Words by Craig Harding (Husband, Son-in-law, Apprentice Weaver)
“You’ll be up for the dawn chorus”, they said, “It’ll be beautiful”, they said. What it is is dark. Dark and cold. I’m in the cab of a rental truck, nervous. It’s three thirty am on a Monday. Next to me is my father-in-law. Behind me our haul and his prized possession, Hattie. Hattie is a one hundred year old Hattersley loom and we’re on the road from the Mungo Mill in Plettenberg Bay to 100% Design South Africa in Johannesburg. Not many people would place themselves in an enclosed space with their in-law for sixteen hours, but my wife asked and I can’t say no. “Where do you see yourself in ten years” he asks. Good grief, we’re barely out of the starting blocks, she’s going to owe me.
Hours later I’m getting used to driving the truck, it’s a lot like my Corsa, if my Corsa weighed ten tons, was unwieldy and had a blind spot the size of a school bus. Discovered the blind spot outside Uitenhage, received dirty looks from thirty school children. The whole son-in-law, father-in-law road trip is going better than expected. He talks business and the future of Mungo (great things on the horizon), I make terrible puns and drive on.
In the mountains we find snow. “You know Hattie probably hasn’t ‘seen’ snow in eighty years” says Stu. Built in England in 1901, the Hattersley domestic loom would have seen quite a bit of snow in its youth. We stop, make a few snowballs, take a few pictures. My mother-in-law has made us exceptional sandwiches, I avoid the egg mayo though, I’m still in this cab with another person for eight more hours.
Finally the big city lights beckon. Day one, done.
The sun comes up earlier on the highveld and we’re not up quite as early, but still I feel like sleeping in and there’s no time. Stu and I aren’t alone anymore, my wife, Tessa and Donna the Mungo ‘does everything’ girls make up the rest of our team of four. We head to the Gallagher Convention Center and start setting up. For the next two days we lay wooden flooring, construct shelving, hang lighting and fold and stack towel after towel. Coffee keeps us going. Not every attendee sets up their own stand, plenty opt to have professional set builders do the grunt work. After three days of going full tilt, to be honest I’m a little envious. “That’s not the Mungo way,” says Stu, “hard work and sacrifice.” Next time I’ll eat the egg mayo and gas him.
Day one of 100% Design South Africa is a great success. Hattie after a few mishaps is running like a dream. Stu starts teaching me the art in her use. I in turn impart my new found knowledge on the hundreds of people who line up, fascinated to see a fully functional century old weaving loom producing textiles right in front of their eyes. “Is this just for show” I get asked. It makes me giggle every time, as if this Mungo family does anything ‘just for show’.
By the end of day one, Thursday, we’re a broken bunch. There’s an award ceremony for attendees, we stick around for a glass of wine and then three days of effort start taking their toll. We’re ok to leave though, if we were going to win anything they would have given us a heads up, surely? I pile everyone into our rental and drive the half hour to our hotel, we’re hardly on the highway and eyes are closing. Not mine, I’m ferrying precious cargo.
At the hotel Tessa’s phone rings. Turns out we won; “Best Stand Design” and we weren’t there to collect our award, blind. The extra hour sleep we get instead is invaluable.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the show as they say, must go on. We’re a bit sheepish about our award, but there’s no denying that Hattie is the star of the show. She’s a bit loud for some, but not for me, I’m in love. She purrs. I’m getting my warps and wefts right. I’ve stopped calling looms machines. I’m making progress. How long is a weaving apprenticeship I ask Stu, “Six years.” Alright so I’ve got a long way to go. “I’ll make it five for you, since you took my daughter off my hands.” Deal.
By Saturday, Stu leaves me in charge of Hattie. I’m more nervous than when I asked for his blessing. He loves his daughter, but this is something altogether different. “Whatever you do, don’t break one of the flying shuttles, there’s only one Hattie in South Africa and there’s only two shuttles for her, no spares.” I break into a sweat.
I weave a few meters of fabric on my own and then disaster, threads in the warp break. My only consolation is that it’s not my fault. Hattie falls silent. I can hear the girls extolling the benefits of flat weave towels next door. They talk with conviction, I guess it’s easy to do that when you really believe in your product and your brand. Meanwhile I’m stuttering and trying to explain to onlookers why Hattie’s not weaving anymore. Stu returns and has her up and running in no time flat, I guess that’s what fifty five years of weaving experience buys you.
And finally it’s Monday and we’re done. Well not quite. We spend another day in Johannesburg packing up our stand and putting Hattie in her berth in the truck. It will be another sixteen hour haul to bring her home and a little more labour to get her cosy next to the Ruti looms in the Mungo Mill, where she’ll go straight back to work weaving another batch of Mungo textiles. The next day on the road, Stu sleeps in the seat next to me and I watch the sunrise out of the passenger window, it’s quite beautiful.
*Thank you Craig for your take on Mungo’s journey to 100% Design Johannesburg. I do owe you. Love, your wife.