Telephone Wire Products
Crafting from colourful wire, otherwise used in telephone cables can be as simple as child’s play or as complex as master craftsman weaving technology. In South Africa, children grow up making bangles and bracelets out of what they call “scoobydoo”. However, below is a history of how this material has been transformed into high quality décor and fashion items.
About the History & the Weaving Techniques:
Some say that the telephone wire basketry skill was innovated by master weaver Elliot Mkhize in the early 1970's. While grass basket weaving is a craft passed down through tradition in the Zulu culture, the specific telephone wire weaving is a more recent development. The groups of wireweavers nowadays are many, and more are joining it as the baskets become more and more popular worldwide. Most weavers today are women and men who had no previous weaving skills who took to making baskets as a necessity due to unemployment.
The story goes, that the origins of telephone wire is traced to Zulu night watchmen in the Durban area who - to fight loneliness and boredom on night shifts - took to weaving coloured telephone wire around their traditional sticks. Soon this technique was adapted to making the Zulu beer pot covers - the wire plates we have today. Today this craft has developed hugely in creativity and diversity of uses.
This coiling technique is unique to the greater Durban area. The designs that were used were inspired by the famous and exceptional Zulu beadwork patterns. Then the craft extended to include figuration and text, usually depicting objects or animals in the crafters daily lives.
The other technique that has now developed is the soft wire method, which requires weaving of the colourful wire as they would in the making of grass baskets. They do not coil the wire but weave creating beautiful colourful, stylish shapes combining shapes of spirals. Swirls, herringbone, stripes and dots. The technique for the soft wire is based on a ring at the top, which is a wire circle the size of the top of the bowl. The work has to be done around a specific shape, mostly round.
The bracelets are woven around a pilchards or bean tins – which is easily obtainable.
The hard wire plates are differently made. They go from the inside out - with the wire being wound around the core wire in outward circles. This technique is much harder on the fingers, requires more skilled work and therefore is much more expensive.
About the Weavers
Most of the wire weavers come from informal settlements and rural areas of South Africa.
The informal settlements are comprised of very basic houses made of any available building materials, ranging from sheets of old corrugated iron to driftwood and cardboard. Some luckier residents have proper houses made of bricks. Many still live in very temporary type structures with no electricity, running water or sewage systems. The rural weavers live in mud huts and few have access to running water. Very few of the weavers have had formal education - although their children are now attending schools.
The children are taught from a young age and are encouraged to try their hand at weaving early, as a hobby, and as a way to maintain the tradition of hand crafting, which is so embedded in the Zulu culture. They do not take part in the weaving for commercial purposes at all.
In Cape Town, wire crafters have started integrating telephone wire into their superb sculptures. Its an ideal medium for creating colourful text and finework for corporate logo’s.