Every day they come to the Centre to stitch pieces of fabric together, weaving designs onto cloths that are transformed into canvas of art. But the 10 women, five whom only work part time and come from surrounding homesteads, are stitching together so much more at the Bulembu Creativity Centre. They thread together pieces of their past, weaving them into their present, sewing them to the foundation of God’s Word, finding the ultimate creative process in themselves: healing, forgiveness and hope.
Jeanne Badenhorst, the Creativity Centre’s Senior Manager, began putting the Centre together with Leigh Puttkammer in August 2008. Starting with just three women, the Centre has grown in size and scope where numerous products are made and are available for purchase. Beautiful pillow covers, handbags, decorative art, and more are crafted together by the women of Bulembu. Many of them didn’t even know how to thread a needle when they first arrived at the Centre. It was up to Jeanne to give them the basic instructions. Now she has nine “masters” who help with newcomers, reducing the amount of training time, ultimately increasing output.
Jeanne enjoys watching the ladies learn how to make aprons, cushion covers and broaches. She’s particularly fond of the love tree, which has hearts growing on it, and she’s constantly thinking of new and innovative items for the women to make.
“One new product I was thinking about is shopping bags,” she said. “Nice shopping bags because they’re a usable item. Have one for your bread, vegetables and so on and have a design of the bread on the bag.”
Jeanne hopes the products will become available online and will have a larger distribution in Swaziland and South Africa but because they don’t have the capacity to supply shops with large orders, their focus is on what they can make for the guests who visit Bulembu. Many people who have visited Bulembu are often so impressed with the products they will return home and place orders for products to be delivered to the US, Germany, UK and South Africa. (To place an order and see items that are available, send an email to Jeanne@bulembu.org)
Jeanne also hopes to expand the Centre by adding The Striped Giraffe Café, which would be a deli-type of café for people to come from surrounding towns and cities to enjoy while spending the day in Bulembu.
While the items being produced at the Creativity Centre are important, and Jeanne certainly does want their crafts to stand alone in their uniqueness and quality, what is more important to her is the women who are part of the Creativity Centre.
“I don’t want people to buy anything from this place because they feel sorry for us,,” she explained. “People must want the products. But I feel God’s vision though is to grow and train up the ladies of the Centre and invest in their lives for the next generation of embroiderers.”These women, like so many of the citizens of Bulembu, come from broken homes and harsh, abusive backgrounds. The women at the Centre enjoy daily Bible studies and devotionals each morning and will often read the Bible throughout the day when they have a moment to themselves. One who has a particularly troubling history even sings while she works now, knowing she is in a safe place and that there is no need to fear. The Centre gives these women stability and fellowship, work and a craft, a Biblical and personal foundation as well as the chance to excel in art. What they make stitching, sewing, embroidering is not just something someone can buy. They are creating a new life, thread by thread, covering the past with crafts made of their own hands.