Q & A

Five Minutes With Josiane Mutangana

The South Portland seamstress on making home décor that bridges cultures, the symbolism in Rwandan art, and mixing African stories with her daughter’s Paw Patrol books.

South Portland seamstress Josiane Mutangana
Imigongo paintings from Rwanda

On my walls are…

Imigongo paintings from [my native] Rwanda. You see the designs on clothing and decorations at weddings and public ceremonies. Black and white are traditionally used. When I see those colors, I think about Black and white people and how together we can be strong.

cover of book written in Kinyarwanda

I’m reading…

lots of children’s books to my daughter. I asked my sister to send books in Kinyarwanda because I want my children to know the language of their parent country. Right now, my daughter likes Paw Patrol books, but maybe tomorrow she will change her mind.

African Ankara and other colorful fabrics

I collect…

African Ankara and other colorful fabrics. After working in Rwanda and college in the UK, I married my husband, who was living in Maine. I learned sewing at [Westbrook’s] Common Threads of Maine in 2021 and loved it. When a friend from home came, he brought a suitcase of fabric.

african fabric

“In addition to clothing, I am making affordable items people need for their houses. It would be my pleasure to introduce African fabrics to the United States. Colorful stuff brings joy.”

A Rwandan agaseke basket

Recently, I was given…

A Rwandan agaseke basket made by a friend I met at Common Threads. Back home, these are everywhere, but here they’re special. I like to put fruit in mine, and when my daughter asks, ‘What is this?’ I will be able to explain that it’s what our ancestors used for decorating and eating.

a rosary

A prized possession is…

a rosary my mom gave me. Before I left Rwanda, she went everywhere to have it blessed and said, ‘Take this with you to protect you from nightmares and curses.’ It was hanging in our bedroom and now it hangs in our daughter’s room.

Ifu y’ubugari, or cassava flour, in a decorative bowl

In my kitchen you’ll find…

Ifu y’ubugari, or cassava flour, used to make [a bread called] ubugali. You boil water, add flour, and it’s ready in five minutes. Dipping it in soup is traditional. When I was a kid, I had it in a cookie and it was really yucky.

Shop for clothing and décor by Josiane Mutangana, and place custom orders, at josianefashionhouse.squarespace.com.