The Swati Embroidery Revival

by Mariano Akerman

Ancestral patterns and motifs

Traditional embroideries from Swat, Pakistan, 19th century. The textiles from Swat Valley present elaborate geometric patterns, with abstract motifs in vivid pink-red hues and black backgrounds. The ancestral embroideries are made of silk threads on cotton. | Bordados tradicionales de Swat, Pakistán, siglo XIX. Los textiles del Valle de Swat Valley presentan elaborados diseños geométricos, con motivos abstractos en rosas y rojos sobre fondos negros. Son en general confeccionados con hilos de seda sobre paños algodón.

Swati rubies and flowers motifs

Assorted precious stones design - note the assymetrical composition

The amazing Swati cookies style

A rich-in-symbolism design known as the Pattern of Hope

Issam Ahmed reports from Saidu Sharif, Pakistan

Mussarat Ahmedzeb, whose father-in-law once ruled Swat Valley, returned home at the height of Pakistan Taliban rule to open an embroidery program. Today, more than 500 women go there to earn money and escape the dangers of daily life.

[...] In the spring of 2007, Mrs. Ahmedzeb left Islamabad to return home and set up three embroidery and handicrafts centers where destitute women could gather and work in peace.

Saidu Sharif, Pakistan. Women working at The Swat War Widows Institute, created by Mussarat Ahmedzeb

"I had to create something ... a place where we can talk, we can chat so we can forget our worries. So we started with embroideries [...]," explains the softly spoken woman with gray-green eyes and a tired expression. [...] Using her personal savings, she bought electric sewing machines, looms and material, and put out word to the women of Swat’s towns and villages to come and visit her.

Now in its third year, with more than 500 women in employment, her three centers train women, free of charge, and export the colorful and distinctively Swati embroidery in the form of dresses, cushion covers, napkins, and more to buyers in Pakistan’s metropolitan cities of Lahore and Islamabad, the capital. An art exhibit [accompanied by a lecture] in Islamabad by Argentinean Mariano Akerman this week showcased some of the best designs.

The centers [...] are filled with chatter and laughter. Swati women, unlike men, have few opportunities to congregate. [...] "We have so many needs to take care of so it’s better for us to work for ourselves and earn for ourselves," says Sheema Bibi, a young single woman who began coming to the center, attached to Mrs. Ahmedzeb’s ancestral home, last year. "Our brothers and fathers sometimes object, but everyone needs the money to get by." [...] The women typically earn $50 to $150 a month, depending how much they produce. Some, like teenager Sidra Bakthiad, is using her pay to save up for her college education.

[...] Ahmedzeb, who owns homes both in Saidu Sharif and Islamabad, says she decided to return to Swat in 2007 partly because her children had finished their schooling, and partly to fulfill her obligations to her people.

[... Her] father-in-law, Mian Gul Abdul Haq Jahanzeb, was the well-respected Wali (princely ruler) of Swat, until the territory was ceded to Pakistan in 1969. He was known for having built hundreds of schools and many hospitals.

Ahmedzeb never had any formal training, having left school at age 15 to be married. But she became a keen gardener, cook, and embroidery enthusiast, and realized that last skill would be the most economically viable if passed on to poor women.

Residents here speak highly of [Mussarat's] acts of generosity, such as opening her ancestral home to fleeing refugees during a 2009 [...] and financially supporting some 18 children of refugees.

"The women of the family are upholding their family name and are good social activists," says Ziauddin Yusufzai, head of the Private Schools Association of Swat, adding Ahmedzeb has a reputation of being a "very fine woman." [...] Those who worked with her during the Swat refugee crisis commend her dedication, too. Retired Justice Nasira Iqbal, one of Pakistan’s first female High Court judges, participated in a citizens' action group that helped channel funds to Swat from Lahore. "She was credible, she was reliable, she ensured the funds got to where they were intended. She went into dangerous areas [...] where we could not go," Ms. Iqbal says. "She was very brave. Everyone from the elite class had already left the area, but she stayed behind" (Christian Science Monitor, 2 April 2010).


Ishrat Hyatt said...

A good depiction of what can be done with a little will and a lot of determination.

Gabriela Stegmann said...

Mariano, wonderful story and wonderful work. It's admirable the strength these women have in such dire situations, not to mention their crafty and artistic talent! Thanks for sharing this little piece of history and culture of which here we know so little.

M. Barcelona said...

Una gran demostración de solidaridad. Son muy bellos los telares. Saludos

Mussarat said...

Dear Mariano, I saw your work and I am really very happy. You have done justice to the embroidery. Thanks, Mussarat

Harris said...

Greetings! I hope you will be fine and in the best of your health and spirits. I must say this is a wonderful work which you have represented in the pictures. I’ve also watched the video on you tube and it was good. The lyrics of the background song are amazing and truly matched the creativity of the people of Swat, Pakistan, in their amazing piece of art. Thank You! Warm Regards, Harris

Jorge Bozzano said...

Muy buenos los textiles de Pakistán y la composición del You Tube. Un abrazo. Jorge

Babur Kamal said...

Congratulations on such a brilliant achievement. Enjoyed the presentation thoroughly. Best to you - Babur

Zarmina said...

i just saw ur post. the pics r really pretty :) thanks mariano 4 starting this work. love ;) - Zarmina

NCL said...

Una maravilla de diseños. Besos - NCL

Gab desde Florida said...

Increiblemente divinos. Un abrazo, gab ~