When you walk by the Mexico pavilion in the Mobility District at Expo 2020 Dubai, it is easy to mistake the wash of colour that blankets the facade with lashings of paint.
But a closer look tells a much deeper story.
In a small town in central-west Mexico – with a population of only 10,000 people – 100 women spent more than 5,200 hours crocheting 3,500 individual pieces that make up the eye-catching exterior.
Together with her 90-year-old mother Paloma, Lorena Ron was one of the driving forces behind the impressive pavilion draping.
In May this year, she received a call from Mexican designer, Betsabee Romero, who asked if she was up for the task. At first, she thought it was a scam.
“We’re just a group of women in Mexico who crochet our days away. When the call with Betsabee ended, I called my children and told them surely this request wasn’t real,” she told The National.
“My children looked online, did lots of research and told me it all seemed legitimate. I couldn’t believe it. It was such a wonderful opportunity. So, of course, during our next call I said 'yes'.”
Hailing from a town called Etzatlan in Jalisco, which translates to "land of beans" in English, 60-year-old Ms Ron’s humble hobby has made her grab news headlines before.
In 2019, along with nearly 200 women from the crocheting association she set up in her village in 2016, they broke a world record for the “longest crochet canopy”.
Measuring 28,320 square feet, it took the group eight months to weave before it was hung from building to building along their street during one of the town's annual festivals in October.
A childhood chore became a loved hobby
A self-confessed tomboy, Ms Ron said she first started crocheting when she was only six-years-old. But it was “a chore more than a hobby", she said.
“I would watch my great aunt weave and knit jumpers, blankets and rugs for people in the village,” she said.
“I was never girly and always wanted to go outside and play with the horses, but that was seen as something only boys did.
“As I watched my great aunt create these knots, I thought it would be a good way to learn how to make reins that I could use to ride the horses.
“It then became a thing where I would be made to crochet for a while each day, and only then would I be allowed out to play with the horses.”
Not long after, that chore soon became her love, and decades later it has brought the mother-of-three to Dubai, where she is representing Mexico in all its glory at Expo 2020.
Ms Ron said crocheting became a form of solace for her and her mother after both her husband and father became ill in 2005.
“We would get together and crochet for hours"
“When my father passed away in 2007 and my husband in 2009, it was a way for me to let out my grief, it became my comfort," she said, holding back her tears while sitting inside the pavilion.
“I transported my grief into beautiful things to help heal my soul.”
'100 Mexican mothers hugging the country they love'
After landing in Dubai for the first time on September 26, Ms Ron said she and designer Ms Romero spent three days finalising the exterior design of the pavilion.
Joined by several workers from Expo, they stitched and hung more than 60 individual strips together, covering more than 10,000 square feet.
Made up of six colours – red, green, blue, orange and two shades of yellow – the largest individual strip measured 1.3 metres by 30 metres.
The final design portrays a net weave of intertwining colours, shrouded by an image of the sun.
“Each colour represents a different community around the world and we wove it like a net to show how the world is interconnected,” she said.
“I remember on the last day, just before we finished hanging the design, I was in a crane stitching the last piece together. When I stitched the final piece, I shouted ‘viva la Mexico’ and the crowds below just started cheering.
“It was a special moment for me and my 100 colleagues that made this dream a reality. For me, the weave portrays 100 mothers of Mexico hugging the country they love.”