Hanene, patient embroiderer

22 August 2013

Hanene has welcomed us in her living room where she has displayed the wonders she has patiently embroidered, working day after day. She lives in a small house in the city of Azrou, with her husband and children. Hanene makes embroidered pieces for wedding trousseau: bed linen, napkins, table linen, decorative pillows for her clients, and also to decorate her own house.

While she lives in the Middle Atlas region, she embroiders her products according to the city of Fez traditional way, known for its refined delicacy. She thus has been employing the Terz El Ghorza stitch, or the technic of counted stitching, to yield an entanglement of densely embroidered decorative diagonals and floral elements stylized in a geometrical way, which would appear identical on both sides. The Fez stitch is used to decorate frieze on table-cloths trims, bed linen ornaments, and it can also be placed in the center of a cushion, as an ornamental tree. You can find in these drawings the spirit of Arabesques sculptures adorning the Muslim architecture. Traditionally monochrome, in blue, black, emerald green, or dark red on unbleached linen and white cotton percale, this embroidery is sometimes treated in two or three colors, particularly for the pillows.

Hanene then has shown us a little demonstration of her talents, using needles, green yarn, and an embroidery hoop which holds the cotton cloth, her graceful hands moving around. The movie camera did intimidate her a lot. It was the first time she has ever been interviewed on how she has learned embroidery. After some time, she started speaking about the difficulty of her work, so demanding and so precise. It is a tedious craft, bad for the eyes, sore for the hands. Focus, patience and sleight of hand, these are the key words. It takes up to several months of work to produce one bedlinen set completely covered with embroidery stitches which will be sold for about five thousand dirhams, less than five hundred euros which is a very low price considering the time spent and the amount of work required. For Hanene, it represents a supplemental income to support her family and it requires her to find balance between taking care of her children, house keeping, and taking orders for the embroidery.

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Ly May and the Red Dao embroiderers

18 August 2013

In Ta Phin, half an hour drive north of Sapa, the mountain people living conditions are harsh. The landscape is sometimes shrouded in a heavy and persistent fog. There, the Kinh (Vietnamese), Black Hmong and Red Dao communities live all together. Their daily life is punctuated by the work in the rice fields, corn fields and livestock.
Ly May Chan, the chief of the Red Dao tribe, is waiting for me at the entrance of the village. She is a woman with a direct and frank look. She wears a red cap like a stole draped carefully over her head and a warm parka on her traditional costume. Very active in the local community, she is responsible for taking care of hosting tourists, organizing sales, handling orders of a Vietnamese NGO, which is collaborating with ethnic minorities in the country in order to develop and market handmade textiles.
Ms. Chan has always been living in Ta Phin, like her parents before her. The Red Dao people, originally from China, have gradually settled down in Vietnam, from the 12th century until today. The Black Hmong community is more discreet. Less involved in tourism development throughout the region, they are facing more difficult living conditions than their Red Dao neighbours.
Ly May took me for a visit to the textile cooperative. I was greeted by several women in Dao costume embroidering. Embroidery is second nature to these women who have been practicing since their very young age, daily, almost mechanically. On the shelves, there are tons of cotton and hemp pieces of great finesse, in shades of red, indigo, saffron. These garments, belts and bags are decorated with fine brocades, appliqué braids, geometric and sinuous embroidery or silver jewels.
Very good saleswomen, the embroiderers are curious and smiling. From the little old lady to the young mother, each one has an English witty remark, on the lookout for visitors and their potential purchases. I was by myself on that day with them. Selling their textile works is a way for them to encourage the preservation and transmission of their craft skills and traditions, but, also and above all, to improve their income and escape poverty.

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