“If only these walls could talk”… the same could be said about our pieces.
Like all of our pieces, this shirt starts with a stirring of a story, a memory, a certain feeling. If only we knew how much each piece has seen and heard. This story can give us a little glimpse..
Over delicious maté and brewing conversations, is where the stirring starts - almost by magic, transforms into an illustration (and life) of its own.
This illustration is then given a home, it is designated a fabric and a cut. The designs are shared with the team, and the orchestra that makes the shirt come alive begins to play.
The soft fabric, hidden away in the cupboard of the atelier, is excited, anticipating something new. It feels Wedad’s soft hands pull it out of its shelf. The fabric welcomes the warm sun shining through the atelier windows. The action then commences.
It feels Wedad cutting it with care, until there is a front, a back, a collar, sleeves… until every detail of a new shirt is completed. Once all the pieces are cut, the fabric giggles at the soft tickle of a pencil as Lilian then traces the illustrations on its surface. It can even feel Lilian’s breath, as she leans close to it, in full concentration.
It cannot wait for what is coming next: being embroidered! It starts to wonder, “Who will embroider me? Whose hands will I be held by?”
It has heard so many voices whilst being tucked away on the shelves of the atelier, the fabric can recognize each craftswoman by even just the sound of her steps.
Before it knows it, the same fabric, now a shirt, is in the back of the Salim Azzam truck, with all the right threads and needles neatly packed: blues, purples, yellows, greens... As the truck takes off, its heart suddenly expands. It breathes the big blue skies of Lebanon, trees - the wide open spaces of Chouf. The ride reminds it of the time it left Beirut to come to Shouf in the first place. “How could it miss the city amidst these rich, green mountains?” it thought.
The truck suddenly jolts to a stop- it seems that they have arrived. The shirt tingles in anticipation as it waits to discover which embroiderer’s home it will step into. Suddenly, it hears Sonya’s voice pop out the front door. “Sonya will be embroidering me!” the shirt silently squealed in delight.
Sonya, for her part, is equally excited to meet what will become her most intimate companion and friend in the coming weeks. In this time, the shirt will learn everything there is to learn about Sonya. Listening in as the family wakes, eats, and goes about their day.
In the weeks to come, the fabric settles in. It comes to wait for the time when Sonya will be working on it, holding it delicately - looking up at its sincere, kind features. It learns what Sonya likes to have for breakfast, how she takes her coffee, and how her little sister makes her laugh. These moments are almost like intimate meditations.
Just as the piece enjoys the presence of Sonya, Sonya enjoys the presence of the piece. When Sonya is feeling down, the steady pace of the needle tethers her attention and her heart back to the present moment. With every stitch, she shares her heart and her soul with the piece.
After hours and weeks, Sonya’s embroidery is finally done -bursting with color and texture. The fabric feels Sonya flip it onto its belly, and it hears the last piece of thread being cut. With this meaningful snip, the piece knows it is now time to go back to the atelier. For a moment, its heart sinks at the prospect of leaving Sonya. But when it remembers the atelier, the piece is excited to reunite with the rest of its family again, and is grateful for the loving time it had in Sonya’s care.
Sure enough, it soon hears the engine of the Salim Azzam truck once again, and is on her way back to the atelier in no time.
The atelier is delighted to welcome it back. The fabric hears everybody ooh-ing and aah-ing at its splendor, as hands caress the embroidery work, taking in the meticulous handicraft.
Once coffee is served at the atelier, and everybody has settled in, it feels itself tugged beneath the sewing machine, and like a puzzle, the entire piece coming together. Back sewn to front to sleeves to collar. Suddenly, it has evolved from being a piece of fabric, to being a Salim Azzam shirt. Its heart swells with pride.
It feels warmth as Aida irons the final work, and it cannot tell if the heat is actually its own heart or the heat of Aida’s iron.
Finally, the order now is ready. It is time to move again.
The shirt is excited that it will be meeting somebody new, somebody special - but it already misses the family back at the atelier. The team that made it who it is now. It wonders, will it ever see them again?
With a heavy heart, mixed with excitement, the final piece heads for the city of Beirut. On the way, it remembers its previous days in Beirut, rolled up amidst hundreds of fabric roles – no voice, no color - “incolore et inodore” like the French saying goes.
The fabric left the city one way, and now is coming back dignified, with stories, care, and character. It became a representative of the craftswomen of the Chouf, their pride in tradition and their craft.
The shirt is now pioneer that will share the love and wealth of the Chouf with the rest of the world.
Photos by Aline Deschamps.