Inspiration and background

In April 2020, Shabodien Roomaney, SAFIA trustee, thought about the making of a quilt. He had a vision, recalling his days in India, when he watched the ladies sew quilts.

A few suggestions were made like ‘The Apartheid Struggle’ or the ‘99 Names of Allah’. It had to be a mixed medium work of art. The Trustees thought it was a good idea. We would, of course, need upfront funding.

AWQAF was approached for funding and they agreed to give us R8000.00. This would only cover the materials. I somehow blocked out the making of it at that time. But more of that later.


Shireen Desai came on board immediately. She embroidered some pieces in silhouette, e.g. the famous Hector Petersen picture. She had many ideas as to how the struggle picture could be portrayed and suggested materials that could be used. It was doable and it looked like we had a direction.

But eventually Shabodien decided that it must be the ‘99 names of Allah’. It was decided that the size would be 2m x 1,8 m. Talk about ambition!! The first recourse was to go onto Google to source pictures. Shabodien’s vision was to have the 99 names in the forefront with Allah’s name showing through the names. It was rather difficult from an artist’s point of view. SAFIA members were requested to submit ideas. Google pictures were sent on the WhatsApp chat with the idea as envisioned. The difficulty would be to paint, embroider, and quilt this intricate work.

The impact of lockdown

With lockdown, everything slowed down, submissions came in few and far between, and the momentum was lost. Everyone seemed to have lost interest because we could not find a design.

Revival of the idea

In February 2021, the interest was revived. We asked for suggestions again. At a meeting between myself, Achmat, Razack, Raffiq, Nisa, Farhana and Saneeya, we threw all the ideas into a pot and created a brief which was given to Achmat to design.

A few days later, he came up with a design which was a great combination of the ideas discussed. It was the map of SA with flowing curves drawn inside the map, and in it would be the name of Allah with the 99 names of Allah, written in Kufic script, in the letters of Allah. The names were encircled in double-lined hexagon shapes. The icons added to this were 2 protea flowers on either side of the top of the map. The Drommedaris ship, the vessel in which Jan Van Riebeeck arrived on the Cape Shores in 1652, featured below one of the proteas. On the other side of the map, below the second protea, was the 1st Muslim shrine in Faure, Macassar, and just below that the iconic Table Mountain. Below the map is the sea. This was to be bordered by black material which would have African beading. It would be hung by laths at the top and the bottom.

Achmat’s design measured about 1.25m x 1.5m, but as we desired a 2m x 1.8m quilt, we had to find scanners and printers who could print it accordingly.

Getting started on the making

After much search, I found Plan B, a company in Plumstead who could do this. A young man working there was very intrigued by this project and rose to the challenge of designing it on computer. After 3 hours, he produced the perfect scan and printed it on two sheets of copy paper, as there wasn’t a printer big enough to do one print. Razack’s cousin, who owns a printing company, offered to enlarge it to the size needed at a reduced cost. First step done!

Farhana joined me in shopping for the materials needed and her husband Iqbal knew the owner of the material shop we went to. A phone call from him secured our purchase of R1250.00 for free! Feeling buoyed by this windfall, we set off to the other material shops for more purchases. We came home feeling chuffed with our day’s work.

The owner of Stitch n Stuff was also intrigued by our project. Much discussion took place and she recommended two ladies who were experts in making quilts. We were warned that it would be expensive, possibly as much as R20,000.

The start of the hard, hard work

The prints took about 2 weeks. Now, at this point, I should speak about all the driving I had to do. The printers were in Beacon Valley, so that needed 2 trips. At least 4 trips at that point were made to Hadet in Kenilworth, who were going to do the 99 names calligraphy embroidery. The intricacy of the work had to be discussed many times. The printers told us that they use their own twill material to print on, as it is on a roll and that they cannot print on loose pieces of material. So we bought 3 pieces of 2 ½ metres each. However, the finished print was messy with ink and we had to plan a way to clean it up. We printed 3 copies.

