For the past 3 years, five of us have been visiting St Francis Bay on our annual crochet getaway. Each year we spend hours (not to mention Rands) in the awesome yarn store Nomvula’s. Only during our 3rd year in the gorgeous coastal town did we get to meet Frances the mastermind behind Nomvula’s Knitters. Frances “Nomvula” Becker is a dancer, choreographer, designer, teacher, filmmaker and mom. She has also battled through Hodgkin’s disease and survived breast cancer.
Nomvula (nom-voo-la) is a Xhosa word that means “she who brings the rain.” It is considered a lucky name because any sign of rain in Southern Africa is gratefully received. When Frances Becker was christened, the heavens opened and drenched the family and friends who were gathered at the church. Dinah, a young Xhosa woman who worked for the Becker family named Frances, ”Nomvula”; in honour of the rain that came that day in May.
In 2008 Frances invited local women to attend a free knitting class in St Francis Bay. On the appointed day Priscilla and Letitia arrived. They were the very first knitters! Clifford, a local security guard, arrived soon after. Not having knitted before, he was eager to try his hand at knitting! The news spread and nine months later 14 regulars were meeting regularly twice a week to hone their knitting skills and share their progress.
What inspires you?
Everything or anything can be an inspiration. I would put nature at the top of the list then colour.
When did you start crafting and who taught you?
My grandmother taught me with difficulty as I am left handed. She taught me right handed. I was around 8 years old and she was shocked that my mother had not taught me to knit yet. I was not very good at it. I still cannot work with four needles. I learned to crochet a year ago – Denise van Schalkwyk managed to teach me after figuring it out left handed. She is a saint. Many people don’t realise that knitting and crochet can be quite a challenge for some of us at first – but worth the effort.
Tell us about Nomvulas Knitters …
I started Nomvula’s as a response to the squatter camp in St Francis Bay. I wanted to help with job creation and that has always been my primary aim. I wanted to make a for profit business for products made by crafters that would be beautiful and well made as well as fashionable – only when looking at the label would you realise it was made by a community project. So product first; how and why second. We now have our own yarn and produce beautiful sweaters, scarves and childrens knitwear. We make anything knittable.
We have sustained 10 jobs for 8 years and have a shop in St Francis Bay. The knitters are partners in the business and are buying into it.
How did it all begin?
I turned 50 and felt it was time to give back. I was also recovering from breast cancer and was looking outside of myself, as brooding over things was not helpful. I was knitting a lot. I initially wanted to help Aids orphans, but ended up teaching people to knit. It started with a couple of knitters and eventually grew to 15. We started getting orders for hand knit baby jerseys in Vinnis yarn with ceramic buttons which I sold in America, where I had been living for 25 years. I had a male knitter – Clifford Mjima who was determined to be a part of the business. Without his determination I am not sure I would have kept going. Then I bought a knitting machine in the States and a friend there taught herself to use it and came over to teach Clifford how to use it……and 8 years later we are still at it.
What do you think will be the next big thing in the world of craft?
I would love the knitting bug to catch on here like it has in the States. I love getting young people interested. The design possibilities are endless and when people knit they also appreciate the time it takes to make beautiful garments. I think there may be a resurgance in home knitting machines – but maybe I am just hoping that more people will make the machines as they are difficult to import from England!!
Who on the international craft scene do you admire most and why?
I do not really follow personalities but recently did a Brandon Mabley knitting class that I really enjoyed. The knitwear designer I most like is Eilleen Fisher – but she is not really a crafter. I admire her simple lines.
Where can our readers find you?
What is your favourite craft?
I love knitting and quilting and in fact would rather refer to myself a fibre artist.
I am a multi-media performance artist by profession so would love to get back to that eventually.
If you had more time on your hands what would you do?
I would love to get fit – spend more time swimming and working in my garden. And maybe try writing. I would love to get back to video and film.
What magazines do you buy?
What is your favourite yarn store or craft store and why?
My favourite yarn store is Nomvula’s OF COURSE! But after that is The Stitchery in Pearl River New York – run by my friend Adam who has helped me with ideas and patterns and inspiration for the knitters. He has helped me develop patterns that are easy and interesting to adapt to machine knitting. He is yarn obsessed and keeps me up to date on the latestes yarns and trends.
Nomvula’s Own Yarn
To make our sweaters more affordable and to eliminate the middle-man we decided to develop a yarn of our own. The yarn is a luxury yarn – 90% wool, mohair and silk. It is made from factory waste – the left over from a current production process and is a blend of the three fibres spun with nylon for strength. It is super cosy and warm and lovely to knit with. Our factory is very environment conscious.
One lucky reader will receive 6 balls of the awesome Roving yarn. All you need to do is tell us why you believe you should be the lucky recipient
Have an inspiring week!