OUR FEATURED ARTISANS
As a young girl, Khadija began learning how to sew from her mother at the age of six. Khadija says, “When I started sewing for the first time, I tried making different colorful clothes for my dolls because I loved playing with them.”
Khadija’s mother was a renowned tailor in her village. Khadija recalls “She had lots of customers. Even during holidays, customers would come visit our home.” Inspired by her mother’s artistry, Khadija practiced every day and gradually learned to sew dresses, crafts and pillow covers with colorful fabrics and threads. She began assisting her mother and finally became a famous artisan in her own right, sewing professionally on her own.
Now, although Khadija has a busy life in the U.S., she still pursues her sewing. Her signature is using colorful threads; she often combines different colors, which enhances the artistry and beauty of the product. You can see this in many of her pillow covers, tablecloths and dresses.
Najib & Halima
Najibullah and Halima live together as husband and wife with their five children in Maryland. Together, they make a dynamic duo with Halima having the artistic vision that Najib is able to bring to life with his tailor skills.
Before coming to the United States, Najib and Halima lived in Turkey for 10 years where they both picked up new skills from learning a new language to explore their artistic side. Najib recalls, “In the beginning I was a student with no sewing skills at all, but my father was always saying that I have artisan talents. His encouragement motivated me a lot and was the key success of my sewing skills. I have been fond of sewing clothes such as men’s suits and ties, since childhood.”
He retells his first interest in sewing as a child, “I was six when my parents bought me a suit that I liked a lot. Once, my brother (who is my age) took my suit to wear. When I saw that I started fighting with him because I didn’t want to share my suit with anyone! Now whenever I remember that I smile about how much I liked suits even when I was a child. My interest in my childhood suit grew my interest in being a good tailor and led me to becoming a professional.”
In Turkey, Halima worked as a translator and photographer. Halima remembered “I was getting calls from a company in Turkey whenever they needed a lady photographer. In ladies’ ceremonies there was a vital need of lady photographers, so for that reason I was getting more chances of work.”
She was particularly inspired by the beauty of Turkey. “When I was visiting historical places, different provinces or any beautiful scene which was attracting me, I had my camera with me, and I was taking shots of those beautiful views and sceneries.”
After immigrating to the United States, Halima began assisting her husband with sewing, bringing her photographer’s eye for composition to the pieces she creates. Now Najibullah has lots of customers in the United States for his suits and dresses, in addition to his very popular aprons and bags.
When Suhaila was a young girl, her family discouraged her sewing. “My mother did not allow me to sew, because my family wanted me to complete my high school first.” Suhaila recalled, “But due to my interest I was allowed to make some dresses for my little dolls.”
After graduation Suhaila started a formal sewing course when she was 17. “My teacher’s name was Ferishta,” she recalled. “She was amazing, kind, and calm.” Suhaila learned the basics by using papers to study professional cutting and sewing. “I was practicing on cards and papers at home every day, that’s how gradually my technique improved.” Suhaila’s skill grew over time and expanded the artistry, patterns, and items she could make.
After coming to the United States, Suhaila moved to Maryland with her husband and three daughters. Suhaila started work at a cosmetic company but needed to leave her job to take care of her children. She then turned to her natural talent as a seamstress and started her own business. Now Suhaila makes and sells beautiful tablecloths, pillow covers and curtains.
Shila is a former military sergeant from Kabul, Afghanistan. Brought over to the U.S. as part of the “Operation Allies Welcome” program, she settled in Maryland with her sister and nephew. Shila worked for a U.S.-trained special forces wing of the Air Force until the fall of Kabul in 2021. She is incredibly proud of her position in the Afghan military. One of Shila’s specialties was repairing airplanes - a skill which has helped her to repair sewing machines for our program. Shila notes that she very much enjoys taking apart the sewing machine and fixing machines that were otherwise ready to be trashed.
