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A 12-year, award winning global, collaborative embroidery project
2009 to 2021



The Red Dress 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 12 years, from 2009 to 2021, pieces of the Red Dress have travelled the globe being continuously embroidered onto. Constructed out of 73 pieces of burgundy silk dupion, the garment has been worked on by 239 women and 5 men, from 28 countries, with all 136 commissioned artisans paid for their work. The rest of the embroidery was added by 108 willing participants /audience at various groups/exhibitions/events.

Embroiderers include women refugees from Palestine; victims of 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.

Many of the women are established embroiderers, but there are also many pieces created by first time embroiderers. The artisans were encouraged to tell a personal story they would like to share, expressing their own identities and 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 12 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 Dresss 12-year creation journey around the world 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 Red Dress has been exhibited in various galleries and museums worldwide, including Gallery Maeght in Paris, Art Dubai, Museo Des Arte Popular in Mexico City, the National Library of Kosovo, an event at the Royal Academy in London, and the Premio Valcellina Textiles award in Maniago, Italy where it won first prize in 2015.

Moving forward, as well as developing a strong online platform the Red Dress will be travelling to many different galleries, museums, and event spaces around the world - with a continued aim to be accessible to all. Kirstie hopes to bring the garment to visit the countries of the artisans who helped create her, and exhibit the Red Dress alongside their own work in their chosen venue.

Practical and logistical support with commissions for the project was provided by the following charities, self-help development projects, social enterprises 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; Al Badia in Palestine; and FanSina in Egypt. Seed investment for the project was provided by the British Council Dubai in 2009.


OUR SUPPORTERS

A huge thank you to all who have given their time, energy, enthusiasm, advice, experience and financial support to the Red Dress project over the years.

In addition to the institutions below, funding has been gratefully received from a number of private donations and 344 individuals around the world via a Crowdfunded campaign in 2020.

"
The Red Dress in its final incarnation, a magnificent, regal robe, symbolises the empowerment of women through the creation of something beautiful, something which began with bowed heads and tired fingers but also with faith and joy, an openness and willingness to be a part of something which they could not see at that time but in which they could believe had meaning and worth connecting with other women around the world
Lady Alison Myners, Chair of the Royal Academy Trust 2020
The Red Dress is in some respects similar to Mail Art, the populist artistic movement centred on sending small scale works through the postal service. It initially developed out of the Fluxus movement in the 1950s and 60s – but on a larger scale – the journey of the work is part of its identity, process, and in fact function. A signifier of the temporal and physical nature of the process inherent in the creation of the piece. The surface of the dress layered with embroidery slowly transforming into a specific topographical map – completely particular to the work’s journey – and reflective of the burgeoning sculptural landscape of the object
Paul Black, Artlyst 2015
It’s her (Kirstie’s) red silk Dupion bodice and voluminous skirt created for the Red Dress that fully demonstrates her commitment to embroidery and the immense respect for the international community of makers
Denna Jones. Embroidery Magazine 2010
I can't remember when they embroidered that piece of silk (2018?) but I feel that something has changed since. The fact that they could embroider what they wanted and that it is appreciated has given them some strength, some confidence that I didn’t feel so strongly before. Last year, I sent them a drawing and asked them to “interpretate" it the way they wanted; again it came back with a lot of emotions, another beautiful story. Thank you for giving them this opportunity
Nicole Esselan, Founder of Kisany Africa (supporting artisans in DR CONGO and RWANDA)
This is both an extraordinary work of collective art and profound and eloquent social commentary. It is also an example of how potent the Attire language is capable of becoming
Attires Mind (Fashion Blogger) 2020
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