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“There is Something Unique and Charming about Handmade Clothes.”

Sona Berhane

Our guest today is Meseret Haile: a seamstress, designer, embroider, and needlepoint tapestry artist. She shares her creative journey with us…

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How did you get involved in the art of embroidery? When did it all begin?

At a young age, actually. As a child, I was quite the hyperactive trouble-maker at home. So, my mother enrolled me in the Orsolinni Women Promotion Center, a sewing school run by nuns. She hoped the sedentary nature of sewing and stitching would calm me. And she was right. I fell in love with the craft immediately. I finished the two-year diploma program in one year, and was even picked for important embroidering assignments many times.

In the beginning, I was preoccupied with the complex technical aspects of sewing and embroidering, and had not yet begun incorporating designs of portraits onto my work.

I was always interested in art but I didn’t start taking serious lessons until much later in high school. I was forced to stop my watercolor classes because I had to study in Mai Nefhi College. But during that time, I was able to participate in several exhibitions: once at L’alliance Française and three times at the American Center. Afterwards, the organizations started to invite me every year to take part in their exhibitions.

Did you showcase paintings in these exhibitions?

My work was centered entirely on handmade bags and clothes, but I added my own twist. I decided to make my designs a little different by embordering small portraits and patterns on them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone was restricted to their homes, I used the time to work on my art.

Why do you use this particular style of art?

I love the Byzantine style. It’s the style of art we find most abundantly inside churches. I used to stare at the large expressive eyes in the murals. And as a student in the Orsolinni Center, we went on a trip once where we saw outsized tapestries modeled in the Byzantine style and depicting biblical stories. They were crafted by the nuns themselves. The embroidering, I remember, was sumptuous and elegant. I was deeply impressed.

How did you get into needlepoint tapestry?

Well, I’ve always had an appreciation for art; and I wanted to add a uniquely local touch to my handmade bags and scarves. Needlepoint tapestry seemed like the perfect juxtaposition of my two passions. That’s how I got the idea of putting art-like stitches and patterns on my handsewn clothes. Recently, I’ve started to experiment by using the strip of fabrics as canvas. Not embroidering every square inch of the fabric would allow me to offset the big ovoid eyes against the background. The end product is like a minimalist art tapestry.

What sort of feedback do you get from people?

The general response from the public has been very encouraging, especially on my canvas art tapestries. The majority of the audiences appreciated the style of art and the fact that it was handsewn.

Is there a demand for handmade items?

Yes. I’ve come to notice that people prefer the uniqueness of handmade products. I have many clients who live abroad, and I am often commissioned to make items in large numbers for graduating students and the like.

Where do you acquire your raw materials?

Most of the fabrics I use can be found here, particularly the traditional Jedid and the vibrantly colored Abdela-Khani. These two fabrics are continuously featured in my works. I love their texture and versatility.

What do you want to say to people with low regard for locally made clothes?

I believe there is something unique and charming about handmade clothes. It takes time, concentration and dedication from start to finish. And by the end of the work, I believe an intimacy is forged between the person who makes the closes and the person who wears them. You don’t normally see that in mass-produced clothes.

What advice do you have for aspiring designers and artists?

The exhibitions and the praise are the easiest part of this craftwork. The real challenge is the long hours spent poring over every stitch and thread. It is very demanding work. As it is required at every other effort you make, the only way to reach the top is to never give-up. Always be open-minded, try to learn from anyone and don’t be afraid to imagine.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment, I’m taking designing courses; I would like to have a well-rounded knowledge of sewing, fabrics and fashion trends. And even though my friends say otherwise, I feel like I have a long way to go. Hence, I will continue to take part in exhibitions and showcase my work.

My plan is to never stop learning more about my craft. But most of all, I aspire to combine my love of both the art forms to produce quality products that can represent my culture and society.

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