Xhosa Beadwork

Traditionally, beadwork was made as a token of love from a woman to her man, but modern beadwork is made for commercial purposes. People were also traditionally buried with their prize possessions, which usually included their beadwork

Xhosa beadwork has been documented as early as the 1820s. Because beads were expensive, their use distinguished the wealthy from the mass of Xhosa society and beadwork came to represent a woman’s dowry.

Like other cultures, there are also ritually specific pieces such as the necklaces worn by a woman who is nursing, and practical pieces such as beaded blanket pins (used in place of buttons). The traditionally dressed Xhosa woman wore a blanket, usually red or yellow, as her outer garment.

White is the predominant colour in Xhosa beadwork and has always been closely identified with the culture. The pieces have the feeling of fabric and drape around the body. Openwork designs enable the creation of an article that covers a considerable area using a relatively small number of beads. The most typical beaded object is a tobacco bag, worn draped over one shoulder. Beaded motifs, often in the form of “love letters”, are stitched onto a goatskin backing with beaded tassels attached at the ends.

Uniquely, Xhosa men amass and wear quantities of beadwork (made by female admirers). Men and women both wear beaded openwork bib collars that have the look of lace. Tremendous individuality reigns in Xhosa beadwork design. Unique pieces include headdresses made from thousands of white beads, some of them supporting dense drapes of single strands of beads. Beaded circles are worn around the waist in profusion. However, with the influence of western society, today’s Xhosa men no longer follow this practice.

Today. most Xhosa beadwork is evolving, with contemporary work being done primarily with larger beads (size 8/0). This differs in style and function from traditional work.

The Sulo range is Xhosa based.