African Folklore – July/August 2006

In the past two years, more than 2,000 adults and youth across the United States have participated in African folklore embroidery classes taught by Leora Raikin. The group of elementary students pictured here with Leora participated in a six-week program in which they learned about South African tribal life and culture while stitching and beading in the African folklore tradition.
Leora Raikin’s passion for her native home of South Africa and the Ndebele (pronounced in-da-belly) people shines through as she creates and markets African folklore embroidery kits and teaches classes in the Los Angeles area. Class participants, adults as well as youth, learn about the culture of the Ndebele tribe and the type of needlework designs for which the women in the tribe are known.
The Ndebele are a patriarchal society where women are of lower status than men. Tribal art traditions, however, are the responsibility of the women and are passed down from mother to daughter.
An unemployment rate of 40 percent makes it almost impossible for the tribe’s women to get paying jobs. Inspired by the women’s beautiful embroidery and beadwork, Raikin found a way to introduce African culture to youth in the US and help ease the economic challenges of the Ndebele women. She employs approximately 30 South African women through African Folklore Embroidery, a business she began in 2003. The women hand dye thread and design the kits Raikin sells in her classes.
Raikin teaches her American students basic embroidery stitches. They then choose their own thread colors and sometimes add their own elements to the provided designs that depict African animals and the life and culture of the Ndebele.
“The children especially enjoy the Ndebele-style art,” says Raikin. “The animals, people, and other design elements don’t have to be proportional. The only limit is the student’s imagination.”
African Folklore Embroidery kits are being carried in 30 stores in the United States. Kits and threads may also be purchased online at To learn more about African folklore embroidery, for information on becoming an instructor or consultant, or to sell kits, call 818-999-6094 or e-mail Leora at

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