Building appreciation for seamstresses in marginalised communities

“Sewing workshops in marginalised communities are places where love, hopes and fears are shared. I want  to help cultivate an appreciation for these spaces", says Lidi de Oliveira, creator of the Arremate Lab project. 

I’m the fourth generation of women in my family  that  grew up playing under a sewing machine. My mother, my aunts, and my grandmother and great-grandmother all taught themselves how to sew, , in Ceará. I’m the first one to have been born in the southeast, raised in the Parque Paulista community of Duque de Caxias in the State of Rio de Janeiro. And I’m also the first to have formal career training. For us, here at home, sewing is a basic skill that we learn as little girls, almost by accident. 

Today, at age 27, I really appreciate this ancestral female know-how. But as a teenager, I swore never to touch a sewing machine, because I saw how those women suffered at the hands of designers who oppressed them  in the workplace. I became a feminist at the age of 16 after witnessing  various humiliating situations nes and having lost  friends to gender violence and to state violence. Later, I decided to enrol in the Social Sciences department at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and it was  my studies that made me appreciate the skill these women have and the work they do. Then one day three or four years ago, my mother was diagnosed with a disease that would   leave her blind if she didn’t get a transplant. So I took it upon myself to preserve the sewing tradition in my family. 

I have two sisters and a brother who have never shown an interest   in sewing —so it was either me or nobody. I decided to complement my training and I enrolled in the technical fashion course at SENAC, the national trade school. At home, I would work on class projects with help from my mom, who always corrected the lessons in the books: 

“This is the theory, dear, but the practice is something different", she would repeatedly say. Over time, I began taking over the duties of the workshop and thankfully she managed to get the transplant that she desperately needed.. Today, the two of us and my dad, who’s a tailor, sew together. 

My desire to get an education in fashion was born alongside my urge to be an activist.  Soon after finishing my course in 2016, I started volunteering at Casa Nem in Rio, giving lessons to marginalised cross-dressers and transgender people. For a year and a half, we did a lovely job putting on fashion shows with the pieces that they created. The project was called Costura Nem [Neither Sewing], and it was turned into a documentary, Arremate [Finishing Touches], directed by Ethel Oliveira in 2017. 

The film inspired me to create a new project for social inclusion by way of fashion: Lab Arremate, a laboratory for creating things with fabrics. Together with my mom, Luiza, and other seamstresses we teach, . We hold classes at Beautiful Maré Art Studio in the shantytown of Maré, and at Capacete, an artist-in-residence space in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro. We’ve also partnered with some collectives. We’ve backed the creation of the women-only Suburbia festival, and we're going to launch a collection that will have some of its proceeds going to the Tia Angelica Community Library in Parque Paulista. 

With all of the oppression in this world, I feel honoured to receive such know-how from my female ancestors and  be able to pass it on. In some classes, for example, I ask the students to create their own flag. It’s a provocation that’s meant to get them to put something about themselves and their universe onto the fabric. It's a group therapy process. The sewing becomes a backdrop—a strategy for meeting others,healing  and renewing oneself. I want to help the "invisible" people at the bottom of the fashion chain, and I want to help cultivate an appreciation for these sewing workshops in marginalised communities—our own workshop as well as many others. These are places where love, hopes and fears are shared. When they’re sewing together, the women unburden themselves, talking about domestic violence and about the police activities in the community. It's a space for conviviality and affection. We have our coffee with the kids around and there's laughter. They can share their stories and shed tears together. I see these workshops as places of sewing resistance, where the women are also stitching together their own survival and giving continuity to this knowledge. 

 

“Seams are my architecture 

for prophesying 

possible worlds. 

When fabric and body 

blend, it’s alchemy" 

 


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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil