Frances van Hasselt is a designer and entrepreneur focusing on mohair textiles. She collaborates with a team of women artisans in rural communities, weaving a story about the origins of textiles, simultaneously allowing the natural environment to inform every aspect of their design and making process.
Raised on a mohair farm in the Karoo desert, van Hasselt has a deep affinity for this natural fibre. She has spent the last several years – after working in the fashion and textile industries in Hong Kong and South Africa – developing a business designed to elevate mohair to a more prominent status as one of the world’s most ancient, exclusive fibres.
To acquire knowledge and technical insight into ways to work with mohair, van Hasselt spent time abroad in various textile centers (most notably, residencies in Japan and Italy under the teaching of yarn ateliers Masaki Sato and Matteo Meucci).
Her role in creating an inclusive, sustainable supply chain specifically adapted to the eco-system of the South African textile industry earned her a Mandela Washington Fellowship. Her studies (a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics from the University of Stellenbosch and a post-graduate degree in International Relations at The University of Cape Town) ensure that the story of her work is considered and rooted in history and context.
Mohair is an ancient and sustainable natural fibre. South Africa, and specifically the Karoo desert, is home to Angora goat farming and produces the world’s largest supply of mohair. And yet, some 80% of mohair is exported in raw form with little done locally to beneficiate and celebrate its unique qualities.
In this work, each panel has been created using mohair from various regions of South Africa and Lesotho. The palette was kept in its clean, purest form using raw mohair. This neutral base is used to reflect the intricate connection and impact nature has on fiber: The age of an animal, the climate and conditions it lives in, and what it eats for breakfast influences the colour and character of its mohair and ultimately how it translates into fabric.
Van Hasselt traces the steps of textiles back to their roots; Fabrics start with rainfall, the land, the health of animals, the care of a herdsman, the process of spinning yarn, and finally the making process, the last step in a long line of elements and actors that came before.
Mohair from each region was hand-spun into yarn and woven by women artisans in the Karoo. The irregularity of the yarns and weave conveys the subtle shifts and changes of the Karoo’s vast horizons, her twisted knots of ancient rocks, and the silence of the stories fossilized into the belly of this ancient seabed.
In a time when the world had very much come to stand still, we were made increasingly aware that nature continued and flourished. Weaving the elements together however required human touch – people who were forced to stop for the first time to take a breath. It was during this breath of time that artisans shaped their thinking into the woven pallets of these landscaped panels.
Women worked from their homes using a needle and thread to navigate their way through their minds’ meanderings; The anger in a dark dotted circle, the lightness of a faint stitch-line of quiet, the unexpected turns and swirls of shadows and passing pleasures, the thrill of rain, the silence of sunsets, a blob on the couch, a reflection of the feelings and fumblings of women stitching their way through the daze, escaping into making as a way of hearing their inner voices on the canvas of fabric.
These panels are the homes of souls, the fibre of animals, the droplets of rain, and the crunch of a vygie for breakfast. The openness to imagine the vastness of the unknown and the joy we can find the in-and-out motion of darning our reality into nonsensical, raw textile roadmaps of where we have come and how we wish to tread into tomorrow.