Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stitching during wartime

The other day I stumbled up on this book by Sheila Paine, Embroidery from Afghanistan (Fabric Folios).

I have several of Ms. Paine's wonderful books on world embroidery and textiles, but many of them are very heavy, coffee table-type books, which while wonderful, sometimes seem to inhibit a careful reading just because of sheer size.  This one is shorter and filled with beautiful photos, so I've already read it cover-to-cover. 

A passage in the introduction to this book really resonated with me and I've been pondering it for a few days.

"Embroidery must always be considered within the context of the lives and environment of the people who make it."
Of course for the embroiderers of Afghanistan, that has too often meant war and hardship.  

"The Taliban movement began near Kandahar in 1994 with the aim of creating the most pure Islamic state in the world.  Some of its quirkier laws forbade owning stuffed toys or flying kits; the more serious made it illegal for women and girls to attend school, to sing, to listen to the radio, or to work.  Without employment and confined to their homes, embroider played an even bigger role in the lives of these women and girls."
Wow.  Embroidery already means a lot to me, and I will be the first to admit that really, I am amazingly lucky to be living when and where I am-- I work, I play, my family is healthy and safe, I had a great education and have a great job, and my home, while modest by American standards, is a castle compared to those worldwide-- and if most of that was taken away from me, I can only imagine the importance of the small things I could still do to express my individuality and protect those I love, in whatever small way.

The book has many pictures of Afghan men and boys wearing embroidered work clothes.  Imagine the work involved in this man's shirt:

That's silk, using satin stitch, using counted thread technique, on a tightly woven polyester.  WOW.  I understand from this book that these types of shirts, while still common, are usually professionally made these days, but still, I send my husband off to work in cheap shirts from Target, that were made overseas in some factory. 

The little bookmark above, I don't know who made it or where it came from, it showed up in a collection of stuff from my grandmother, really reminded me of the colorful Tajik marriage tablecloth in a few photos. I think I'll keep it close.

Traditionally, many Afghan women would spend much of her time before marriage embroidering a large assortment of items for her trousseau, apparently embroidery for house and home is declining because of financial constraints and the difficulty of obtaining materials.  At the same time, many women are embroidering items for sale through aid organizations like Women of Hope.  I encourage you to visit their website and learn about The Embroidery Project, and click on the "links" button available to see retailers where you can purchase some of these items--I think there is still time to pick out a few Christmas presents.

1 comment:

  1. That's a very interesting post! Thanks for reviewing that book, now I know I need it too! :-D