QUILTER:   Elain Vlok teaches quilting as part of the Clover Mama Afrika initiative
QUILTER: Elain Vlok teaches quilting as part of the Clover Mama Afrika initiative

As part of Clover's Mama Afrika initiative, Elain Vlok teaches women how to make quilts. She tells Margaret Harris why she loves being creative

How do you teach women to make quilts?

Clover Mama Afrika has two active groups of quilters. The Johannesburg group is made up of women from the Free State, Mpumalanga, North West and, of course, Gauteng.

The other active group, taught by me in Upington, includes women from the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape. These women are avid sewers and want to be quilters.

I have a passion for quilting and have been taught by top quilters. Transferring my knowledge and skills to women who are eager to learn is an absolute pleasure.

What do you think makes you a good teacher?

The love for what I do, the love for the people, the passion to share what I know, patience, understanding the people and where they come from, and a "never give up" attitude.

What is most important when making a quilt?

Good quality material, having all the necessary equipment and accessories - with which we provide our quilters- a tested pattern, patience and time.

Where and how did you learn about quilting?

At varsity I made two small cushions while studying domestic science and after that I wanted to learn how to make a proper quilt. I learnt from many people and have never stopped learning.

I still attend different courses in the country and shop for the most exquisite material both overseas and locally.

Your courses are part of a community project to empower caregivers with skills they can use to earn an income. What are some of the challenges you have faced in setting up and running this project?

When we provide the women with sewing machines, accessories, skills training and workshops, there is no problem.

However, our biggest challenge occurs when the members we've trained leave the Mamas' centres, which means we need to train new members.

We still see this as a success story as the members who have left are now equipped to get employment elsewhere.

We do have those who stay loyal to the project and do wonderful quality work that people, especially from overseas, love to buy. These quiltmakers tend to stay and excel.

Along with the quilting courses, you also teach people how to bake and garden. Which of the courses do you enjoy the most?

I love sewing and baking equally, and then gardening. I love to bake and dish up something that I have made, and to eat freshly baked goods gives me pleasure.

I love warm baked goods, coming from the oven and served immediately. It is a way of showing my love and spoiling the people around me. For sewing, nothing gives me more pleasure than beautiful material, the colours, how it feels.

 It is marvellous! I should have been a dressmaker or designer as I love material and all the things you can do with it. Gardening is wonderful because I adore sunny days, the feeling of working with my hands in the ground and watching a planted seed becoming a vegetable I can use.

I love to create things, whether baking, sewing or gardening.

You are also the manager of corporate services for Clover. How do your two roles influence each other?

It works very well since I work hard to help build the image of the company through the corporate work, and Clover Mama Afrika supports what I try to achieve. Clover changed its corporate identity last year to incorporate the "Way Better" philosophy.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

A doctor, dressmaker or hairdresser.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The variety and the wonderful people I work with, whether it is colleagues or all these wonderful Clover Mama Afrikas who keep me humble and grateful.

What do you find most difficult about your work?

I don't have enough money to do more good work!

What is the best career advice you have received and who gave it to you?

"You can, as long as you believe you can" and "Why should one moment of madness give you a lifetime of sadness?" and that was my mentor, my late mother, who was the best teacher in the world!

Did you take the advice?

Yes, they have become the mottos that I live by every day. They have guided and helped me to make fewer wrong decisions in my life as well as enabled me to inspire and motivate the people I work with.

*This article was first published in Sunday Times: Money & Careers