Veld to Fabric: Frances V.H
Frances V.H spent the first 11 years of her life in a Klein Karoo dorp and returned many times thereafter while on break from boarding school or later to visit her mohair farming family, but it would take 20 years before she fully realised that the dream was right under her feet and decided to settle down in Prince Albert. Ask her if she misses the thrill of the fashion industry in Hong Kong or Tokyo, where she harvested some of her business acumen and much of her entrepreneurial spirit, and she’ll remind you of just how connected we all are now, and that the rest of the world has never been more within reach.
Ironically, it was while out there in the thick of the “scene” that she realised she was thinking too small and it would be back home in Prince Albert of all places, a relatively small town nestled in amongst vast and semi-desert landscapes and dramatic mountain passes, where she could unleash the hugeness of her creative spirit.
“There is something about the Karoo and the antiquity of the place, that I feel we all have some umbilical connection to. The Karoo is so ancient and so vast. There are open and endless skies and huge landscapes but even going back to a time long before us, this used to be the bottom of the ocean floor and if you look at it like that, it is completely trippy. The plants look like fossilised coral, the rocks take on new meaning, and if you go to the coast, you will see the similarities between the plant life. Even the Swartburg pass is literally mud that has been crumpled and pushed and hardened into mesmerising shapes.
This is a magical place and I am completely humbled by it.”
Frances was always interested in fashion and textiles and recalls a glittering Turner Classic Movies phase that could’ve sent her off in many directions in her life, but it was her father (and a natural affinity for the exquisite mohair her family produced) who kept her grounded. “If you’re interested in clothing and fashion, you better come and spend some time in the veld, to find out where this all starts.” He told her once, to which she remembers thinking as all young adults do, “you poor, delusional man, you have no idea!” He was a wonderful and stylish man, but he was still a farmer.
Little did she know back then, Frances would go on to make an honest farmhouse and a tiny, intimate barn turned studio her sanctuary, for a craft so deeply connected to its surroundings that it could not exist anywhere else.
"As a human, you look at the Karoo landscape and you feel like a speck of dust; insignificant in relation to its enormity and endless nothingness, the nature and history it embodies. And yet because you are this one, little person experiencing all of this, the opposite becomes true. You feel like the biggest and most privileged person in the world. You become incredibly conscious of every detail; the purple hue of this flower, or the intense tones in that sunset, the surreal azure of the sky, and at times it feels like I am the only person in the world who sees it so intensely. That is what the Karoo does for me and what I find completely addictive; me and this porous vastness."
Frances pulled back on her regular commutes to a Cape Town base at the start of lockdown, to make Prince Albert her permanent address, which has given her even more time to play in her magical environment.
“It is when we play that the magic really happens. It is so freeing to be creating from a place where I know that what we’re making here stems from just walking in the veld. Every fibre is connected to the land and the hands that make it. Every piece has a soul.
Going back to textiles, many people think that because mohair is natural and this is the desert, they should be created in natural tones – and, while there is space for that, I must ask, if they have ever stopped to look deeply at a praying mantis, or seen the colours in a sunset? It’s completely cosmic and wild. One of mohair’s most wondrous qualities is its ability to capture colour because it has a natural lustre, curl and character it gives the finished fabric a luxurious, silky look and feel. It’s wildly celebrated in the textile world for holding colour beautifully, so I use it to reflect the environment from which it originates. Part of being creative is having the ability to see the beauty around you and channel it into your work. For me there is a need right now for colour; It creates pockets of relief to this prickly, unforgiving, scorched Earth."
The endless horizons of the the sacred and mystical Karoo mirror Francis’ own capacity for creativity and every piece reads like a great poem.