The Winterveld, where the women live and create, is situated 70 kilometres northwest of Tshwane (Pretoria). It has a complex and troubled history as a result of political, social, economic and gender forces that have left the area under-developed and many residents unemployed, poor and vulnerable. This situation led to the founding of the Mapula Project in 1991 and has been reflected in many of the embroideries over the years.

The actual founding of the Mapula project was the result of commitments made by various groups of people to upgrade the economic circumstances of the women in the Winterveld. In 1991 the Soroptimist International Club of Pretoria introduced the possibility of an embroidery project to a few women in the Winterveld and invited four women on the staff of the University of South Africa as well as a Sister representing the Sisters of Mercy who live and run an education and skills centre in the Winterveld, to make up a steering committee with Soroptimist members, under the leadership of Professor Karin Skawran.

Of the founders Janetje van der Merwe has sustained her involvement to the present. The praise poem captured in embroidery and presented to Janetje in 1999 embodies the impact the project has had on the lives of the women in the Winterveld and their heartfelt gratitude to Janetje. ‘Long may Janetje grow as old as the mountain.


Mapula Embroideries has over the years made a difference in the lives of over 200 women and their families. Since 1991 the income has helped the embroiderers feed and educate their children and improve their lives.

Apart from learning a skill, the embroiderers are all part of the Mapula Embroideries community. They work together as a group and are responsible and committed to attain the communal goal. The project has offered them opportunities to broaden their horizons and to build self-esteem. A few have had the opportunity to travel abroad, and some have grown into leadership roles responsible for the production management of their work groups and participating in sales and marketing.

Donor money coming in through the project helps with transport money to the clinic and care for orphans of embroiderers who have passed on.

Being a Mapula embroiderer has provided the opportunity to ‘give back’ to those even less fortunate. Since 2015 the project has inspired a similar embroidery project to launch in Kibeho, Rwanda. A few experienced women of Mapula Embroideries travelled to Rwanda to train the first 19 marginalized women over there, and the project is doing well. With some more support from all over the world and some in between visits, 2020 should now be the year to grow that group to 60 members.


After 25 years the Mapula Embroidery Project, that was mainly run by one volunteer (Janetje van der Merwe), became governed by the discretionary powers of the trustees of the Mapula Embroidery Trust which was registered in 2016. The Mapula Embroidery Trust qualified as a public benefit organisation (PBO), thus being granted by SARS tax exemption and approval as a Section 18A entity with tax benefits for its donors. The Mapula Embroidery Trust is a registered nonprofit organisation (NPO 190-233).

The Mapula Embroidery Trust board consists of 7 trustees who represent different stakeholders and contribute their expertise to fulfill its main objectives which include:

  • Support for the community of Mapula embroiderers as they create high quality, sought-after, unique, individual embroidery pieces which tell their stories and capture South African society from their perspectives
  • The securing of a sustainable embroidery enterprise, empowering women of the Winterveld, and providing much needed family income.

To safeguard this social enterprise the Trust will keep on the lookout for and recruit entrepreneurial women and make sure that they can keep on creating high quality, contextual, beautiful collectors’ items and usable art.


The community of embroiderers are living in different areas. To manage production 3 groups were formed, each with a coordinator who takes care of organizing production in their group, but also to deal with possible social issues . These coordinators together with 4 chosen members from the broader embroidery community make out the Mapula Production Board. Amongst them, two members are chosen to take part in the Mapula Embroidery Trust.


From humble beginnings the women’s work now hangs in museums and private collections worldwide, and is sought after by tourists, conference organizers and overseas buyers. Quilters from all over the world visit the project in the Winterveld on a regular basis.  Read more about MAPULA EMBROIDERIES special achievements over the years.

2019 Mapula Embroideries are visited for the third time by Nancy Crow, a world-renowned quilter, accompanied by a group of textile experts. She purchases a selection of Mapula wall hangings to add to her vast collection of textiles.

2019 Mapula art works are bought by Dr Natalie Hahn of the Malaika Foundation for the Wayne State College in Nebraska. These will be presented to the college to honor an outstanding Nebraska Global Educator, Dr Randy Bertolas.

2019 Mapula Embroidery Trust and the Department of Consumer Science of the University of Pretoria (UP), form a collaboration agreement.