When Hadet saw the print, I could see the hesitancy about doing the work. I then decided that the printing had to be done on the twill we bought. Fortunately, Hadet had designed the work on their computers, using the scanned design done by Plan B. The embroidery of this took another 3 weeks.

In the interim, we met with the quilt ladies. They were very interested in this rather unique quilt that we wanted. Many discussions followed. They told me that the background on the quilt could not be the twill the printers used as it would not give the desired effect. Colours were discussed and we settled on a sky blue colour because the appliqued icons need a sky background.

The next problem was to copy the icons onto the blue material for embroidery. Achmat came to the rescue and carbon copied it on the blue material. It was cut up into the 4 squares needed for the embroidery.

These little curveballs thrown my way caused delays and, not to mention, a fair amount of stress and running around. The quilters said that they would use 1 of the twill pieces we bought for the backing of the quilt. When it was decided to embroider the 99 names on our twill, we felt a bit relieved that at least that was not a waste of money.


It was agreed that we would have to paint the icons first, as it would be too much work to embroider it in its entirety. Achmat, Farhana, Raffiq and myself set about doing this. That was quite enjoyable. Especially as these three were masters in their craft. I was just the dabbler.

The planning of the embroidery and implementation of ideas

Now with the painted work done, I had to find embroiderers. Aunty Farieda Salie was the first volunteer to do the shrine and Table Mountain and she recommended Aunty Gori Lombaard who decided to do the ship. My friend, Gadija Samsodien, offered to do the proteas.

This was a protracted process. It was mid-March when the embroiders came on board. This was 6 months of anticipation, patience and anxiety. In the meantime, the quilters, Sheila and Lorraine, were an absolute pleasure to work with. Whilst the embroidery was being done, they were planning the layout. However, at this stage, they were still not very clear about the design. I took one of the paper prints I had and, using my grandchildren’s crayons, I coloured in the waves designed on the map of SA. I took a picture and sent it to them with explanations. When we met again, I could see the surprise and understanding of what I was talking about.

We then started pinning up our material on the board, matching the colours most suited together. I wrote on my paper print how the colours should be matched. That set the two of them on the right path.

On my subsequent visits, both of them mentioned twice that it was taking a lot longer than they thought. Twice I ignored what they were saying and, the third time, I had to acknowledge it. Not promising that we would relook at the price, but rather “let’s see what happens” I was inspired by their knowledge of quilting and layout and knew we had made the right choice in choosing them.


On my next visit, they had done a mock layout of all the pieces. Finally, we had a picture of what the quilt would look like. Lorraine and I met again and went looking for the black border material. It had to be a specific type of cotton. Three hours later and a few shop stops in Maitland and Ndabeni, we found what we were looking for. The black border had to be beaded, a task Farhana and I undertook to do. I now have a very healthy respect for beadwork done by African ladies. It was the most time-consuming, laborious task. We used tiny beads and I had no idea of how long it takes to string and sew them onto the material. WHEW !!!.

I moaned to my ‘Run Walk For Life’ buddies about it and two of them volunteered to help. My friend Gadija, who did the Proteas embroidery, also assisted. So between the five of us, we managed to do the beading… It took forever! I will add that I did most of it… and felt that I had gone partially blind in the process. That was the last stage of the making of the quilt.


I took it back to the quilters for cleaning up and for the laths to be attached. The entire process took 11 months. It is a magnificent work of art. 14 people were involved in the designing and making of it.

Payment to the workers

Meanwhile, I was concerned about how we were going to pay the quilters. The quilters’ final bill for the making was R17000.00. A loan was secured Alhamdullilah.

Showing it off!

The quilt was first hung at the Al Ihklaas Gallery at Islamia Library. The curator of Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum saw it and requested that it be included in the SAFIA Exhibition which ran at the museum from Jan 2022 to Jan 2023. It was exhibited centre stage and received many accolades from visitors.

And so…

This is the story of the making of The Grand Quilt. It was an intense labour of love.