I love tea and have drunk a sea of it over more years than I’m willing to admit in print. Foolish me, all those years I composted my tea bags, but Jill Heyes had a much smarter idea.
She traveled to South Africa in 1998 and, seeing the poverty in the informal settlement of Imazamo Yethu, near Cape Town, she began teaching crafts to local women. After unsuccessful forays into paper mache and potato printing products, in 2000, Original T-Bag Designs was formed. Used, brewed tea bags, with the tea leaves removed, are dried under the African sun and become canvases for indigenous colorful markings.
These artists homes are bits of tin and wood nailed together and they have had no formal schooling, but what they do have is grit and imagination and a desire to make their families’ lives better.
The original group of artists has become skilled and talented at their craft, and Original T-Bags Designs now employs 15 permanent staff and a number of additional part-time employees. In addition, 10 people with disabilities from within the community are employed to assist. Their workshop has become a tourist destination.
Jodee Hetzer of Ewing will be exhibiting some of the T-Bag Designs, including quilts made from the painstaking painted tea bags, at Small World Coffee in Princeton Oct. 10 to Nov. 4.