Anne-Marie Urukundo (Portland) practices traditional Rwandan embroidery, a craft she learned as a child from the grandmother who raised her, Asinati Mukarwera. Although finding time for embroidery can be a challenge in her busy life as a working mother, Urukundo relishes the time for the craft that she does have.
Anne-Marie Urukundo practices traditional Rwandan embroidery, a craft she learned as a child from the grandmother who raised her, Asinati Mukarwera. Indeed, Urukundo was so young when her grandmother taught her, she doesn’t remember learning how to embroider. Urukundo was born in Zaire (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) and raised by her Rwandan grandmother, Asinati Mukarwera, who taught her to embroider. During Belgian colonial rule in Rwanda, which began during the first World War, European women brought their traditional embroidery with them, and began teaching the craft in schools throughout the country. Belgian Seventh Day Adventist missionaries taught embroidery to Urukundo’s grandmother in her hometown of Gitwe, Rwanda, and she, in turn, passed those skills on to subsequent generations. The embroidery of Rwanda is not simply a transplanted European craft; it has developed its own distinct style. Urukundo employs a variety of stitches and a complex system of counting squares in her geometric and brightly colored floral patterns. The backside of her embroidered pieces is as fine as the front—the mark of a truly skilled seamstress. Her embroidery transforms functional everyday linens into beautifully adorned sheets, pillowcases, table cloths, and napkins. In 1996, war in Zaire forced Urukundo to flee to Tanzania, where she lived in refugee camps for 16 years. In 2010, she resettled in Portland, where she eventually obtained employed at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization’s Africa House. Although finding time for embroidery can be a challenge in her busy life as a working mother, Urukundo relishes the time for the craft that she does have. “It doesn’t leave you; it’s in your blood,” she explains.
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