The first steps in creating a Kissweh pillow take place at Rashadieh refugee camp outside Tyre in south Lebanon. This camp was created in the 1930s under the French Mandate to house Armenian refugees. In 1948 it started housing Palestinian refugees and currently, 80 years after its creation, it houses some Syrian refugees as well.
With the team in Lebanon, Claudia prepares the embroidery designs based on traditional motifs and museum pieces, but with a contemporary twist in the choice of colours, materials and patterns.
Hanan and Ensaf, our embroidery coordinators, then meet the Kissweh team of women at the camp to discuss models, order materials and distribute the work.
From the design on paper, one of the more experienced embroiderers passes the design to the canvas. Here Abir starts embroidering one of the Moon of Ramallah pillows. No pattern is printed on the canvas, and the team is able to do it from memory and from looking at images.
The team embroiders at home, often after the children have gone to bed and other responsibilities have been taken care of. Above, Rana's hands fill the tight grid of the canvas with different colours as she makes an Ola pillow.
Sometimes the women do meet up - Mariam (on the left making a Holy Mount pillow) is the joker in the group and is constantly making everybody laugh (Nawal and Rana on the right). They also swap patterns, as they enjoy doing different models every time.
Hanan and Ensaf collect all the embroidered pieces, and prepare them to be taken to Beit Atfal Assomoud's sewing workshop in Beirut. Hanan lives in Beirut and from this point takes over and is responsible for the next steps.
In Beirut, Zeinab and Hanan go through the different embroidered pieces, checking the embroidery and matching the patterns to zippers and linen backs. Kissweh mixes colours with each embroidered piece, which means that most of our pillows are one of a kind. Zeinab, with the help of Malak, then carefully stitches the embroidered piece to a lining and then sews it all together to make the final pillow.