Gone Rural


Working with sisal

Cultural artistry meets age-old tradition when we take a peek at Gone Rural’s innovative collection of home accessories, all created with sisal. This organization impresses in their unique designs as they experiment with natural and sustainable fibers that they hand craft into soft and subtle sisal lace pillows and knotted lace runners and curtains. Gone Rural has been working with artisans in rural Swaziland since the early 1970’s, collaborating with in house designers to continuously come up with fresh and dynamic African inspired designs. They embrace humanity and the environment, working with over 700 artisans in 13 different communities throughout Swaziland, in Southern African.

Gone Rural’s way of working with sisal can’t help but draw your eye closer, due to its curious detail, natural aesthetic, and warm neutral tones. It is an African weed made beautiful with a history of being one of the world’s most durable fibers. Traditionally, it was grown in tropical climates and used for agricultural twine due to its strength and long lasting qualities. Sisal is now used to make twines, textiles, yarns, ropes, bags, carpets, pulp and paper. It is one of the the coarsest vegetable fibers and is believed to have originated in Mexico’s Yucatan. It wasn’t until until the 19th century when this fiber made its way over to Tanzania and spread throughout the rest of the world. After a difficult start in East Africa, the production of sisal soon flourished and continues to be a major cash crop for this country today.

Sisal is ideal for craft production because it is a weed that grows wild in Africa, and is low impact because it does not effect the country’s biodiversity when harvested. It is extremely durable and can thrive in drought conditions and arid land with little nutrition. It also helps to prevent soil erosion, captures moisture from the atmosphere and can even withstand fire. Its invasive properties make it a perfect fiber for the cattle fencing seen in rural villages thanks to its sharp spines that keep predators away. When harvested, women collect the fleshy leaves of the sisal tree, which is then washed and dyed in Gone Rural’s workshop. By first separating the tangled fiber and next spinning it into loose twine using their hand and thigh, it is then given back to the women who make the finished product.

The women behind this sisal production are called the Emoti, who live throughout the beautiful mountains along the Usthu River of Central Swaziland. This group works with Gone Rural, originally producing woven lutindzi grass place mats and table runners and now also make these knitted and knotted sisal runners as another source of income.

Gone Rural’s design and sample making team helped the Emoti women experiment with creating lovely and cost effective pieces, and they spent more than a year to get the perfect items ready for market.  Although quality and consistency are always a struggle to streamline in the world of the handmade, these entrepreneurs have found the balance with their fabulous sisal products.

For more information please email Joanna Wolverson at jo@gonerural.co.sz or visit www.goneruralswazi.com