’t find a way. So you’re welcome to remove this comment from your site as well. Just wanting to be helpful (but, enjoying your blog too!).

  • http://marilynreichert.blogspot.com Marilyn Reichert

    I was looking for some yarn shops in the Vancouver, lower mainland area (there are none downtown Vancouver!!), and in my search I came across a list of knitting supplies stores – including one that has a bad link. Then when I googled that bad link (penelope fibre), your blog came up to your May 27, 2005 page where you have a link to penelope fibre – and I think you should know that is not a good link and you should probably remove it. I called the store phone number, and it is no longer in service. But the actual link, on your site, and on google search, leads to a porn site… which is one of the down sides to the www world… I tried to find a way to notify you without posting a public comment, but I couldn’t find a way. So you’re welcome to remove this comment from your site as well. Just wanting to be helpful (but, enjoying your blog too!).

  • http://yarnandcatnaps.blogspot.com/index.html Wendy Dorrel

    Hello! I found your blog doing an image search for an Ashford Joy and I’m so glad I did!!! Your spinning is just incredible and I’ve been transfixed by the pictures on your blog the past half hour. Gorgeous photography!

    I’m receiving an Ashford Joy for Christmas and can’t wait to begin spinning on a wheel. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my drop spindle but oh to spin on a wheel!! YAY!!

  • http://yarnandcatnaps.blogspot.com/index.html Wendy Dorrel

    Hello! I found your blog doing an image search for an Ashford Joy and I’m so glad I did!!! Your spinning is just incredible and I’ve been transfixed by the pictures on your blog the past half hour. Gorgeous photography!

    I’m receiving an Ashford Joy for Christmas and can’t wait to begin spinning on a wheel. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my drop spindle but oh to spin on a wheel!! YAY!!

  • http://www.loannelynn.blogspot.com Loanne

    This is completely YarnEnvy…..

  • http://www.loannelynn.blogspot.com Loanne

    This is completely YarnEnvy…..

  • http://hpnyknits.blogspot.com/ hpny knits

    great reporting. thanks for sharing.

  • http://hpnyknits.blogspot.com/ hpny knits

    great reporting. thanks for sharing.

  • http://theaddknitter.blogspot.com A.D.D. Knitter

    What a fascinating story. I find one of the most appealing aspects of knitting/stiching/needlearts is the way in which they connect you to other (usually) women and the great transmission of knowledge that happens between generations and cultures. Thanks for posting this story!

  • http://theaddknitter.blogspot.com A.D.D. Knitter

    What a fascinating story. I find one of the most appealing aspects of knitting/stiching/needlearts is the way in which they connect you to other (usually) women and the great transmission of knowledge that happens between generations and cultures. Thanks for posting this story!

  • http://theaddknitter.blogspot.com A.D.D. Knitter

    What a fascinating story. I find one of the most appealing aspects of knitting/stiching/needlearts is the way in which they connect you to other (usually) women and the great transmission of knowledge that happens between generations and cultures. Thanks for posting this story!

  • http://theaddknitter.blogspot.com A.D.D. Knitter

    What a fascinating story. I find one of the most appealing aspects of knitting/stiching/needlearts is the way in which they connect you to other (usually) women and the great transmission of knowledge that happens between generations and cultures. Thanks for posting this story!

  • http://theaddknitter.blogspot.com A.D.D. Knitter

    What a fascinating story. I find one of the most appealing aspects of knitting/stiching/needlearts is the way in which they connect you to other (usually) women and the great transmission of knowledge that happens between generations and cultures. Thanks for posting this story!

  • http://theaddknitter.blogspot.com A.D.D. Knitter

    What a fascinating story. I find one of the most appealing aspects of knitting/stiching/needlearts is the way in which they connect you to other (usually) women and the great transmission of knowledge that happens between generations and cultures. Thanks for posting this story!

  • http://www.yarncoffee.blogspot.com Sara Kirby

    What a great post. It’s ironic, kind of, that you had a post about Lesotho because I just posted about my mother buying us all Inspi(red) t-shirts from Gap for Christmas and how these shirts are made by women in Lesotho and 50% of the profits from these products go back to Africa towards medication for HIV/AIDS. I think it’s great that you let your friend post about her travels and share her stories.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.yarncoffee.blogspot.com Sara Kirby

    What a great post. It’s ironic, kind of, that you had a post about Lesotho because I just posted about my mother buying us all Inspi(red) t-shirts from Gap for Christmas and how these shirts are made by women in Lesotho and 50% of the profits from these products go back to Africa towards medication for HIV/AIDS. I think it’s great that you let your friend post about her travels and share her stories.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • YajB

    OMG – blast from the past for me!
    When I was a PCV in Swaziland more than 20 years ago, I went pony trekking in Lesotho, and probably stopped at one of those same craft shops mentioned – I have the handspun mohair in my stash!
    I’m pretty sure we also stopped at Malalea. It was gorgeous.

    Swaziland also has a small spinning, weaving, and industry. I also have some Swazi mohair in my stash. From what I hear, the HIV situation is worse in Swaziland.

  • YajB

    OMG – blast from the past for me!
    When I was a PCV in Swaziland more than 20 years ago, I went pony trekking in Lesotho, and probably stopped at one of those same craft shops mentioned – I have the handspun mohair in my stash!
    I’m pretty sure we also stopped at Malalea. It was gorgeous.

    Swaziland also has a small spinning, weaving, and industry. I also have some Swazi mohair in my stash. From what I hear, the HIV situation is worse in Swaziland.

  • http://madtownmamaknits.blogspot.com Susan

    Beautiful story, beautiful pictures, beautiful writing…I had to de-lurk here because my husband spent nearly a decade of his growing up years in South Africa (he’s American, but his parents worked overseas for several years), and they traveled to and through Lesotho a few times. I enjoyed this very much.

  • http://madtownmamaknits.blogspot.com Susan

    Beautiful story, beautiful pictures, beautiful writing…I had to de-lurk here because my husband spent nearly a decade of his growing up years in South Africa (he’s American, but his parents worked overseas for several years), and they traveled to and through Lesotho a few times. I enjoyed this very much.

  • http://[email protected] projektleiterin

    What a great article! I just love the online knitting community, you always find so much inspiration, creativity and solidarity here.

  • http://www.sistahcraft.typepad.com sahara

    Hey there! I ran across your blog while taking a break, from posting. Thanks so much for this post! When I was working at School Products in ’85′, back when the Kleins owned the store, they were the only shop in New York to import Lesotho Mohair, of which I have six skeins still. Now that I have found that the spinners and weavers are still around I will investigate obtaining more and getting folks to become aware of their efforts.

  • http://www.sistahcraft.typepad.com sahara

    Hey there! I ran across your blog while taking a break, from posting. Thanks so much for this post! When I was working at School Products in ’85′, back when the Kleins owned the store, they were the only shop in New York to import Lesotho Mohair, of which I have six skeins still. Now that I have found that the spinners and weavers are still around I will investigate obtaining more and getting folks to become aware of their efforts.

  • http://knitowl.blogspot.com rhelynn

    Wonderful! Beautiful weaving and interesting spinning wheel!

  • http://knitowl.blogspot.com rhelynn

    Wonderful! Beautiful weaving and interesting spinning wheel!

  • Clinton

    Hi! I’m in Lesotho RIGHT NOW :) I just arrived two days ago and am looking into places to buy mohair while here. Jen mentions Elelloang Basali, but I can’t seem to find any updated info for them (beyond 2006), nor am I having much luck finding yarn. I am here for 10 more days, so the search will continue! If anyone has any leads, please share :) I’ll update if I find something useful.