Recycling fabric scraps

Gillian McAinsh


A PORT Alfred textile artist is free-stitching her creative way to recycle scraps of fabric and give employment to others at the same time.


Lisa Nettelton was in Port Elizabeth recently for an exhibition of her molo mimi fabric art and is showcasing her work at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown right now.


The molo mimi range includes candleholders and tea-lights, bags, cards and wall art – all using some kind of recycled fabric and stitching.


Nettelton gave her business the name as “mimi” is her family nickname, and the word does double duty for “a little person whom you nurture”. “Molo” is the isiXhosa word for “hello” so “molo mimi” translates as “hello little person”.


She started molo mimi four years ago and now has three tailors and a seamstress who make the items which are sold as far afield as Scandinavia, Russia and the US.


“There is a lot of design involved and free-stitching is a nice name for what they do,” said Nettelton who was at pains to explain that molo mimi was not quilting.


She said free-stitch “recognises the fabric as a whole” and, unlike quilting where meticulous measurement was needed, there is “no measuring, it is all cut with a rotor blade”.


Molo mimi often features words “written” in thread messages to illuminate the surface of the fabric, which as far as possible is recycled material.


Almost any fabric is fair game, with scraps, old swatch books, clothes and off-cuts from wedding dresses, for example, going into delicately decorated candle holders and other items.


“I have come to believe that offering a work environment that teaches the individual – with support and encouragement – is most empowering and there is the added benefit of a secure income.


“After completing a course in free-stitch and using my grandmother’s Bernina sewing machine. I started sewing in my spare time and into the early hours of the morning,” said Nettelton. “The technique is therapeutic and possibly even addictive as the rhythm hypnotises your mind, allowing your heart to lead you over the textures.”


She started creating fabrics to stretch onto frames and slowly started selling these artworks, followed by an exhibition in Cape Town.


The work was enthusiastically received and a new career was born.


Schooled in Grahamstown, Nettelton studied graphic design at Stellenbosch University and then worked in Cape Town and London in the film industry, styling food and commercials. After her travels she returned to the Eastern Cape to settle near family in Port Alfred.


“It’s an odd place but I like it, it’s unpretentious. My family are there and I live in an exquisite wood and iron cottage, with broekie lace and wooden floors. I live very simply and I’ve never been happier.


“Ironically, if you are living in a stimulating environment, for example, Cape Town, you tend to be more influenced by trends and what you see others are doing around you.


“Because we are left on our own, you get left to make up your own world. You do plug into the creative collective, because no man is an island but in a place like Port Alfred you get left to your own devices and that is much better.”


“One of her next projects is to take women’s military step-outs in sage green, and decorate them.


“I’m going to be heading in a more creative direction, although I will keep the ‘bread and butter’ range. I will never become a hard production business, that is not going to happen ”


However, molo mimi does generate enough custom to keep many employed.


“The bags are made up in Khayelitsha by an NGO but I am looking at the Eastern Cape to extend production of the bag range.”


The Department of Trade and Industry helped her to travel to Frankfurt in Germany in February and then to Las Vegas in the US in March.


Her work is available in Port Elizabeth at Cupboard Love and in Port Alfred at Boredom Busters.


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