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Women of Stitch Buffalo by Luke Copping

Stitch Buffalo on Niagara Street is full of dynamic energy, incredible artistic workmanship, and beautiful women with compelling stories. We’ve only touched the surface of their souls, but we are very proud to introduce you to Hkawng Lung, MuMu, Dah John, and NuPan all from Burma and Bina Biswa from Bhutan. Each of these women learned their skill of intricate embroidery while living in refugee camps as part of their journey to America. They continue to hone their craft at Stitch Buffalo under the guidance of fiber specialist and Stitch founder Dawne Hoeg. Their faces reflect the complexity of their lives and we are grateful to photographer Luke Copping for so eloquently capturing their essence in these profiles.

These women are just a few of the many who make up – The Women of Stitch.

 

Hkawng Lung

AGE, 68
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, BURMA

 

I left Burma in 2009. Life in Burma is not safe for women and children. Soldiers rape and beat women and children, there is no safety there for us. I was a refugee in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia until 2015 when I came to America because it was still very unsafe there. My husband is still in Burma, but is trying now to come to Buffalo to be with me. It is not easy, we are doing all the paperwork now.


Do you have any children?
I have two sons and one daughter. One of my son’s is with me in Buffalo and he is 40 years-old, my other son and daughter are with my husband in Burma.


How long have you been working at Stitch?
Over a year.

Why do you like to come to Stitch?
I learned embroidery in Burma and Malaysia. It is good to make money to support myself.


Do you like living in Buffalo?
I am happy here in Buffalo. I can do whatever I want here, I can work here and make money, and that makes me very happy.

 

Mu Mu

AGE, 49
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, BURMA

 

I came to Buffalo on September 9, 2008; after living in a refugee camp in Thailand for ten years.


Do you have any children?
Yes I have 6 daughters. Aye Bay Na Sa is 20 and is studying Biomedical Science at UB; Lay Dia Say is 18 and Blet Say Was is 14, they both go to Hutch Tech; She Zin Win is 13 and Savious Win is 11, they both go to PS 95; and my little baby Victoria Win is 2.


How long have you been working at Stitch?
For two years, since Victoria was born. My friend brought me here the first time, but now she has a job and is working and does not come, but I come every one or two days and I bring Victoria with me.

What did you do before you came to Stitch?
I had a couple different jobs. I worked at DiCamillo Bakery and Holiday Candy, but now with Victoria I cannot work there. Stitch helps me make money. I can take work home with me and take care of Victoria. When she goes to school I want to return to the workforce.


 You speak English quite well. Where did you learn?
I have taken English classes at the International Institute and at the Albany Street Parent Center. A retired teacher came to Stitch one day and asked us if we wanted to learn English. I said yes and now she comes to my house to teach me.


 What do you make here at Stitch?
I do lots of embroidery. I make scarves, pins, flower necklaces, elephants, and birds. I sewed everyday in my home country. After leaving Burma I lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for ten years. All the women would do stitch-work there.

 

Dah John

AGE, 47
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, BURMA

 

I came to Buffalo ten years ago, but after leaving Burma I lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for eight years.


Do you have any children?
I have three boys. They are 10, 8, and 6 years old. They go to PS 94 and PS 45.


How long have you been working at Stitch?
A very long time! I really like the new building. I come when my boys are at school.

What do you make here at Stitch?
I work on almost everything. My specialty is embroidery on clothing.


Why do you like to come to Stitch?
The money I earn is very helpful to my family.


Do you like living in Buffalo?
I like Buffalo, except for the snow! In Burma it is very hot, there are only three seasons – summer, fall, and spring. In April, May, and June it is very hot. July has intense rains.

 

Bina Biswa

AGE, 39
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, BURMA

 

I left Bhutan when I was 15 years old and went to Nepal. Then came to Buffalo a little over 8 years ago, when I was 31. My mother and brother went to Australia, but my sister was here and other members of our family, so I came here too.


 Do you have any children?
Oh yes, I have two daughters and three sons.


 What do you make here at Stitch?
I learned to knit while I lived in Nepal, but I really love sparkle! I love to do bead work and make lots of hair clips, hats, and I work on dresses. I can only come about once a week, but I work on things at home. The money is good for our family and it really adds up.

Why do you like to come to Stitch?
I get very, very homesick a lot of the time. Working on embroidery keeps my mind busy and gives me other things to think about. It really helps me.

 

NuPan Labang

AGE, 47
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, BURMA

 

I was in Burma until 2010 and then Kuala Lumpur until 2014. My sister is still in Malaysia. I went to Virginia first but then came to Buffalo to be with my Aunt Hkawng in 2016. When you are a refugee they make you choose a state you want to go to before you come to America. You have to make that decision usually based on if you know someone who has already gone there.


 Do you have any children?
I have a 7 year-old girl who goes to the Thomas Edison School, a 4 year-old boy, and a 2 year-old little girl.


 You speak English quite well. Where did you learn?
I taught myself how to speak English.

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Written by Holly Metz Doyle

Holly Metz Doyle

A Buffalo native, Holly spent quite a bit of time traveling the globe, but after living on the West coast for a bit was called back to her roots in Western New York.

View All Articles by Holly Metz Doyle