SEP Jordan is a social enterprise that works with over 350 embroiderers who live in refugee camps in Jordan. Their creations are then sold on the SEP website, based in Geneva.
Roberta Ventura, the very dynamic founder and CEO of SEP Jordan, took the time to answer my questions..
How does the training of embroiderers take place?
Huda and Hana are professional embroiderers. They saw traditional techniques disappear (such as the Bethlehem stitch) and joined forces with an Italian expert in embroidery to develop a 2-month course. More than 80 women are thus trained each year at our Academy. They must already know the basics of embroidery, then we help them refine their techniques to reach a good professional level.
How do they work?
Embroiderers do not work more than 4 hours per day. In addition to the time needed to support often large families, women rarely have access to a good light source (outside of our workshop). In fact, we distributed over 180 pairs of glasses to over 200 embroiderers last year.They most often work seated on a low sofa (the equivalent of a mattress on the floor) with their knees raised. They seldom use a hoop or a frame, except for the realization of certain stitches related to a special order.
To ensure the regularity of the work, the fabric is covered with a fine mesh which is then removed thread by thread once the embroidery is completed.
What are the patterns and how are they chosen?
The patterns are chosen in collaboration with the embroiderers who are familiar with their repertoire (design, symbolism, colors) and the SEP team. Roberta Ventura always has the last word.
Four motifs are regularly used: Alhambra, Koutubia, Sultan Han and Putrajaya. Only the keffiyeh are left entirely to the choice of the embroiderers: these pieces are thus always unique in their association of colors and patterns.
The motifs are both from the Palestinian tradition, passed down from generation to generation, from the influence of the Islamic Geometric culture and from the modern interpretation that SEP makes of it. Islamic art does not represent God. The artists therefore developed “geometric perfection” to symbolize “divine perfection”. Despite these changes, in the eyes of connoisseurs, it is still possible to trace the origin of a motif, in connection with a religious holiday or a village.
It is always possible to order special embroidery: patterns, stitches, colors, fabrics are then adapted.
Jerash Camp was established in 1967. It has grown into a town, but with little openness to the world. Since the Syrian conflict, new refugees have arrived, bringing their know-how with them. Syrians often practice crochet. They therefore have real manual skills which can be transposed to embroidery techniques.
For now, the embroiderers are just decorating the fabric. These are then put in place by professional dressmakers in Italy. But we have a plan to give sewing lessons at the Jerash Camp to allow more local investment.
The contribution of SEP Jordan
This approach allows many women to obtain an income as well as social and professional recognition. It also allows real rest in a difficult life: these hours of embroidery act as moments of meditation where thoughts are focused on the stitches to be created. After these hours, the embroiderers say they feel lighter and calmer. Which ultimately is just as important as earning an income by creating a beautiful work.
Al-Majdal – story of a pattern
This motif comes from the village of the same name. Known in Antiquity as Ashkelon, this port has been controlled by many peoples, each bringing its influence: Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Persians, Arabs and Crusaders, until its destruction in 1270 by the Mamluks. In the 15th century, the village of Al-Majdal was built a few kilometers away, inland, under the control of the Ottomans. In 1918 it became part of the Territory controlled by the English. In 1920 it became part of Palestine.
Before 1950, women created clothes that differed from one region to another by the embroidery patterns. For those who knew the variations of styles, patterns, colors, a simple glance allowed them to know where the embroiderer came from and her marital status: single, married, widowed, or women seeking to remarry.
For more information: https://sepjordan.com