Now living in Maryland, Shila’s sister works while she stays home to care for their nephew, whose mother is still in Afghanistan. To pass time while caretaking, Shila sews. Her talents are diverse and she makes a variety of items such as clothes, bags, aprons, and table runners. However, her most popular item are her unique bags which range from totes, to purses, to trash bag dispensers. Shila’s work is beautifully made and one-of-a-kind.
Shila credits her mother’s sewing skills as the inspiration for her craftsmanship. When she was growing up, her mother taught her how to make beautiful things and helped ignite her love for sewing.
Shila is grateful to be able to sell her items and financially support her family still living in Afghanistan, including her parents and her nephew’s Mom.
Rabia is one of the most popular artisans on New Neighbor Designs, and she is excited to be able to share her knitting talents here in the U.S.
Rabia was born in January 1959 in Herat, Afghanistan. She was engaged at a young age, but after her fiancée died, she never married or had children of her own. She left Afghanistan in August of 2021 when Kabul fell and, after an arduous journey, settled in an apartment in Virginia with her extended family.
Rabia learned knitting, embroidery and sewing skills in her youth and spent some time weaving silk carpets as well. In Afghanistan, in addition to her artistry, she taught kindergarten and helped village women learn literacy. Creating art has been a great source of joy for Rabia:
“I love to knit bags and covers for flower pots. I also make earrings and luffas for people to wash their bodies,” Rabia explains. “I am very happy to be doing this as knitting has been a way for me to forgive the pain and sacrifices that I have made. This is a way for me to stand on my own feet and earn my own money while being of service to society and others as well as myself.”
Since it gives her a sense of productivity and purpose, Rabia also believes that knitting has helped her to overcome the problems and associated depression caused by migration and resettlement in the U.S. Rabia’s dream is to start her own small business and become known for her crafts.
Sudaba was introduced to artisantry and craft-making while living in Kabul, Afghanistan. Here, Sudaba took lessons in beadwork and jewelry-making, perfecting the art of making beautifully-colored and exquisitely-decorated earrings, bracelets, keychains, and other jewelry and artisan items.
In a terrifying and sudden moment in 2021, many of Sudaba’s aspirations and dreams came to an end during the Taliban’s takeover and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan. After being evacuated from Kabul and resettled in Maryland with her family and two siblings, Sudaba has once again started to rekindle her love and talent for making decor and jewelry. Sudaba admits that the transition has been difficult, with many adjustments to a new life in the United States and little money to build a foundation off of. However, by sheer determination and perseverance, as well as a partnership with Homes Not Borders, she has begun selling her products through New Neighbor Designs. Sudaba still aspires to achieve her dream and one day establish her own business. Until that day is made possible, Sudaba’s products are available for purchase through New Neighbor Designs.
The Mohammadi Family
The Mohammadi family carries on a tradition of rug-making that has been passed down through generations in their Afghan village. Artfully woven and dyed in unique and colorful designs, the family have used their expertise in rug-making to begin a small, family-run business venture in the D.C. and Maryland areas.
“In our village, rug-making was traditionally done by the women, with the income made benefiting them and the entire family,” says one member. “We take suggestions from customers and try to use their feedback to create new designs.”
One artisan of the family, Zahra, left Afghanistan during the evacuation in 2021. Today, she assists with the rug-making and selling process, having learned from her mother and generations before her.
All rugs are made out of sheep wool and crafted into a variety of sizes. The process can take between five and ten days depending on the complexity and size of the rug. This often requires the entire family to contribute their skills towards each product’s completion and sale.
The Kashify mother daughter duo create knitted products together specializing in winter finger-less gloves. Ms. Kashify recalls first learning the circular knitting technique in the fourth grade. After gaining an immediate affection for the craft, she began to make beautiful clothes for her teacher's children. Since then Ms. Kashify has worked relentlessly to improve her skills creating clothing for her family including jackets and intricate children clothes.
In America, she wants to continue doing what she loved at home: creating beautiful things. Ms. Kashify has passed down her passion for knitting to her daughter.