On Tuesday, December 5th, the Escalette Permanent Art Collection welcomed Tahereh Sheerazie, textile artist and landscape designer, to Chapman University. Sheerazie is a member of The Running Stitch, a sewing and quilting collective based in Los Angeles that has been active for over twenty-two years. In her lecture, Sewing In Community, Sheerazie spoke of her involvement in The Running Stitch and the story behind its commitment to community outreach. The Escalette Collection acquired three of Sheerazie’s embroidered textiles earlier this year.
Born in Pakistan, Sheerazie immigrated to the United States, where she has lived most of her adult life. As she put down roots in her new home in Pasadena, Sheerazie looked for a group that would allow her, and later her daughter, to read the Qur’an in community. In time, Sheerazie found The Running Stitch, a collective of Muslim women from different backgrounds who made small textiles and other fabric objects together. Joining The Running Stitch proved to be a life-changing moment in her life. Sheerazie described how the group opened her eyes to new cultures, new ways of practicing Islam, and new quilting traditions. While different in many ways, the collective is united by the running stitch – the basic stitch on which all other forms of sewing and embroidery are based.
In 2001, The Running Stitch’s mission started to shift. 9/11 brought attention to the Muslim community in the United States in a way that Sheerazie had not experienced before. Furthermore, 2001 was a year of heightened conflict and violence in Palestine, which affected many members of the group. It was also during this time that Sheerazie’s father passed away. In the wake of international events and increasing hostility towards the Muslim community, The Running Stitch turned to philanthropy. They held small fundraisers to sell their work to help families in need. Members of The Running Stitch would reach out to their home communities to find families who needed help and arrange for the proceeds to be sent to them. Building off these experiences, they also helped raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
In 2005, The Running Stitch partnered with various nonprofits to help Northern Pakistani villages ravaged by the Kashmir earthquake and the many women left with life-long spinal cord injuries. Sheerazie made several trips to Pakistan to bring fabric to the women recovering in hospital so that their work could be sold in the United States. Simultaneously, The Running Stitch began creating textiles that could be sold to raise money. These combined efforts resulted in the building of seven wheel-chair-accessible homes for the women and families who lost everything in the earthquake.
Watching the joy and purpose that sewing brought to the Northern Pakistani women helped Sheerazie and other members of The Running Stitch comprehend the healing power of work. While none of them realized it in the moment, the time they spent talking and sewing together allowed them to process the grief they felt in response to international crises and in their own lives. From that pain came colorful textiles that exude happiness and love. In her talk, Sheerazie spoke to the idea of regeneration, an important concept in her capacity as a landscape designer. In the same way The Running Stitch brought old scraps of fabric back to life in their work, they transformed their pain into a renewed sense of purpose and community.
Samantha Dobrovolny (English, ‘27) particularly enjoyed hearing “about the healing that quilting has provided for Tahereh and The Running Stitch…looking at the quilts up close, I was able to see the love and time it takes to make something so beautiful.”
The Escalette Collection of Art was fortunate to acquire three pieces by Sheerazie for its permanent collection. These works were created in an ongoing response to the 2016 United States presidential election. That year, Sheerazie spent time at a printmaking studio in Pasadena making signs for the Women’s March and other demonstrations in Los Angeles. Incorporated within the textiles are pieces of posters and other ephemera that read “Resist” and “All Together.” She also included a poignant quote that she found hanging in the studio: “Artists need to create on the same scale that society has the capacity to destroy.” Sheerazie returned to this theme in 2021 with Mycelial Threads, which uses white thread to reference the mycelium network that connects plants to water and other minerals, sustaining life where it could not exist otherwise.
By the end of Sheerazie’s lecture, one had a sense of the many accomplishments The Running Stitch has achieved but also how incredibly humble they are about their successes. In doing their work, they never sought to lay claim to the title of artist – they never sign their work – or the recognition that comes with it. They simply wanted to do their part to help people as much as they could using the resources they had. Sheerazie and The Running Stitch demonstrate the impact that even a small, dedicated group can have on the world.
[Sheerazie’s] tale of unity and purpose has prompted me to reflect on my artistic endeavors–what can I do? How can I use my artwork to create even a fraction of the impact?… I am fueled by the hope that I, too, can contribute to a positive change in the world through my art.
– Shelly Netz (Graphic Design, ‘27)