Saturday 18 January 2014

The Golden Needle Sewing School * The Subversive Stitch In Our Times

In her book, The Sewing Circles of Herat, Christina Lamb tells us about the women writeres and poets of Herat who were faced with an intractable problem when the Taliban arrived: How were they still going to be able to meet up and write? Herat was probably the most oppressed of places under the Taliban because it was the most cultured city and mainly Shi'a, and the Taliban hated the Shi'a and they hated culture. So these women were desperate to find a way to carry on their writing, and the only thing they could think of that was allowed under the Taliban was to sew. So this was how the Golden Needle Sewing School came into being. There the women would meet three times a week for lessons. For five years, in secret from the Taliban morality police and at the risk of death, the women at the Golden Needle Sewing School took part in a brave schooling effort and studied banned foreign literature. Christina tells us: They would arrive in their burqas with their bags full of material and scissors. Underneath they would have notebooks and pens. And once they got inside, they would actually be talking about Shakespeare and James Joyce, Dostoyevsky and their own writing. It was a tremendous risk they were taking. If they had been caught, they would have been, at the very least, imprisoned and tortured. Maybe hanged. Subversive stitching indeed.

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