"I'm a strike-while-the-iron's-hot kind of girl," was Bridget's response to my studio visit enquiry, so we made a date for that Wednesday morning and hopped on the metro to meet her at her Woodstock studio.
Her story is fascinating. With an MBA to her name and years of strategy consulting experience in the business world, Bridget Henderson, founder of cowgirlblues, was looking for a change. While taking some time out to decide on a new career direction, she began to work with her hands, experimenting with texture, pattern, colour, and most importantly, wool. This knitting compulsion grew into what is today a Cape Town based dye house and design studio specialising in South African wool and mohair.
Cynthia (of Lichen and Leaf) and I had been chatting about studio visits as a way of connecting with other creatives, and both of us have been experimenting with some beginner shibori dyeing. So when I found cowgirlblues' account on Instagram and realised they were not only local but specialists in textile dyeing, a visit seemed just the thing.
Bridget kindly took a chunk out of her morning not only to show us her workspace, but to teach us a bit about the wool industry in South Africa, and to share some of her creative process and thinking.
A Reflective Process
We talked about reflection as a necessary part of creativity. At the entrance to her studio, Bridgette has framed a series of images which tell the story of her own creative journey. Two large black and white photographs of a cactus plant dominate the passageway, depicting her early fascination with texture. The next few frames include samples of dye work with Malian artist and master indigo dyer, Aboubakar Foufana. Then come four square patches of fabric that show her initial experimentation with colour dyeing. This documentation of her textile journey has been important not only for creative self-reflection but as a way of communicating with clients and visitors the story of cowgirlblues itself. I felt personally challenged to embrace and share the beauty that goes into the process of making - the experiments, the flops, the rabbit-trails, and side-projects, rather than a focus exclusively on that perfect final product.
Women and Creativity
We stood in the passage and talked about a feminine connection with textiles, making in community, and the return of women to handcraft. Many women of our generation never had the skills of sewing, embroidery, knitting, and other crafts handed down to them from their mothers and grandmothers. Years later, some of us wake up to a sense of having missed something, and end up joining a crochet club, attending a making workshop, or gathering together in a creative group. You only have to look at the popularity of handmade workshops and online craft market places to see how women are again being drawn to both creativity and community.
Wool - An Unsung Local Hero
Wool is one of the few truly South African exports that leaves the country largely unprocessed. As Bridget put it, 'It's the least branded export we have.' cowgirlblues was born out of her own frustration when, unable to find suitable wool locally, she decided to start spinning and dyeing her own. The studio is busy with women skeining, dyeing, drying and packaging the most beautiful tones and hues of kid mohair and merino wool.
Airforce, guinea fowl, lipstick, blueberry, coffee bean and caramel are just a few of the beautiful colours you'll find here. Some yarns are two coloured, and stripe up as you knit: sage and sable, jade and aubergine. Others have a range of hues bundled up in one skein with names like charcoal, coffee bean, cocoa and silver fox.
cowgirlblues sells not only yarns, but a range of finished products including shawls, snoods, jerseys and throws. Bridget and her team are always experimenting with new products, innovative techniques and fresh colour palettes. Look out for her article on organic dyeing to be published in PomPom Quarterly in August, and pop in to her shop at the Watershed (F30) or visit cowgirlblues online at www.cowgirlblues.co.za.
What is your experience of making in community?
Thanks to Bridget for sharing her wealth of knowledge and her creative journey so openly, and to Cynthia for joining me on this studio visit.