Exploring stories through embroidery art

Access Alliance has been developing and holding expressive arts therapy groups since 2004. The latest expressive arts session, held in early 2019, was with a group of Arabic-speaking women who gave voice to their memories and stories through embroidery art.

Please learn more about the embroidery art therapy program and the women’s stories here:

Gulistan Abdo

I am a Syrian Kurdi, and in Syria we are nothing. I made this artwork to represent the flag of Kurdi, my country because it is meaningful to me. I chose dragonflies because they represent life. I like to sit with those who I love and drink coffee. In this picture, I am sitting by a vase of flowers and drinking coffee with my sisters. My sisters are back in Turkey but they are sponsored and I am hopeful they will be coming to Canada. In Syria we were desperate for life, and this creating artwork gives us hope for life. I like to have the opportunity t to sew because I liked to be able to express my ideas

Nawal Najib

I chose to put these images because I like change and I don’t like everything to be the same, I like colours. I like nature absolutely. Creating this artwork changed something inside me, it has made me happy and provided me with a change in my self-esteem. All of my friends are in the group I like sitting with them and I met new people, it was entertaining.

Nawal's embroidery

Esraa Awad

This is a blessed place in my country of Syria. It is a sculpture in the shape of a big sword in Champ City Damascus. Lake Damascus is also in the picture. In every home in Damascus, there is a fountain or water. I put Jasmine in the picture to express the smell. It smells very, very good. In Champ you smell a lot of Jasmine. I choose these symbols because of Syria itself. It does not represent politics or religion. I don’t hate anyone or any religion. I need peace, I chose pictures outside of race.

This is my story: I lived in situations that were very difficult – I lived in war for one year and 6 years in Lebanon. My life in Lebanon was like being locked up, in a circle, doing nothing, with no way out. I had a very hard life. Then me and my husband found a way out. My husband helped me to grow. I am the flower and my husband helped me to grow. The 2 beautiful pigeons are my daughters. My country is still closed, but I hope in the future it will flower and everyone will be free. I hope that through telling my story others will become free as I have become free.

Esraa's embroidery

Meryem Huseyin

In this picture I have the map of Syria and the Freedom army flag. The revolution in Syria is against Asad to let the people free. I chose this because I was deported from Syria and I did not want to leave Syria. I want them to have Freedom so that I can return to the country. I wrote Freedom and justice to Syria and Thank You Canada because they opened the door for us. I am so happy to be in this embroidery program – it was a pleasure to create, and I hope the artwork shines like the way that I am feeling.

Meryem's embroidery

Mariam Omyan

This picture is of my city from when I was a child, My uncles and my aunts would sit together with us in the field. They would bring us for dinner and we would have coffee. This is a picture of the castle Draa. In Eid we would go and take pictures with the family. The picture reminds me of my family and the time spent with them. In the future, I want to go see my family and reunite in Norway and see new countries. I want to finish my studies before I get married. The future for me is bright.

Mariam's embroidery

Yousra Sattouf

This is the flag of Syria before the Hafas ,the father of Bashar, came to be president. It is the old flag. I feel that this is my original flag. This flag is an expression of freedom and peace. The black represents the colony from Osmani and the French. The red stars represent the blood that was shed in order to have freedom. The green represents the land and the cultures of what we are hoping to have and shows that our culture will continue regardless of the problems that we have. The white colour represents peace and comfort. This flag represents what Syria means to me. I was happy to be able to express what I choose and what I love.

Yousra's embroidery

Mariam Abdulaziz

The first picture is the victory arch with 2 crossed swords, It represents victory in general. I don’t like to remember the bad things that happened in my country. I chose that image because it symbolizes victory in the war as well as all things in life. It is on display in the square in Baghdad where they do military festivals and celebrations. For this victory martyrs gave a lot of lives, I want to honour their memory. The clouds represent the barriers, but the sun always shines through and the victory is for life. Below this is the Iraqi flag and it has changed many times in history, it is our identity. Every president changed the flag for his party.

