Embroidery is Back!


Embroidery is Back!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

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For those of a certain age, the name Allsides should immediately conjure up images of fine linen, cotton napkins and placemats embroidered with decorative images of local flora and fauna as well as scenes from country life. Indeed, at one time the products of the Jamaica Women's League Allsides Workroom were sought out by locals and tourists alike and Queen Elizabeth herself reportedly purchased these products on her tour of the island in the 1950s. Established as an NGO in 1936, Allsides apparently had at its height some 400 women from all over the island doing embroidery and applique piecework from their homes, enabling them to earn an income while also taking care of their families. Allsides is no longer, but vintage pieces can still be found on sites like Etsy and Antillean Home Goods. In addition, versions of the Allsides designs are available at Craft Cottage and the recently established St Mary-based Bonny Gate Women's Group has used the Allsides model as an inspiration for their own training efforts in embroidery and other needlework skills.

As with many craft skills, there is a perception amongst young people that embroidery is for old folks. One look at the Spring 2020 fashion trends by luxury brands such as Gucci, Prada, Dior and Dolce & Gabbana should convince one otherwise with products such as the Gucci Marmont shoulder bag with embroidered raffia flowers retailing for US$2,100.

Hoping to capitalise on the market's interest in natural fibres and hand-embroidered pieces, local social enterprise Beenybud has also begun adding embroidery to its jippi jappa straw handbag line. Of course, raffia has long been used on Jamaican straw bags and hats but Beenybud's founder Ashley Rousseau saw an opportunity to bring a modern sensibility to designs that generally haven't changed since the 1960s. “I don't really like the shiny plastic raffia that has been used to embroider straw products for decades,” says Rousseau. “And I saw how matte paper raffia and natural raffia are being used for embroidery in other countries. I just needed an artisan who would be willing to try working with this material.”

Rousseau found such a person in artisan Shena White, who lives in the Glengoffe community where part of the Beenybud team of weavers is based. Mother of two boys and a small farmer, White says she has always had a passion for art and drawing and filled many notebooks with sketches while attending Glengoffe High School. As to her embroidery, White claims it was “a gift from the Almighty” as she had a dream one night whereby she saw her fingers moving a needle through cloth. Since then she has worked on developing her talent through YouTube and plain old trial and error because, as she says, “I like trying new things.” White will use chalk to lightly sketch the design onto the bag bases that are made for Beenybud by weavers Curlene Lawes and Donna Dunbar and then embroider these before the bags go back to be lined and finished by the production team. “What is amazing about White (and in fact most of the weavers with whom we work) is that you can just show her a design and she is able to copy it without a pattern, but while also adding her own artistic flair to the piece,” says Rousseau. “That is natural talent and I'm always excited to see her work.”


Editor's Note: Without a national push to recognise and encourage such craft skills (that would, for example, include formal training programmes), Jamaica stands to lose out on the lucrative demand for high-end handmade products. But more importantly, the potential loss is even greater when you consider the latent talent of so many persons who have much to offer but just need exposure to these skills and the opportunity to connect with the market.

For futher information please contact:


Ashley Rousseau

Principal, Beenybud

E-mail: beenybudja@gmail.com

Tele: 876-552-8051

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