The Red Dress Embroidery Project unites women around the world

Few things bring people together more beautifully than art. Whether it’s music, sculpture, painting or fabric, the arts are a way for us to express ourselves, our cultures and our common humanity.

But rarely do we witness a singular work of art that truly encapsulates the creativity of our human family.

At first sight, the dress created for the Red Dress project is obviously beautiful. Looks like it could be worn by a royal – although a royal from where? The style, colors and patterns of the dress don’t scream any particular country or culture; in fact, we can quote different elements of it and say that it seems to belong to any continent.

There is a reason for this. The dress is made from 84 pieces of burgundy silk dupion, which have spent the last 13 years being sent around the world to be embroidered by 343 people from 46 countries – a truly global and multicultural creation.

Of these 343 embroiderers, 136 were commissioned artisans who were paid for their work and received a portion of all ongoing exhibition fees. The others were volunteers who brought their stitches to events in various countries. Only seven of the embroiderers were men.

British textile artist Kirstie MacLeod conceived the project in 2009 as “an inquiry into identity, with a desire to connect with women in the world without borders or frontiers”. The basic design started as a sketch on the back of a napkin and has evolved into a tangible garment that is not just a beautiful work of art, but a platform for women around the world and from all walks of life. to express themselves and make their voices heard. understood.

As shared on the project website:

“Embroiderers include refugees from Palestine and Syria, women seeking asylum in the UK from Iraq, China, Nigeria and Namibia, war victims from Kosovo, Rwanda and DR Congo ; poor women in South Africa, Mexico and Egypt; people in Kenya, Japan, Turkey, Sweden, Peru, Czech Republic, Dubai, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina, Switzerland, Canada, Tobago, Vietnam, Estonia, United States USA, Russia, Pakistan, Wales, Colombia and England, students from Montenegro, Brazil, Malta, Singapore, Eritrea, Norway, Poland, Finland, Ireland, Romania and Hong Kong as well as high-end embroidery studios in India and in Saudi Arabia.”

On instagramKirstie Macleod shared a panel from the dress that was embroidered by two women in Kosovo, who shared some of their thoughts on their wartime experiences there.

They sewed words into the birds they embroidered:

“Better one winter in one’s own country than a hundred springs elsewhere.”

“The greatest wealth is to live content with little.”

“Freedom has come. Love yourself first.”

“Love everyone. Trust some. Hate none.”

“A winter is a winter. Be kind, everyone.”

“We live in peace now.”

The creation of the dress began in 2009 and was completed in 2022. Each woman embroidered a piece of her own story into the dress, which contains millions of stitches. From established professional artisans to beginning embroiderers, women were encouraged to share something that expressed their personal identity as well as their culture. Some used traditional embroidery styles that had been practiced for hundreds of years where they came from. Others stitched together meaningful elements of their life stories. Some women also use textile work to rebuild their lives and earn a living on a regular basis.

The dress is on tour, exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. Photos showing women of different ages and ethnicities wearing the dress are all the more poignant knowing how and by whom it was made.

Absolutely stunning. What a wonderful idea to connect women in a way that allows them to share their stories and showcases and honor them beautifully.