Carpet weaving is one of the oldest art forms. The art has been practiced in so many ways using different medium from wool to everything else under the sun. That is perhaps what we have been led to believe by Doreen Sebunya, a carpet maker in Nairobi who has found a new material to work with.
Kitenge, a distinctive, colourful fabric loved by African women is not what many would think as a material for making carpets.
But when Doreen started browsing YouTube videos on how to hand stitch carpets, she knew that kitenge would make an excellent material.
“My friend, also from Uganda, used to sell such and she made me this lovely piece I have in my house,” she says.
Doreen has two intensely coloured and decorated rugs in her home in Karen, Nairobi; the first one is in the foyer and the other is on the foot of the bed.
“My dog lays on this rug and everyone who comes into the house steps on it yet it takes so long before it gets dirty,” she says.
The rug is unique, easy to clean and dries quickly and this is what made her want to try her hand in the art. But she quickly learnt that weaving isn’t for a solitary artist.
“I asked my house help to bring me some women which she did. The women who live in Kibera and Kawangware would soon become my allies,” she says.
Doreen provides employment for the women and she trains them in her house before giving them materials to make the carpets from their homes.
“I transport the materials to their homes and they work from there. After they are done hand-stitching, we bring them to a back room in my house and I find a way of selling them,” says Doreen who sometimes sells her vitenge carpets at Purdy Arm’s in Karen.
She gives the women the space to come up with their own designs.
“I also custom-make for my clients, in terms of colour, size, shape and fabric,” she says.
While it all seems easy, her work involves travelling and buying good quality kitenge material.
“I buy the fabrics from Rwanda, Uganda and Nairobi. before I do anything I have to wash them. If the colour runs then we do not use the fabric lest we end up with a rug that stretches,” she explains.
The rugs sell from Sh10,000 depending on the sizes. The price being attributed to the materials used.
“I use 36 yards of fabric for the small rugs and these are not just your ordinary kitenge fabric. I also have to pay the women a good salary for their work,” she says.
As far as experiments go, she would like to try her hand in rugs made from animal skin.
“I want to manipulate the skin with the fabric and crotchet the fabric to get it to appear in any shape,” she says.
Her rugs are best for homes with children with allergies.
She says, when placed in a high traffic area, the rugs need to be rotated to ensure it wears out evenly.