Since 2019 we’ve been doing workshops sewing and embroidery with women from Amsterdam West. The Social [Distancing] Fabric was inspired by, what turned out to be a fortunate incident, in our work with them.
Many of the women we work with are immigrants. They make and mend clothing for family and friends. Many are also familiar with Moroccan embroidery techniques, such as the Fez stitch, and the randa, a sophisticated lace stitch. It’s a known phenomenon that when artisans emigrate, their native skills are often undervalued in their new countries. We started by mapping these artisans’ skills, and by experimenting with combining their expertise with non-traditional designs.
In the summer of 2019, one of our experiments involved a handmade drawing by Karim, with three faces to embroider. The piece of fabric was too small to allow more than one person at a time to embroider it. So, the artisans decided it would be easier and more efficient to cut up the fabric. One pair of scissors later, the fabric had been cut right through the middle of the drawing—into three jagged-edged pieces.
What to do?
As an artist, Karim has always embraced flaws and imperfections in his designs. Karim highlights the hidden side of fabric; he works with the cloth’s irregularities. So, the fact of being torn in three is simply an event in the life of a piece of fabric. Being torn adds to the fabric’s authenticity; it is not a reason to discard it.
That is how we decided to join the pieces of fabric—to allow the repair to highlight the damage, rather than to conceal it. The seams illustrate its story. So, we sat with the artisans, and together, we stitched the strips of fabric into a whole.
This event was the inspiration for the Social [Distancing] Fabric. It symbolized perfectly the rips and tears caused by the COVID-19 lockdown, as well as the patience, persistence, and ingenuity needed to heal those ruptures.
With thanks to the artisan women of Amsterdam-West.