Near East Industries

December 20, 2009

It never ceases to amaze me how needlework has helped shape the course of events in world history. Take, for example, a simple advertisement for Near East Industries that I found in the May 1924 issue of Needlework Magazine. The ad is for a catalog featuring “needlework of refugees”. It offered a variety of handmade items using traditional patterns from the Near East countries including fine linen, hemstitched and needle lace handkerchiefs, and cross stitched runners, doilies, table covers tea and luncheon sets.

Near East Industries was part of Near East Relief, an American charity organized during World War I to help end the suffering of the people of Armenia after the Armenian genocide in 1915. According to an article on the Near East Foundation website, Near East Industries was an adaptation of Goodwill Industries. “…refugee women were engaged to produce fancy needlework, which was sold to tourists and in Near East Relief offices in America. The income from the sale of these goods reached as high as $100,000 a year and was used for further relief work.” (It should be noted that the needlework business was one very small part of the whole relief effort.)

As you might guess, there was more than one side to this politically charged relief effort. The ad did its part to garner sympathy for the refugee women. It encouraged readers to buy the needlework because “while it is contributing to the attractiveness of your home, by purchasing you help to provide shelter for these refugee mothers.”

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