In April 2013 I attended a small artisan expo based out of Marrakesh, Morocco, which showcased over 60 producers throughout the country. I was surrounded by tradition and met some of the masters of these crafts, including the founders of the Cooperative Artisanal Assabirate de Filles Handicape (Patient Women). The group's intricate work caught my eye; the fine embroidery was captivating, as tiny stitches embellished their collection of cotton and table linens, caftans, pillows, sheets, and bags.
When closely looking at the fine detail of the embroidery, it comes as no surprise that the organization was named “Patient Women.” Established in June of 2004, the cooperative’s goal to help preserve the traditional "Fez Stitch" embroidery technique. The enterprise also strives to create economic opportunities for handicapped women. Life for the disabled in Morocco is difficult, as there are no specialized government schools available and access to basic education is limited. Public transportation is also challenging, as buses are often overcrowded and ill-prepared to cater to the needs of a person in a wheelchair. The process to get to school is too unwieldy and many quickly lose interest.
The Fez Stitch embroidery technique is probably the most widely celebrated and visible style throughout Morocco. It is identified by its highly angular, floral, and geometric design. The stitches are small and each thread is counted; the entire process is extremely time-consuming, requiring mathematical precision. The key is patience, concentration, and motivation. There is no reverse side to be seen while working on a piece, so the artists first view the outcome when the fabric is completed. Some artisans embroider for merchants, while others are paid on commission to create more elaborate pieces for special occasions such as the birth of a newborn baby or for a girl's dowry, which can take up to a generation to finish.
Traditionally, this art form was a way to flaunt the wealth of the family and a chance for everyone to admire a woman's skill. Upper-class families would purchase fine fibers made of cotton or oriental silks, and also special looms so that their daughters could practice the stitches at home. In the early 20th century, more than 2,000 women throughout Fez were teaching embroidery. Now, those numbers have significantly diminished, but the co-op remains hopeful that they will continue to find local markets and independent clients who will purchase their work and appreciate their talents.
When asked if embroidery is their main source of income, one women replied, “Yes, this and God.” Patience is an understatement when I witness the lives of these women. With that being said, there no room for self-pity for their disabilities or situation, because they are grateful to have the chance to embroider in the presence of their friends and have found a way to wholly integrate into society. the Cooperative Artisanal Assabirate de Filles Handicape dedication to this embroidery has created a sense of joy, community, tradition, and life purpose for the women involved. Now their mission is to inspire younger generations to envision a future in this type of work, to help grow their business, and keep these beautiful techniques alive and available for the world to enjoy.
For more information, please contact- www.cooperative-assabirate.com.