national Arts Festival Banner

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Fascinating journey told in embroidery will delight a wide range of readers. (Review by Caroline Smart)

An African Christmas Cloth is the most fascinating publication. Produced by artist and writer Reviva Schermbrucker, it tells the journey of a young woman who, accompanied by her dog Manny, travels on a little red scooter from the busy city of Johannesburg over the Drakensberg through vast expanses of veld, small dorps and other cities and then back home again.

It’s a simple story told from the viewpoint of three young children as they learn from their aunt – Aunty Apollonia (who they know as “Apples”) - about the geographical areas and various cultures of South Africa. This lesson is taught in the most innovative way when they wake up on Christmas morning to discover their aunt and Manny asleep in the lounge and find their present under the Christmas tree.

The present is an embroidered cloth – the African Christmas cloth of the title - which charts Apples and Manny’s experiences on their travels.

While the children in the book are named Glynis, Sue and Gavin – the book is dedicated to her niece and nephew Mina Sofia and Ray Azule ”who live so far away”. The dedication continues “If only I could jump on my scooter and putter my way over lands and seas to you two.” What more beautiful Christmas present could you give anyone dear to you?

In the 40-odd pages of this well-presented book, Reviva Schermbrucker reaches readers on various levels. At its basic, it’s a charming Christmas tale. There’s also an educational value in identifying the destinations Apples reaches in her travels – such as mountain ranges and dams. Each double-spread contains a strip of ”sub-titles”, as it were, with images related to the main storyline such as traffic lights, traffic signs, lyrics of Christmas carols or songs, Christmas bells, holly, popular cool drinks, images of wildlife, Zulu pots, butterflies and caterpillars, postage stamps and toilet rolls (much needed in the bush where there are no toilets in sight).

Another major factor about the book is its strong artistic element which will reach anyone interested in embroidery or needlework. The magic of An African Christmas Cloth is that it’s all told in embroidery - beautifully crafted from only two stitches - chain stitch and satin stitch. The pages depict a range of scenes from the busy roadways of Johannesburg and peacefully grazing cows to a golden sky above a dam. Reviva Schermbrucker captures the frenetic activity of weavers building nests and the fun of children playing in a hailstorm alongside mischievous monkeys clambering over rocks, Zulu maidens walking home or the vast yellow dusty veld set against a gloriously multi-hued sky.

As the publicity material states, “Reviva Schermbrucker has done what must be a first in the history of publishing - embroidered an advent calendar for children in story form. Two and a half years of inspired, meticulous 'stitching', a stellar reproduction and imagery with a South African flavour makes for an original book that hearkens back to a bygone world where things were not judged merely by their usefulness, but by their charm, wit, quality and integrity.”

An African Christmas Cloth is published by Jacana in hardcover at R175 ISBN:1-77009-081-9 (paperback R95 – ISBN 1-77009-151-3) – Caroline Smart