When I was three, my mother had a series of back surgeries, and I spent a lot of time in the care of her best friend, Mrs. Houston. Betty Houston was bossy, cranky, and at times very temperamental: she was also one of the most talented women I’ve ever met. (Any Portlander who ever watched a Rose Parade back in the 60s or 70s is sure to have seen her beautiful handiwork – exquisite roses hand-embroidered on the capes of the Royal Rosarians long before electronic embroidery machines hit the sewing scene.)
Betty spent hours teaching me handiwork skills from a bygone age, and accepted nothing short of my best work. She made me cry often, insisting I could do better and making me pull out my work and start over. Blessed with excellent fine motor skills and some natural ability, I inexplicably thrived under her harsh tutelage. Now a lifetime later, hand-embroidery continues to be a calming, almost meditative experience for me. And while, in this modern world of coddled egos where everyone gets a trophy, Betty’s approached sounds severe, in retrospect I can see that she gave me confidence in my abilities that I might never have found otherwise.
I share all this so that you understand why I am so enthusiastic about the beautiful handiwork from Macy’s Heart of Haiti collection. Because I understand the time and skill that goes into creating well-crafted pieces like this.Like my own experience learning from Mrs. Houston, traditional embroidery in Haiti is passed down among women from generation to generation. The embroidered cocktail napkins offered in the Heart of Haiti collection are stitched by women in Haiti’s Fond des Blancs region, a remote area south of Haiti in dire need of income and employment – a situation only made worse by the devastating 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010.
Fond des Blancs women specialize in Passé Plat (Flat-Stitch) embroidery, and create the napkins offered in Heart of Haiti collection with nothing but a needle, thread and their own artisan talent.The women who create these lovely napkins are all part of a cooperative called Haiti Projects, which employs nearly 100 women at Fair Trade wages. In a country where the average annual income is just $400, Haiti Projects and the sale of items at Macy’s are making a huge difference in these women’s lives.
Artisans working with Haiti Projects and the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line receive 50% of the wholesale price of the goods they produce, allowing them to buy necessities for their families, obtain affordable health care, and send their children to school.
How can you measure the dignity that a job brings, or the joy of watching your child attend school? (Oh, the things we take for granted here in my little corner of the world.) I am so grateful for the opportunity to support this trade-not-aid initiative, which offers these talented artisans a channel through which they can earn a sustainable income.
The Heart of Haiti collection is continually expanding and adding products, and the entire collection is available online at Macys.com/Haiti. Heart of Haiti is also on social media: follow them on Twitter @HeartofHaiti or on Facebook.
Heart of Haiti products are available in-store at these locations: Herald Square, Brooklyn Downtown, Metro Center, State Street, Northland Center, Seattle Downtown, Portland Downtown, San Francisco Union Square, Biltmore Fashion Park, South Coast Plaza Home, Mission Valley Home, Dallas Galleria, Lenox Square Mall, and Dadeland.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society. The Everywhere Society, in partnership with Macy’s, provided me with a set of four Erzulie Cocktail Napkins from the Heart of Haiti collection so that I could see firsthand the products and quality of workmanship that the Heart of Haiti artisans are producing. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Photo Credit: Macys.com