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I have neglected this blog for far too long. It used to serve as my thinking space, where I mostly tried to explain troublesome things to myself. (I’m not even sure how many followers I have, or whether that matters.)

Someone recently asked why I feel drawn to explore the dark topic of domestic violence in my recent stitching work, and this seems like a good place to try and find an answer.



Source: stitch – Willemien de Villiers


“I am a man”

Source: stitch – Willemien de Villiers


Work in progress. “Shallow Grave” | Willemien de Villiers

 Over the years, I’ve worked with many other themes – the interconnection of every living organism on our planet, the beauty of the natural world, especially that which can only be seen on a microscopic level, the never-ending cycle of life and death; renewal and decay. On a simplistic, superficial level,  I’m drawn to the patterns these repetitive cycles produce, but ultimately, I’m hoping to find a safe place of belonging; to return to that brief time after conception, when (I like to imagine) male and female energies are in balance.


Arum lily seeds | harmony


Connection, oil on canvas. 800 x 800mm

‘Connection”, oil on canvas | Willemien de Villiers

I was born in 1957, in Pretoria, South Africa, during the very repressed era of Apartheid. Apartheid was an act of violence on a grand scale that all but severed the roots of both the perpetrators’ and the victims’ humanity. As an introverted middle child of a large family, I sensed an absence … of truth-telling, openness, intimacy … something I couldn’t possibly give voice to at that young age. I tried to fill this emptiness by making dolls from seeds and leaves in the garden. I talked to plants. I told stories to invisible friends.


Eucalyptus leaf | before the beginning



“Mother Cell”, oil on canvas | Willemien de Villiers

Growing up in this completely segregated and separated community, combined with early childhood sexual abuse (maternal grandfather), left me with the gift of hyper vigilance, and a sensitivity to the presence of abuse in others’ lives. Silence is the perpetrators’ best friend, especially in countries where patriarchal systems still rule, as is the case here, in South Africa.

Working with reported details of domestic abuse helps me to cope in our violent society. It helps me to heal. While stitching, I feel close to those who’ve suffered abuse. In return, I hope that the finished work will inspire conversation, or a different way of thinking. Will raise awareness.


An honest and thought-provoking conversation with Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola about her book “Rape: A South African nightmare.”

Source: Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola on rape culture, patriarchy and gender politics in SA

On my trips to charity shops, I look for domestic textiles like tablecloths, doilies and tray cloths that show a lot of wear and tear, and that give me a sense of previous lives, or narratives to work with. I like to imagine the women who embroidered them; their lives. Most of them happy and content, I hope, but sometimes I sense a darkness, a sadness stitched and knotted into the bucolic scene of flowers and happy homes so often found on these small acts of domesticity.


Detail, “Domestic Bliss” | Willemien de Villiers


Detail2, “Domestic Bliss” | Willemien de Villiers

Comments (9)

Powerful insights, beautifully articulated.

Thanks for reading, and commenting, Roxanne. I appreciate it.

I’m definitely a follower! Please continue blogging forever … xx Anne

Thanks, Anne! hope to surprise you with more soon …x

Really moved by your work and your words.

Thank you for your lovely comment, Tauna

[…] To highlight, and start a conversation, around the global issue of gender-based violence, I cross-stitch snippets of actual police reports onto the previously mentioned pastoral scenes, often found on tray cloths, etc. I aim (but don’t always succeed) for a subtlety; I want to draw the viewer in and up close to engage with the work and the message.  You can read more about this here. […]

Your work speaks to me deeply as a textile artist, rape survivor and therapist working in public health. I so appreciate your voice. It gives me courage to create my work. Will you ever return to US to teach!?

Thank you for your comment, Mary. I can’t tell you what it means to me to know that the work has meaning for someone else, other than me. I’m hoping to return to the US to teach … planning things closer to home for the moment. Take care, lots of love, Willemien

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