Free shipping on orders of $100 or more in the US! Free shipping on orders of $100 or more in the US!


The Hand Embroidered Beauty of IBABA

We love the beautiful and stunningly life-like embroidery of IBABA – a group of 40 talented women who work in Rutongo, Rwanda. The IBABA cooperative is remarkable not only for the impressive artistry and skill of its artisans but also for the history behind it.

The women of the Rutongo area first learned the art of embroidery in the 1970s from a group of Belgian nuns that, eager to provide young women with a source of income, established an embroidery training center and workshop for them in their village. For years, the workshop flourished, at one point employing over 300 artisans. However, its success came to an abrupt end in 1994 when the Rwandan genocide ravaged life in the region and forced the cooperative to disband.

In 2011, French sisters Veronique and Pascale Gamard traveled to Rutongo, Rwanda and went on a quest to find the artisans who had worked with the nuns all those years ago. They discovered that some of the former embroiderers were still living in the village, but were struggling to get by without customers to buy their goods or a market for them to engage with. 

Touched by the women’s stories and realizing their immense potential, Veronique and Pascale decided to band together and help the embroiderers realize their dreams: to reopen their embroidery workshop and earn sustainable income through their beautiful craft. 

Today, IBABA employs 40 women, each of whom spend their days creating exquisitely detailed, uncannily lifelike and intricately designed pieces for customers like us, including hand-embroidered baby clothes, whimsical market totes, framed art pieces & more.

We chatted with Veronique, IBABA Co-Founder & Artistic Director {as well as a graphic & interior designer} about her design process, inspiration, and so much more! Keep reading to get the inside scoop on all-things-embroidery.

What embroidery techniques do the IBABA ladies work with & who teaches them new skills?

When I began working with IBABA they mostly did traditional stitches using a wooden hoop, but every time I taught them a new skill – like chain-linking, cross-stitching, or even beading – it turned out they already knew how to do it or could simply look at a picture and figure it out themselves. They really are amazing.

How often do you go to Rwanda? What is your favorite part about your time there? How do you manage the workshop when you are back in Paris? 

I go to Rwanda at least four times a year, for four weeks each time. I live right on the cooperative grounds & work closely with the artisans each day I am there. 

My favorite part is watching the women take designs I have sketched and turn them into beautiful final products. Every time it’s a new experience – each design comes with a new surprise.

When I’m back in Paris, I sketch my designs by hand on pieces of paper, scan them, and send them off to Rwanda with details about the colors, threads, stitches, and fabrics I have in mind. The artisans then review them and then get back to me with any questions or thoughts they have.

What makes IBABA’s work unique? 

In Rwanda, there aren’t many groups that work with embroidery, so there’s that to begin with. But IBABA is unique because of the way we combine the women’s amazing skills with my design aesthetic, which is influenced both my time in Rwanda & in Paris.

What inspires you? 

I love to work with traditional designs and change them up to make them more modern, colorful, and fun. Kids designs are also something I’m especially passionate about – they are so cute and perfect! But all in all I am inspired to see the women working everyday and to know that what we are doing is helping them to live better lives and learn something new everyday. 

We think that’s pretty inspiring – don’t you?