From KwaZulu Natal with love: hand-beaded baubles add something special to a Christmas tree

Beautiful, hand-made beadwork decorations put the compassion into Christmas

By Kate Coughlan

Most of New Zealand’s Christmas habits originate in Northern Europe but gifting a decoration is a tradition of Canada and the United States.
Each year as I fossick in our big box of Christmas ornaments, I look for the beautiful velvet and gilded bell given to me three decades ago by Jane Clifton, The Listener political editor famous for gifting golden words of wisdom about the antics of our political animals.

I position the bell in pride of place and send, winging through the universe, twinkly stars and best wishes to my dear friend. Many years ago, she returned from a long wander abroad and produced the beautiful ornament from her Mary Poppins-ish bag. She had carried it home from the Christmas markets of Europe (read about them in the November/December 2017 NZ Life & Leisure) just for me. What pleasure that Christmas bell has given me since.

It almost makes up for the vile Christmas mouse I was gifted that same year. Powered by the first battery in the history of the world to never die, the hideous rodent, dressed as Santa Claus sang “we wish you a Merry Christmas” in a squeaky evil-mouse voice, over and over. Of course, it became the children’s favourite. Jane didn’t give me that mouse – it came from another Jane who thought it a huge joke.

Jane Rutledge (left) and talented South African bead workers.

Fast forward a few years and yet another Jane – Jane Rutledge of Palmerston North – is lighting up Christmas trees and, in so doing, helping to empower women of South African townships. Jane spent two years working in Johannesburg with Volunteer Service Abroad where she discovered the beauty of beadwork done communally by women to raise money.

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“Beadwork takes skill, with each item being hand-woven to an individual design reflecting the creativity of a woman in the group,” she says. “It is time-consuming and done communally. They use beads and wire to craft beautiful angels, Christmas trees and Christmas baubles.”

When Jane returned home, she sought a market for the exquisite beadwork items and didn’t have to go far from home before discovering that top cook Ruth Pretty, whose catering business is based in Te Horo, was thrilled to stock them in her busy shop.
The unique, hand-made baubles stocked in Ruth’s online and on-site shop were made by women based near Durban in the heart of KwaZulu Natal. Zulu women are known for producing intricate and colourful Christmas bead decorations. The women were delighted and surprised by a large order of 2000 baubles from New Zealand.

Money that the women’s groups make from producing crafts together goes toward the costs of educating their children. It is one of the few ways women can earn additional income.
“Their intricate baubles are a unique way to dress your Christmas tree or to gift for someone dear. I am sure you will enjoy their beauty,” says Jane.
Ruth Pretty retails the baubles for $19 each. They are distinct, hand-made and a purchase might help to keep a child in school.

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