2018 Works by the Mapula Embroiderers are accepted for The Innibos National Arts Festival Craft AWARDS 2018

2017 Works by the Mapula Embroiderers are accepted for The Innibos National Arts Festival Craft AWARDS 2017

2016/2017 Mapula embroiderers are invited by Cool Capital Saadjies project to participate and create works for the first time in 3D for the Cool Capital Saadjies Exhibition.

2016 The Mapula Project is being registered as an independent entity – the Mapula Embroidery Trust which is a registered NPO (No 190-233) with Tax Exemption status and Section 18A benefits.

2015   Rossinah Maepa, Dorah Hlongwane and Janetje van der Merwe travels to Kibeho, Rwanda to teach 12 Rwandan women embroidery skills. The wife of the Rwandan High Commissioner to SA, Netty Butera approached Mapula Embroideries and asked if we could assist. Funding was received from Soroptimists in the Netherlands. For more information on this project: www:

2015   Works are bought by the Malaika Foundation for the Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska.

2014   Prof William Woger, Professor of History at the UCLA, California,and Prof Nancy Clark donated their collection of Mapula wall hangings depicting social and political history by the Mapula women, to the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Mapula wall hangings form part of the Fowler’s African Art collection.

2012   Mapula Wall Hangings are purchased by the Friends of the Gregg Museum of Art & Design, for the museum at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, United States of America.

2009   An embroidered cloth, drawn by Emanuel Maepa and embroidered by Savannah Chauke was presented to President Obama and hangs in the White House, Washington DC.

2006   An order for 52 items for the Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls near Johannesburg was completed.

2006   A well-researched book, Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld by Prof Brenda Schmahmann is published by David Krut Publishing and launched at the Pretoria Art Museum.

2005   Mapula exhibits at Reconciliation, an exhibition of selected art works curated by Dr Elfriede Dreyer, during the Arts and Reconciliation Festival, 15 to 30 March 2005, University of Pretoria

2003   Mapula cloths are selected for the South African National Gallery (Cape Town) permanent Art collection. Of the works are by Selina Makwana and Rossinah Maepa

2003   Mapula cloths are bought for SA Airways’ Business Class Departure Lounges

2002   Works by members of the Mapula Project are selected for the FNB Vita Crafts Award Exhibition at Museum Africa Aug/Sept 2002. Members whose works were exhibited are: Rossina Maepa, Selinah Makwana, Josephine Rakubu, Maggie Ringane, Selina Mahlangu  

2002   Mapula project is selected to participate in the Imbizu Crafts Exhibition curated by the Dept of Arts and Culture at the Ubuntu Village during the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, Aug/Sept 2002

2002   Mrs Zanele Mbeki, wife of the President of South Africa, purchases 65 Mapula cloths to give as gifts to the partners of the Visiting Heads of States during the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, Aug/Sept 2002

2002   Works of Sherley Munyuku and Pinky Resenga are selected for the Innovative Threads Exhibition at Nova Constantia, Cape Town. The exhibition went to the UK and Ireland, curated and facilitated by Margie Garratt

2001   The Mapula Project receives the Soroptimist International Best Practices Award in recognition not only of the quality of the work produced by the Mapula women but also of the way in which the project was affecting their lives and their interaction with their environment.

2001   US photographer, Roland Freeman visits the Mapula Group in July 2001.

           He purchases a number of cloths for various exhibitions.


2001   The Mapula Group together with 9 other crafts groups are selected to present their skills and work at the Oxo Tower during the CELEBRATE SOUTH AFRICA Festivities from 26 to 28 May 2001.

Rossina Maepa is invited by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (SA) to represent the Mapula Embroidery Group at the South African Festival in London.

2001   Works by the Mapula group is selected for the Women of Tswane exhibition curated by Dr Lydia de Waal for the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

2001   Work by Christina Mabasa is selected for Innovative Threads Exhibition at

           Nova Constantia, Cape Town.


2001   Alliance Francaise Pretoria hosts 6 Mapula exhibitions country wide including one in Gabarone, Botswana and one in Swaziland – this coincides with Mapula’s 10th anniversary

2001   Works by Sybil Modisha, Pinky Resenga and Engelina Maseko is selected for the permanent collection of Africa Bank

2000   Unisa Art Gallery purchases works by Elsie Maluleke and Stella Mnisi for it’s permanent collection.

2000   The Mapula Group wins the overall gold Award of R10 000.00 at the prestigious FNB Vita Craft Now Millennium Awards Exhibition.