Everyone knows that Iraq has beautiful palm trees and dates. They did not want to have people hiding the palm trees so they cut them down. There were date trees but they were cut down as well. The palm tree is high and generous – it is proud and giving. All of these images represent me and my country. I like to celebrate victory, but not forget the sacrifices. I want to save the history in my heart but I will adapt to the changes. I am proud like a palm tree – they don’t need water, they are a desert plant. I connect to being able to give the sweetest fruit in harsh conditions. I feel proud to create this artwork.


The first picture represents my past and it represents violence in the middle-east. The man in this picture is choking the woman, he has power over her. It helped me to express myself, it helped me to overcome it in the artwork. This picture is of the bright beautiful future that has a sun, a beautiful house, flowers and peace. It has nature. I imagine this place to be real but also to be a state of mind. I went to Punta Cana and I saw this is Punta Cana, after I had created this artwork. In my mind I am still in Punta Cana, it is like paradise on earth, the services the view, the weather. I did not just come for the program, I came for the interaction with people. I was isolated, but here I was able to interact. It was hard to come the first time, but after that I came every week.

Mariam Mdalal

This is a picture of a big mosque that is over 200 years old. It means a lot to Syrian people. It is located in old Damascus which is the capital of Syria. It is a kind of attraction for tourists from all over the world, not only for those who are Muslim. This is a symbol of my place and my country. I dream of returning there one day. The script says that our dreams will never come true without working hard for them. Not every dream will come true, we need a great deal of effort to make our dreams come true in our life. We should work hard to succeed to fulfill our aims and dreams.  What is going on in Syria is a nightmare, sometimes I dream that it is not true. I dream that my family is back together again but my siblings are now everywhere around the world in different countries. My dream is to succeed and to make our lives better and the lives of their kids better than it was in Syria.

This was a wonderful program and Alexandra our leader was very helpful and friendly. It was a big gathering of Arabic speaking women and this gathering was nice and enjoyable. We were happy to practice our sewing skills – it is something I enjoy. I remember sewing from my school days thirty years ago and this brings back good memories. Thank you to Justin Trudeau, to our sponsors and for this program.

Mariam's embroidery

Aisha Dliwati

This is a picture of an old Arabic house in Aleppo. It is a historic house that belonged to my great great grandparents and my mother lived here. It reminds me of my childhood and my grandparents. There was a fountain in the middle with a jasmine tree and lots of  flowers and roses and this is where the whole family would gather. The script says “Don’t stop dreaming, even if your dream isn’t possible.” I wrote these words as we all dream that our peaceful, nice wonderful country returns again. We know that it is impossible for it to turn again into a peaceful country but we still hold the dream and hope that it will one day come true. We are still dreaming and we will never stop dreaming. Creating the images reminded me of old Syria before the war. I stopped sewing over 10 years ago so it was a good opportunity to practice it again.

Aisha's embroidery

Jinan Al – rusaitem

The Rainbow reflects a new life here in Canada after coming from Iraq. The second image is a picture of a heart with an angel and it is a reflection of love: I love school, my instructors, family, friends and my new life in Canada. Love is a symbol of the future and of life. Love makes me think a lot before finding the right partner. The third image is a picture of me alone. When I am unable to meet with people that understand my thoughts and feelings, I like to spend time with myself alone. I like to spend time alone when I am not feeling appreciated. Sometimes I feel better when I am isolated as I am able to gain self-confidence and get organized in my mind. Once I do that, I can leave the circle again and connect with people again. It is a place where I can put the puzzle together. I will feel loneliness there until I meet the right partner who will respect my thoughts and myself. The art program was a good gathering and Alexandra brought us good ideas. We exchanged different ideas about the artwork. In Iraq I used to do Tetriz as a hobby and I learned from my aunt.

Jinan's embroidery