Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Kraal Gallery: Inspiring The World, One Tapestry at a Time

     About this time last year, I was in the most beautiful country in the world, South Africa, on a University of Northern Iowa Study Abroad Global Skills Capstone course. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will definitely treasure the rest of my life. During my visit, I had the opportunity to complete a service-learning project with The Kraal Gallery, a non-profit organization, located in Stellenbosch South Africa. This is a very unique company, in the fact that not only participates in social engagement, but also in sustainability and upcycling. Some of their work is hanging in corporate offices and museums around the world.

    What is The Kraal Gallery?
 I would like to start by providing you with some background information with this video An Introduction to The Kraal Gallery  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36JusNmivx8) that myself and three other students from the University of Northern Iowa put together as our final course project. The Kraal Gallery was established in 1972 by a group of German artisans, whose goal was to teach South African women in impoverished communities how to hand weave. In South Africa, women are considered to be the "breadwinners" of the family, so by teaching these women a craft, they are able to provide for their families. I had the opportunity to meet and interview many of these wonderful women, share laughs, smiles, and stories. One woman, Nazeema, has been working at The Kraal Gallery for over thirty years and is one of the most skilled weavers I know. Some of her artwork is hanging in a museum in London. Visit their website at http://www.thekraalgallery.com The Kraal Gallery has taught over 300 women how to hand weave and has the goal of teaching 1,000 women. 

What do they weave and how does this relate to upcycling or being green?
My laptop case handwoven with love 
Weavers complete a six-month training course to develop the basic weaving skills. Once she has gained experience, she can start experimenting with different design techniques or blending patterns. The women weave everything from rugs and tapestries to storage baskets, iPad and laptop cases, and handbags. I purchased a woven laptop case and a backpack and am absolutely in love with both of them and all of their bright colors. The unique thing is that no two items are the same and neither is woven perfectly--the weaving tells a story of its weaver's life. You can feel and see the weaver's emotions woven into her work and each weaver has a signature style. 

This organization and its weaving process are entirely eco-friendly for several reasons:
1) The design process is 100% technology free or hand made with everything from drawing out the design and painting the color guide, to tracing it on the canvas and finally weaving it on a loom. The only aspect of technology used is in marketing and promoting the product and business.
2) All of the fabric used is from scraps of cotton t-shirts thrown out by the textile industry that have been reworked into long strands to be used in weaving. Using these helps reduce the amount of waste that could end up in the landfill. If the fabric is dyed by the weavers, it is done naturally with little harm on the environment.
 3) It is ethically made and the proceeds from purchase go towards the weavers' salaries. They also receive paid training and workshops on how to manage money effectively. The Kraal Gallery not only provides support financially to the weavers, but also personal support.
4) They are considered to be one big family and you can truly see how passionate the CEOs are about the company and all of their employees. When someone walks into one of their three locations, you can hear laughter, see smiles, good conversation, and love. I loved every minute that I spent here and I would definitely like to return. The Kraal Gallery is truly changing the world, one tapestry at a time.

I would like to congratulate The Kraal Gallery on their award for the 2013 Western Cape Entrepreneurship Recognition Awards, as they received 1st Prize in the Social Enterprise category.
One of the CEOs, Alex, of The Kraal Gallery with students from UNI and the Mayor of Cedar Falls  in the weaving studio


  1. What a great organization! I love the bright colors of your laptop case! Very cool.

    1. Thank you, Jantina! :) I really appreciate your comment. Please let me know if there is anything you would love to see.

  2. What an amazing organization. This is my first time visiting your blog. Look forward to reading more!

  3. Thank you, Jeni! Let me know what you think about the other posts you read. I definitely appreciate any feedback positive or something I need to work on.

  4. This is a fantastic organization! Very, very cool.

  5. Thank you, Renae. You should definitely check out their website if you would like to learn more and they have some neat mind-blowing tapestries. http://www.thekraalgallery.com