The Taunina studio in Woodstock in Cape Town is on the top floor of a 1950’s industrial building, where a bunch of entrepreneurs and established design businesses have taken up office. On the busy street below, taxis hustle passengers to and from the city centre.
This truly South African strip is sometimes rough, and sometimes sublime. Fine restaurants at the Biscuit Mill serve gnocchi with truffle oil and a glass of Chenin Blanc for lunch while pre-teens, barefoot and high on ‘tik’, graffiti their tags onto derelict walls only a few strides away.
The studio is a light-filled, open-plan space with brick walls and exposed beams. Looking out of the steel-framed windows, which stretch across the length of the room, you can see the city below. Beyond the highways to the left, the Atlantic Ocean spreads out into the distance. To the right, your view is of the majestic slopes of Devil’s Peak, part of the Table Mountain range with its granite cliffs lifting up to the sky from vast expanses of indigenous Fynbos.
It is here in this little studio, quietly wedged between mountain and sea on the top floor of a building with a view that Taunina’s artists gather to create the world’s most beautiful embroidered soft toys and bedroom quilts.
The chatter is quiet and gentle. The language is mostly Shona, the mother tongue of Zimbabweans, of which there are five here today.
The atmosphere is one of dedicated yet relaxed industry. Occasionally there’s laughter, periods of quiet or an impromptu gathering to help select a colour palate for a new layer of embroidery on a design. It is skilled and careful finger work. It needs both concentration and a peaceful mindset. As the minutes melt into hours, flowers, bees and balloons are meticulously sewn into strips of cotton, which will eventually find their way onto a tummy or an earflap of a Taunina bear.
It is the early stage of creation. And yet, on a quiet viewing of these women at work, it is also the full blossoming of careers made real. It is what most people strive for all their lives – a happy, dignified professional life which earns an income, enables creativity and allows for security, companionship and productivity.
On the centre of the 12m-long table where these artists create their magic, still sharing stories, quietly embroidering or ironing fine cut outs of fabric, completed bears keep watch and inspire. Some are already wrapped up in silk bags, waiting to be packaged into custom-made hatboxes before being shipped off to faraway lands. One bear, beautifully adorned with pastel butterflies, waits patiently with a peephole slit down her back, not quite ready for travel until she is given that extra little handful of organic cotton stuffing to get her figure just right.
The rain has started again. The steady flow of drops sings its own magical music onto the corrugated iron roof above. The Cape’s grey mist has moved into town, hiding the ocean and the mountain slopes from view.
The work continues. There is still chatter, the odd burst of laughter, and the sound of a kettle boiling indicates teatime. It is safe, warm and happy in here and it is indeed a wonderful place to spend a winter’s morning.
To visit the Taunina studio, call +27 21 416 7719 or email email@example.com.