This Red Dress Has Travelled For A Decade And Features Embroideries By Female Artisans From 28 Countries, Including India.
A dress is probably the most precious possession in every woman’s wardrobe mainly because it tells a story. It could be a dress you bought at a massive sale and flaunted to your girl squad or that little black dress you wore on the first date with your SO or simply a comfy T-shirt dress passed down (or stolen) from your sister you feel at home in. Every dress tells a story. But here is one that totally takes the prize for being the ultimate storyteller dress. I am talking about The Red Dress that has travelled the world for 10 years and has been embroidered to perfection by women from 28 different countries.
The silk garment has been passed through female artisans around the world who have stitched their stories and their culture into the dress in the form of embroidery threads over a decade’s time. It began in 2009 when a British artist Kirstie Macleod started the global embroidery project called The Red Dress Project. The journey of the dress began with a 25-metre long piece of red silk fabric bought from Paris and embroidered by the students from the Royal School of Needlework and culminated in March this year with the embroidery by artisans in Mexico.
The dress has given the female artisans from around the globe a platform to express their stories and be heard through their exquisite embroidery work. The detailing of the threads and design tell their individual struggles, traditions and stories they’ve lived through the years that they have sewed it into the red silk fabric with their unique beautiful stitches and needlework.
A total of 202 women artisans from 28 countries including Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Japan, France, Sweden, Peru Mexico, Pakistan and India have contributed to the panels of the dress and added their unique embroidery to the design. This includes refugees in Palestine, victims of civil war in Kosovo and women in poverty such in places like Missibaba in Cape Town, South Africa. The aim of this project was not only to bring the women from different backgrounds together but also to empower them and creating a platform for them to express themselves and be financially independent.
The commissioned artisans were paid their fair due for their exquisite work. The project was funded by the British Council. “All commissioned artisans are paid for their work. It’s very important to me that there be a fair exchange, and I know only too well how artisans/makers can be exploited,” said Macleod. “The artisans let me know the price for their embroidery and (as much of the commissions were self funded) if I couldn’t afford it, they kindly created a smaller piece or worked out what they would like to create within the budget,” she added.
Each panel of the dress has a contrasting colourful embroidery from different parts of the world. The dress features the sister stitch embroidery from Kosovo, all threads embroidery of flora and fauna from Australia, thread embroidery titled Sonay Ki Chiriya from Pakistan to name a few. The panel by the Indian embroiderers had the celebrated zari work embellished into the garment by the artisans of upmarket studios in Bombay. One of the only four men to have worked on the dress was Amal who sewed the intricate golden work on the fabric. “A detail from one of the first pieces of embroidery commissioned, from Atelier 2N in Bombay. The embroider Alam (one of the 4 men to have worked on the dress) created the most exquisite lotus flower in various different gold threads and metalwork. The technical skill involved is mind boggling!,” read the caption on one of the post about Indian embroidery on the dress.
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The colour red was picked by Macleod as it signifies regal empowerment, love, blood, femininity, passion and emotions, which mirrors the work put into this project. She said, “Red was a favoured colour and it felt like a good fit for this project because of the emotions and the ideas that I was trying to convey.” She said she has had second thoughts about the colour over the years and at times wondered if it was better in blue or some other colour but now thinks it is the perfect colour. Honestly, we couldn’t have imagined it in any other colour as well.
The silk trade in Dubai and rich heritage of textile United Arab Emirates was the inspiration behind the project where it would be eventually exhibited after decade’s long work. The dress has been exhibited at the art galleries and museums of Dubai, Italy, London, Mexico and Paris during its journey.
A documentary on The Red Dress Project is in the making which will probably give us a sneak peek into the stories of these artisans and a detailed account on the inspiration behind their chosen embroideries. Black Bark Film has collaborated with Macleod to bring it to the screens.
The dress has a heady mix of cultures, patchworks and stories of women from around the world and represents the female artisans work which makes this dress more than a textile project. “I am a textile artist, but I don’t see this dress as my own work at all. The Red Dress is the culmination of over 250 people’s dedication, time and energy over a decade. My role has and continues to be to guide and support the dress forward,” said Macleod.
The dress is adorned with threads and beads, 3D art and vibrant colours which combines into the stunning creation. But there’s so much more to it than just the embroideries. It brought together a bunch of remarkable women who have gone through hardships, witnessed wars, are living in poverty who put all their love and passion for their work into this beautifully cohesive dress. This is truly a project of sisterhood that celebrates art, emotions and femininity.