Embroidery has many values above the obvious function of ornament. In traditional cultures, embroidered textiles are first produced as part of a woman’s dowry. They are a showcase for friends and family of her skill and concentration. Embroidery also exhibits, in a very striking way, that a woman is part of a particular community. She has mastered the motifs and styles taught by the elder women of her group. She may develop a personal style, but it is always expressed within the collective symbolism.
Many tribal cultures have a visual identity expressed through embroidery. After the 2001 Kutch earthquake, for example, dislocated children were able to reconnect with their community because distinct embroidery motifs allowed them to recognize members of their tribal group. Identity also provides a sense of pride and belonging. Embroiderers who do commercial work are often forced to stitch the styles and motifs of another group for the tourist market.
There are distinct patterns worn by a woman through the various stages of her life: unmarried, married, with children or widowed.
Each stitch is, in a way, a form of wealth. For families living in remote villages, a collection of embroidered pieces is like savings in the bank. The value of embroidery is commensurate with the skill of its execution. For this reason it is important both that high levels of skill are maintained, and that artisans understand the value of their work.
Maiwa works with embroiderers to exhibit their work on the world stage. To this end Maiwa has produced a book, documentary, and travelling exhibition titled: Through the Eye of a Needle: Stories from an Indian Desert.
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