Monday, 20 June 2011

Visiting Kenya

Karibu (Welcome)! Let's go to Kenya today. Before we get into all the beautiful quilting going on there though, I need to get a better picture of the country. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but up until last year, I always thought Kenya was in West Africa where Mali is, but it is actually on the equator in East Africa. I made a quick stop at Wikipedia to find out more about Kenya. It is on the Indian Ocean and bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. Its capital city is Nairobi and it has numerous wildlife reserves containing thousands of animal species. According to Wikipedia, it covers 580,000 km2 (a little bigger than France) and has a population of nearly 39 million residents.

I learned that Kenya's population has rapidly increased over the past several decades, and as a result, about 73% of Kenyans are under 30. In fact, in the last 80 years, Kenya's population has grown from 2.9 million to 37 million! I also learned that it's quite a diverse country as well, and most Kenyans are bilingual in English and Swahili.

Did you know that Kenya is believed, by archeologists like Richard Leakey (remember this name), to be the cradle of mankind? There is evidence that it has been inhabited by people for as long as human history has existed.

According to Wikipedia, "The English meaning of the word Kenya is 'place with ostriches' – in reference to the black and white plumage of male ostriches. When viewed from a distance the snow-capped peak of the mountain is like the white feathers of a male ostrich."

The country traditionally produces world renowned tea and coffee, and more recently became a major exporter of fresh flowers to Europe. Tourism is now Kenya's largest foreign exchange earning sector.

Okay, enough of the geography, let's check out some of the quilters who live in this intriguing country!

Quilting Bloggers shows two blog listings for Kenya. The first blog is Dena Crain's. She's a very talented and well-known artist and teacher. She's originally from the States, but has been living in Kenya since 1990. Her longtime partner is Jonathan Leakey (businessman brother to Richard Leakey, the anthropologist mentioned above, and son of Louis and Mary Leakey, renowned paleontologists -- quite the family!). She did a workshop and lecture for our Guild here in Ottawa last year. I didn't get a chance to take her workshop (which I heard was excellent), but she gave us a wonderful introduction to Kenya, the quilting scene there and her work. In addition to travelling, she also teaches through Quilt University, giving quilters across the world the opportunity to learn from her - Yay!

One thing I appreciated about Dena Crain's lecture, which is also evident on her blog, is how much she loves Kenya and the countryside. And like Jill in Thailand, Dena tells you where to shop for fabric in Nairobi!

I found Dena's blog post called "10 Sewing Techniques Every Quilter Should Know" very helpful, as was her "10 Steps to a Better Quilt". She also has a free downloadable pattern called "Calligraphy" that looks fun to try. And then there's her Gallery. Wow! I love her Designer Pinwheels (also a class through Quilt University), her African Rock Art Quilts, her Jua Kali, her Spirit Works, her Bubbles quilt, and her Conversation Piece quilt. What a talent! Ever practical, Dena also includes a tutorial on making mosquito nets, a must in Kenya.

The other blog listed in Quilting Bloggers is the Kenya Quilt Guild, of which Dena is a founder (along with Canadian Anne Mains - yay, another Canadian!). They recently had a series of workshops with Paramjeet Bawa, an art quilter and teacher from Kuwait, where they did a beautiful thread sketch landscape.Wow, to have such control!

I had a ball looking at all the beautiful quilts from the Guild's 2010 Exhibition. What a wonderful variety of styles. I especially loved Gretchen Mwaura's Dreams Come True and the Challenge Quilt by Jasbir Sokhi. In 2009, the guild hosted the Artful Bra Exhibition at RaMoMA. Members donated decorated bras which were then sold to raise money for breast cancer treatment and education. What a great idea!

I was about to quit for the day (son #3 was waking up from his nap), when I came across a Kenya on The Quilt Show’s “The Daily Blog” post on the Guild site. In February of this year, Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims went to Kenya in February with Jim West's Sew Many Places Safari. They posted three video clips on their blog about their visit, including a visit they had with the guild. The videos definitely added to my visit!

Well, that's it for today, I think. Once again, I feel like I've barely touched the surface of the quilting culture in this country, but I still learned a lot and had fun along the way. I hope you did too!

So I hope you have a nice day or as they say in Swahili "Nakutakia siku njema!",

P.S. On the translation site of useful Swahili phrases, I found "Gari langu linaloangama limejaa na mikunga," which translates to "my hovercraft is full of eels". Since it is highly unlikely I'd ever get the opportunity to use this useful phrase in real life, I just had to put it here. Cheers!


  1. This is a very interesting piece on quilting in Kenya. I follow Dena Crain and that is how I found your site.
    Great blog post.

  2. I too arrived via Dena Crain's blog! This is a good tour of Kenya, having lived there 15 years I should know!! Lovely country, problems yes, but amazing just the same! Thank you!

  3. I loved all the pieces shared in this article. They are very beautiful and creative! I have just recently began sewing and I get all my pieces from sewing pattern downloads just thought I would share that with anyone interested!


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