Twelve years ago Margaret Woermann opened Heartworks to provide work made with the heart in order to feed the belly. At that time, the idea of buying something made and designed locally was new to South Africa. Today Heartworks’ two Cape Town locations sell Heartworks embroidered collections as well as Margaret’s curation of local design offerings. They are hardly alone in Cape Town’s amazingly diverse craft-locavore scene.
Heartworks stores are full of treasures like Xhosa bracelets made from PVC tubes and carved with traditional black geometric engravings; naïve wood birds by Daan Samuels; and quirky upcycled accessories by Mikhela Hawker, among many others. Margaret affirms that in today’s competitive world “we must make something that is so beautiful, so special, that it finds that little heartbeatspace in the buyer.” She is also very aware of the use of alternative materials: “More thought has to be put into what materials I use. Recycling is sometimes not really environmentally-friendly. For example, burning something such as plastic – just for the sake of using used plastic – is not necessarily progressive.”
Margaret provides one on one guidance to artisans until they make products that are right for her stores. “I like suppliers who send samples of new ideas because they are crafters from the bottom of their hearts – and money is the last question we discuss. Or maybe no money at all at first because it gets taken home and changed a bit, made bigger, made in white, instead of pink.”
She believes in a collaborative creative process where communication is the key and so she says to the artisans: “When you make something – do you imagine who will buy it – where it will travel – where will it have its new home? Will it have companions? Or will it be the only item, on a shelf, next to some books, or next to a pile of plates? What age is the person who will hold your special creation close to their heart?”
At the Heartworks workshop, forty men and women textile artisans share music, laughter and many languages: English, Shona from Zimbawe and Xhosa from the Eastern Cape. Papama Mnyakama manages the workshop, dividing the work according to individual specialties: some sew faces, some body parts, and the most skilled sew the whole character to give teddy bear a distinct personality. They process is entirely handmade and one of a kind: artisans are given the cut pieces and materials, and they have the freedom to tell their stories. This is why one can find many hearts, a common symbol in south Africa; next to chickens, flowers, animals and plants found in the African landscape.
The combination of happy motifs and the skill behind them make Heartworks’ products among the most appealing South African handmade designs.
To purchase Heartworks’ embroidered art, visit its two locations in Cape Town, Gardens Centre and Old Biscuit Mill.