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Lessons From the Sewing Room


I have the most wonderful friend back in my hometown, who pushes to sell her designer clothes using a phrase now so familiar, and non-persuasive to me, "but it's a piece, there is none like it." Whenever she says that my mind turns to our humble ladies, dressed in the most simple of garments, willing to give whatever they have to those more needy, ladies who have not been outside the camp but whose aspirations reach the runways of Paris and beyond, the life that is in their dreams. When thinking of my fashionista friend and our lowly ladies, I connect with the comment written by Virginia Woolf in Orlando. “There is much to support the view that it is the clothes that wear us, and not we them. We may make them take the model of an arm or a breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.”

The Biblical study of the role and legacy of clothing is totally fascinating, one which I do not have time to develop in this article but will share a few tidbits before focusing upon our Sewing Hope ladies. My thoughts regarding this ancient legacy, some of which perhaps took place “just down the road” do relate to our ladies coming from the captivity of ISIS to the security and freedom of our sewing room. Take for example the Biblical narrative which opens with the description of Adam and Eve as naked ( arumim ) , the same word that is then used in the following verse to describe the cunning nature of the snake ( arum ). Aviva Zornberg writes “the first actual clothing was granted to them as a gift from God to cover shame. Clothing makes us, yet testifies to our undoing. It lends us dignity, yet reveals that gap that clothing covers over in leather, velvet, silk or other trim.”

Our ladies know only too well the legacy of shame, of the black garments of ISIS, of feeling naked upon their release, their bodies, their hands, their heads, their faces, their feet being totally covered yet living with a huge void, and massive gap that no material covering could hide, or fill. Bear with me in a short progression. Clothing is a central aspect in the narrative of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, as we know, was given a cloak of distinction which became the target of jealousy, the source of undoing as the blood-stained garment once stripped from him became a mis-recognition, became a false testimony, an alibi and a framing for their sale of him into slavery. His brothers, in the tearing of Joseph’s garments became a picture of the wild beasts that they related to their grieving father in their betrayal.

Can you see the parallels with the sale of our sewing ladies into the slavery of ISIS, the way that their Yezidi clothes were stripped from them, that they were pronounced dead and sent off to the stronghold of Raqqa. How often grieving families were told that their children were dead. Our ladies lived alongside their neighbours, who wore clothes similar to theirs, yet one day the day to day covering came off and they donned the black uniforms of the Caliphate which had been lying in wait in their houses. They stripped themselves, bared themselves and betrayed their Yezidi friends and neighbours, devouring them as they mantled themselves in black.

The legacy of clothing in the Bible is incredible, one of both covetousness, betrayal and yet holiness as in the priestly garments, but for today we will place our attention with the Sewing Hope ladies who are sewing their legacy, one built with purpose and plan, one stitched with hope and the promise of future.

I turn to our wonderful friend and communications mentor, Miss Debra who works with our ladies and share her voice:

Miss Debra

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“I often ask them for what an item of clothing is suitable. Their remarks, “for going out, for going to the beach (in a landlocked region which anyway does not permit women to strip down for the non-existent beach)” showed me how their dresses are often aspirational, often intended for the life that they hope to live one day. As we prepared for our magnum opus, the Fashion Show that we held in March, in response to my question, “What do you want people to see and take away from the event?” they replied “No matter what happens to you in life, you should have hope, your dreams should not be stolen, you must hold onto hope.” There was one day when I noticed that the sewing room was almost bare, the usual colour of dresses vying for places of beauty on the racks was empty. When I enquired as to their whereabouts ( three times I asked Sahla to repeat the translation to make sure I was not missing something ) they told me that they had given them away to “those less fortunate than themselves, to the street cleaners wives, and to the poor and orphans of the community." - DB

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A new legacy, a new history for clothing is being quietly stitched together, one based upon dignity and respect, one based upon care for the downtrodden and vulnerable. Debra and I are so very proud of these women. Lessons from the Sewing Room are being written which we will begin to post weekly on our Springs of Hope Foundation App. We encourage you to track with these women and participate in the legacy that these ladies are creating.