1999   Mapula participates in a group exhibition at ABSA (Banking Company) head office in Johannesburg. The exhibition is curated by Cecilia Loedorf

1999   The Mapula Project is incorporated in the first year History of Art Course at Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa

1999   Sherley Munyuku’s work is included in the corporate collection of a Swiss Textile Company in Cape Town.

1998   Selina Makwana’s work is bought by the Gertrude Posel Art Gallery (University of the Witwatersrand) and by the Unisa Art Gallery, Pretoria for their permanent art collections

1998   Sherley Munyuku wins a merit award of R1 000 for her embroidered cloth, GOLDEN JAGUAR, at the FNB VITA CRAFT NOW AWARDS EXHIBITION, organised by the Crafts Council of South Africa.

1998   Mapula’s works are accepted by a selected panel of judges for the FNB VITA CRAFT NOW AWARDS EXHIBITION, organised by the Crafts Council of South Africa.

1998   Mapula cloths are used as back drops at the Ambassadorial reception for the South African Soccer team, Bafana Bafana in France.

1998   Works by Rossina Maepa, Selina Makwana, Irene Mathe and Josephine Rakubu are chosen for the WOMEN’S VOICE EXHIBITION, in Stuttgard, Germany, under the patronage of the South African Ambassador in Germany and sponsored by Daimler Benz. Facilitated by Karin Lijnes and David Koloane.

1998   MAPULA, in collaboration with the KAROSSWORKERS is selected to exhibit at the KLEIN KAROO KUNSTEFEES during April 1998 in Oudtshoorn, South Africa.

1997   Mapula creates two groups. Both groups market under the name of Mapula. Group One is co-ordinated by Mrs Emily Maluleke and Group Two is coordinated by Mrs Rossina Maepa Approximately 80 women are members of the project.

1996   Mapula exhibits Embroidered Impressions on the island of Naxos, Greece, under the auspices of the Naxos Catholic Centre. The exhibition is curated by Professor Karin Skawran, Klaus Pfeiffer (Naxos) and Janétje van der Merwe and officially opened by the South African Ambassador to Greece, His Excellency Mr Dawie Jacobs.

For this exhibition the group starts to embroider large cloths to be used as tablecloths and wall hangings.

1995   Mapula project participates in an exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum Embroidered Impressions, curated by Janétje van der Merwe and Dirkie Offringa, the curator of the Pretoria Art Museum. This exhibition includes embroideries from embroidery collectives in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

1992   The project starts producing cushion covers and shirts, selling them at craft markets and to shops such as the African Art Centre in Durban and Art Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa.

1991   The Mapula Embroidery Project initiated by Soroptimists International Pretoria with approximately 20 women. Operates from the DWT Nthate School, Sisters of Mercy in the Winterveldt, North West of Pretoria, South Africa.

Training, developing and coordination of project by Emily Maluleke, part time teacher at the DWT Nthate Centre. Supported by the Soroptimists International Pretoria and members of staff of the University of South Africa.

Mapula Embroideries appears in the following publications:

  • CRAFT South Africa -traditional/ transitional/ contemporary by Susan Sellschop, Wendy Goldblatt and Doreen Hemp
  • CRAFT ART in South Africa by Elbé Coetsee
  • CRAFT ART in South Africa – creative intersections by Elbé Coetsee
  • Through the Looking Glass – Representations of Self by South African Women Artists by Brenda Schmahmann (Published by David Krut Publishing)
  • Between Union and Liberation, Women Artists in South Africa 1910-1994, Edited by Marion Arnold and Brenda Schmahmann
  • African Arts, UCLA, Autumn 2005, Volume XXXVIII by Prof Brenda Schmahmann
  • Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld by Prof Brenda Schmahmann, published by David Krut Publishing
  • Voice-Overs – WITS writings Exploring African Artworks
  • Innovative Threads – A decade of South African Fibre Art by Liza Gillespie
  • De Arte – Dynamic Shifts: The Art of the Winterveld Women by Karin Lijnes – April 1999
  • Mazanendaba by Gcina Mhlophe. A Children’s booklet published in Japanese. Illustrations and embroideries done by women from the Mapula Embroidery Project.
  • A Decade of Democracy – South African Art 1994-2004, from the permanent collection IZIKO, South African National Gallery
  • Cool Capital – Guerrilla Design Magazine. Editor: Pieter Mathews
  • Article in Business Day – Rwanda Reaps what Gauteng Project sewed
  • Sewing their Stories, Telling their lives – embroidered narratives from Chile to the World Stage (1969 – 2016) by Martha J Manier (Humboldt State University Press)