'What UAE means to me': Expats stitch personal stories in patchwork quilt for National Day

Some squares depict the beauty of the desert, while others convey the nuanced meanings of home, community, family, and future

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A Staff Reporter

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Published: Fri 1 Dec 2023, 9:52 AM

Last updated: Fri 1 Dec 2023, 10:02 AM

Ahead of UAE National Day, Dubai-based artist Farida Talaat has initiated a special project, rallying the sewing community to collaborate on a unique patchwork quilt. The theme, What the UAE Means to Me, inspired participants from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to contribute individual sections to commemorate the country's 52nd National Day. Each quilt patch square serves as a personal narrative, capturing the essence of the contributor's connection to the UAE.

Farida highlighted the personal touch each quilt patch brings, stating: "Each quilt patch square would tell its quiltmaker's story, reflecting on their journey in the country. The diverse crafting methods employed in the project include knitting, crochet, cross-stitchery, appliqués, intricate beadwork, and both hand- and machine-embroidery.”

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The quilt features quintessential UAE symbols, such as a palm tree, camel, sand dunes, dates, a map of the country, and a henna-adorned hand. Some squares depict the beauty of the desert, while others convey the nuanced meanings of home, community, family, and future, representing the varied perspectives of expatriates in the UAE.

Motivated by her love for her adopted home, Farida — a Canadian national who has lived in the UAE since childhood — said that the patchwork quilt serves as a heartfelt testament to her connection with the country.

Farida draws a parallel between the patchwork quilt and the UAE. "Much like a patchwork quilt is made of a heterogeneous mix of mismatched fabric, so is the UAE; a melting pot of nationalities and cultures that live together in harmony."

The project kicked off in summer when Farida invited her fellow quilters and members of the quilting society to design and create a quilt block— each measuring 10-by-10 inches. Ten participants from various parts of the UAE joined hands for this collective endeavour, each contributing a unique square that held a personal story about what the UAE meant to them.

A patchwork of stories

One noteworthy creation came from Lamia Bentellis of Algeria, who fashioned a vibrant patchwork of colours and prints with the word 'Family' appliquéd on her square. Somaya Abdel Kader from Egypt, a UAE resident since the late 70s, crafted a 3D knitted heart in the colours of the UAE flag, symbolising her enduring connection to the country.

Sue Markou, a fellow Canadian residing in Dubai for nearly two decades, contributed two blocks. One showcased an artistic depiction of iconic landmarks like Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa, Emirates Towers, Dubai Eye, a palm tree, and a camel. The second featured a recreation of the UAE map, incorporating raised embroidery with a moving bead resembling the Jebel Jais zipline. Sue expressed her gratitude, saying: "Dubai has given us safety, security, and lots of fun indoors and outdoors."

Vidhya Michael of India created a square in the shape of the UAE flag embellished with a stitched outline of the country’s map encircling the word ‘Home’. She has lived in the country for 30 years, and in India for 26. “I lived here longer than in my own country” she says.

Malika Rehman, a resident of the UAE for over four decades, showcased her connection to the country through her quilt square that depicted a kneeling camel and palm tree in a sandy dune setting. She said her creation symbolises the enduring spirit of the UAE.

Farida, the project initiator, contributed her own square with fabrics in shades of blue and green, reminiscent of the sea and the lush greenery that, surprisingly, characterises the desert country. Incorporating a metallic silver fabric in the shape of the Museum of the Future, Farida articulates her optimistic view of the UAE's future—bright and promising.

Once all the quilt squares were complete, Farida brought them together, assembling and sewing them into rows and columns.

Finally, the quilt, a labour of love and collaboration, was complete and unfurled. "I like to think it was a patriotic and sentimental piece of work for all of us," says Farida. She expressed her satisfaction, saying: "I'm glad I was able to bring together a group of passionate crafters connected by their crafting skills and their love for the UAE."

Reflecting on the process, Farida said: "It feels so good to connect with friends and complete strangers in an entrepreneurial way and foster a wonderful and inspiring conversation around our shared love and appreciation for our second home. And this is what the UAE means to me."

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