I felt moved to create the Red Dress project in 2009 to provide a space for connection and a platform for voices to be amplified and heard. A collaborative work that would evolve over time and place and unite individuals across the globe, whilst celebrating the universal language of embroidery.

The Red Dress is constructed out of 87 pieces of burgundy silk dupion and has been worked on by 367 women/girls, 11 men/boys and two non-binary individuals, from 50 countries. All 141 commissioned embroiderers were paid for their work (as well as receiving a portion of all exhibition and merchandise fees), and the rest of the embroidery was added by willing participants and audiences at various exhibitions and events.

Embroiderers include female refugees from Palestine, Syria and Ukraine, women seeking asylum in the UK from Iran, Iraq, China, Nigeria and Namibia, victims of the war in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda and DR Congo, impoverished women in South Africa, Mexico and Egypt, individuals in Kenya, Japan, Turkey, Jamaica, Sweden, Peru, Czech Republic, Dubai, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Tobago, Vietnam, Estonia, US, Russia, Pakistan, Wales, Colombia and England, and students from Montenegro, Brazil, Malta, Singapore, Eritrea, Norway, Poland, Finland, Ireland, Romania and Hong Kong, as well as craftspeople in embroidery studios in India and Saudi Arabia.

Many of the embroiderers are established artisans, but there are also many pieces created by first-time novice embroiderers, including children. All followed a loose brief to create a piece that expressed their identity and culture, and almost all used their own threads. Some embroiderers chose a specific style of embroidery practised for hundreds of years in their family, village or town, whilst others used simple stitches to express powerful stories, reflections and emotions from their past.

The Red Dress’s 14-year creation journey around the world is now complete, and the dress is assembled in its final configuration. Covered in millions of stitches, the 6.8kg Red Dress is weighted as much by the individual stories and collective voices waiting to be heard as by the threads and beads that adorn it. The garment and I have been blessed with many powerful and unique experiences over the last few years: dancing with a Bedouin community in the Sinai desert, listening to female refugees from Ukraine singing as they stitched onto the garment in Warsaw, connecting with politicians at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, visiting embroiderers in the mountains of Chiapas, and collaborating with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina to create a powerful exhibition where, after 30 years, their voices could finally be shared.

The initiative has connected individuals from all walks of life, bringing comfort, raising awareness and serving as a reminder of what is possible when we come together, supporting and uplifting each other. Another beautiful and unexpected outcome of the project is how far and how deeply the garment’s message has spread.

Alongside community projects created within Red Dress exhibition venues in collaboration with me, I have been contacted by many individuals, groups and organisations around the world who have felt moved to initiate their own collaborative projects as a way of bringing their own communities together. Long may the ripples of the Red Dress and all the subsequent creations spread – just as my sister Isla once wrote.

Kirstie Macleod is a fine artist working with paint and embroidery. Having travelled the world for many years, she now lives in rural Somerset with her two sons. The Red Dress was an award-winning global and collaborative embroidery project that spanned 14 years, from 2009 to 2023.