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Yolande van Heerden: A Place for Everyone

By Susan Marquez

Fork on the left. Knife and spoon on the right. It is the classic art of setting a proper table, and it is a skill that must be learned. Yolande van Heerden of Greenwood says she has vivid memories of family meals in her native South Africa. “I had to set the table every night as a child,” she recalls. “I remember my mother had black and red disks made of sisal, and she never upgraded from that. We used cloth napkins at each meal because we were too poor to buy paper napkins. Each meal used a knife, spoon, fork, butter knife and sometimes a fish fork or dessert spoon.”

As an adult, Yolande has spent many years teaching art to pre-school children. “I’m very well versed with the Montessori style of teaching.” In August 2021, Yolande had just finished her summer art camps for children, and with no classes planned for the next month, she took a personal holiday. “I had a trip planned to Los Angeles but decided I didn’t want to fly due to Covid concerns. I canceled the trip and instead hunkered down and worked on art for me.”

Yolande van Heerden

She began thinking about workshops she might be able to do in the future for both children and adults. Thinking about how the pandemic changed the way people socialized with each other, Yolande realized that what we do now is gather around the table and eat. “I started playing with the idea of placemats,” she says. As a fabric artist, Yolande has a plethora of fabrics from all over the world. “I always take an empty suitcase with me when I visit South Africa.” She started playing with design and shapes and made ten placemats. “I put them up on Facebook at 1:30 in the morning. I was really excited about them. I was filled with the joy of a newfound idea.” Within ten minutes, a friend bought all ten of the placemats. “That was very exciting for me. My friend told me she thought they were amazing, which was a great affirmation for me.”

Each placemat is like a little painting. “I have a story about each one in my head,” says Yolande. The response she received about the placemats was very positive. “Everybody is excited about them. I had many people place orders for Christmas.” Many of those orders are for custom designs. “I have a friend in California who wanted four placemats in the shape of dinosaurs. I’ve had requests for unicorns, horseshoes, dogs and cats.” She has also had requests for placemats with plates that feature giant initials. “No two placemats are alike, although there may be some similarities. It’s more interesting for me to design.”

Yolande recently toyed with the idea of using old t-shirts. “I have a stack of personal t-shirts I had as a kid and from when I lived in Hollywood that I no longer wear. I used the logo from my Yo MTV Raps t-shirt and realized that instead of being stuck in drawers, the old t-shirts could be turned into lovely mementos.” Yolande says some may call her a fabric hoarder, but she views herself as a fabric curator. “I never throw away even the smallest piece of fabric.” On her MTV t-shirt, she crafted a cassette tape from a piece of Japanese fabric she held on to. “It’s positioned to show where the water glass goes.”

When she started making the placemats, Yolande discovered that there is a big web of connection between us all. “Someone I know would tell someone else about the placemats, and the demand for them has grown. I may combine a musty old fabric I bought at an estate sale along with a piece of fabric I purchased from a favorite bazaar in South Africa. I like that something can become something else. We don’t have to live in a disposable world.”

Now, toddlers and children have a fun and straightforward way to learn the proper way to set a table. “The rules we use to set a table come from very practical places,” Yolande explains. “For example, the blade of a knife should always be facing the plate. If it faces the person sitting next to you, that is a sign of aggression. Also, the knife is placed on the right because most people are right-handed.” Yolande says her placemats have been an enjoyable adventure so far. “The response has been strong, and I see it as a tiny way we can all be more connected.”

For more information on Yolande van Heerden’s placemats, visit her Etsy store at “tomboyART.”


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