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Kirstie Macleod

The RED DRESS An 11-year, award winning global, collaborative embroidery project 2009 to 2020

The  Red Dres s Project, conceived by British artist Kirstie Macleod, provides an artistic platform for women around the world, many of whom are marginalized and live in poverty, to tell their personal stories through embroidery.

During 11 years, from 2009 to 2020, the  Red Dress  travelled the globe, being continuously embroidered. It has been embroidered on by 200 women and 2 men, from 28 countries, with all artisans paid for their work. Embroiderers include women refugees in Palestine; victims of civil war in Kosovo, Rwanda, and DR Congo; impoverished women in South Africa, Mexico, and Egypt; women in Kenya, Japan, Paris, Sweden, Peru, Czech Republic, Dubai, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina, Switzerland, Canada, Tobago, USA, Russia, Pakistan, Wales, Colombia, and the UK, as well as upmarket embroidery studios in India and Saudi Arabia.

Most of the women are established master embroiderers, a few are artists turned first-time embroiderers. They were encouraged to tell a personal story they would like to share through embroidery, expressing their own identities, adding their own cultural and traditional experience. Some chose to create using a specific style of embroidery practiced for hundreds of years in their family, village, or town.

Initially the project sought to generate a dialogue of identity through embroidery, merging diverse cultures, with no borders. Over the 11 years however, through the individual stories of the women involved, the dress has come to be a platform for self-expression, an opportunity for the women to have a voice to tell their personal stories. Some of the women are now re-building their lives with the help of embroidery, by using their skill or being trained in embroidery to earn a decent and consistent living.

The  Red Dress’s 11-year journey around the world through embroidery is now completed, with the dress assembled in its final configuration. Covered in millions of stitches, the 6.2 kg. silk Red Dress is weighted as much by the individual stories and collective voices waiting to be heard as by the threads and beads that adorn it.

The Dress  has been exhibited in various galleries and museums worldwide, including Gallery Maeght in Paris, Art Dubai, Museo Des Arte Popular in Mexico City, an event at the Royal Academy in London, and the Premio Valcellina Textiles award in Maniago, Italy where it won first prize in 2015. In future, the artisans will be invited to take part in exhibiting the Red Dress in their own countries alongside their own work. A documentary film is currently in production in the UK which will share the stories of the dress, told by the artisans who contributed to her creation over the past 11 years.

Support for the project was provided by the following charities, self-help development projects, social enterprises, top end labels, and various initiatives providing support to women in poverty: Manchester Aid for Kosovo supporting Sister Stitch in Kosovo; Kisany in Rwanda and DR Congo; Missibaba in South Africa; Kitzen in Mexico; Albadia in Palestine; and FanSina in Egypt. Seed investment for the project was provided by the British Council Dubai in 2009.