Reviving a Once Dying Form of Art

For Farah Usmani, the love of hand embroidery came at a very early age.  She recalls her grandmother and mother practicing the art form, smocking by hand, in the British way. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Usmani came to the United States as a small child. She maintains ties with her native country, returning every couple of years.

Usmani began searching for hand embroidered items as an adult and was frustrated to find that although items were advertised as handmade, were often poor quality and crafted by a machine. Color choice was also an issue as she found that hues would vary and were inconsistent with descriptions.

Finally, Usmani found someone who made her aware of craftswomen working in rural Pakistan. When she learned the women were using their earnings to help educate their children, Usmani decided she could do something more than her personal shopping. She created Farah Usmani Collectibles and now sells a selection of scarves representing these craftswomen in the United States.

The craftswomen are from a mid-sized agricultural city with a high illiteracy rate. However, thanks to social media, they have a heightened awareness of educational opportunities for their children. Usmani credits social media with sparking important conversations about globalization, education and pursuing careers so that future generations can prosper.

These craftswomen have handed down hand embroidery techniques including the French knot and shadow work from generation to generation. The work is meticulous and painstaking; each scarf takes a minimum of three months to create.

Usmani contributes to the design process by accumulating data from the Western market. She researches which colors and design patterns customers respond to most favorably and request most often.

Despite the geographical distance that separates the artists from consumers, Usmani feels there is a strong connection: “People that appreciate the scarves in Charlotte are probably never going to meet those women, but it’s transcendent; they appreciate [the] art.”

It is Usmani’s hope that each scarf will be handed down from mother to daughter, from one generation to the next, as a legacy item carrying the message of women helping women. To encourage this, Usmani gives each scarf a title in honor of a strong woman. For instance, one is Becoming Jane for legendary author Jane Austen.

Craftswomen who create the scarves use the money they earn to educate their children and to sustain their families. The initiative encompasses the past by reviving the art form of hand embroidery, the present by allowing women to help women and the future by supporting education through scholarships. 

Farah Usmani Scholarships are given to public high school students and future international business leaders who demonstrate leadership. Usmani asserts it is vital that we nurture future leaders who promote the ways in which we are alike rather than ostracizing one another due to our differences.