It all started with my friend Karin Jackson's purchase of an antique camel bag at the Al Dhafra Camel Festival (which I will tell you about in my next blog entry). As we wandered through the Souk at the Festival, the local Bedouin weavers were admiring her purchase and through them we had the pleasure of meeting Leila Ben-Gacem, Manager of the Entrepreneurship Development Department of the Khalifa Fund, here in Abu Dhabi.
Leila is from Tunisia and has come to the United Arab Emirates to work with the Khalifa Fund to help keep the country's heritage skills alive. She travels to the farthest western reaches of Abu Dhabi Emirate to the two most remote towns of the region, Ghayathi and Sila, to search out local women with traditional skills; specifically the Bedouin art of weaving. For the past year she has been organizing a network of women operating in tents, caravans, and homes. These women are improving their skills and with the help of Leila, local co-ordinator Moza al Mansoori, and Design Consultant Yaza Hussain, market opportunities will be created to enable them to reach their potential through their creativity and handwork, while supplementing their family income and helping to meet their needs.
During our chat with Leila and our discussion of the difficulties and struggle to place a monetary value on handwork and determining a fair price for these items, she learned that we were quilters. She thought the ladies would love to see our work and of course they would love to share their weaving skills with us and she suggested we all meet. We were thrilled to be invited! A date was set and we invited some fellow quilters to join us.
6:30AM eight quilters met to head to the desert and Ghayathi, a 2 1/2 hour drive into the desert from Abu Dhabi. Once we leave the greenery of Abu Dhabi island, it is a sea of sand, as far as the eye can see. We arrive at a local girl's school in Ghayathi, where we are greeted by the weavers who have come to show the weaving they have produced since their last meeting and to consult with Yaza on some new design ideas. There was a show and tell of quilts and weaving. Leila and Moza were kind enough to translate for both sides as the local ladies speak very little English and we speak almost no Arabic.
One of the ladies gave us a brief history of weaving which was used in the past for camel bags and straps for the camels, udder bags, floor cushions, tents, etc. and also showed us how they spin the goat and camel hair into yarn. Today they weave pencil cases, shoulder bags, purses, book covers, laptop cases, key rings, wallets, table runners, etc. They are now artisans working for a modern market.
To help explain the art of quilting, I gave each of the ladies a copy of my latest book "Quilts from Paradise." Though they could not read English, they could understand the illustrations and could appreciate the amount of time and effort involved in a quilt.
Of course we did some shopping! Like all artisans, the weavers were proud to be photographed with their work. The lime green table runner which I purchased was this woman's first sale. Those of you who have sold your work know and remember how exciting that first sale is. It's a lovely piece which I will treasure as a wonderful memory of our day with the weavers of Ghayathi.
Following our gathering at the school, one of the weavers invited us to her home to see an actual loom that is used for the weaving. It is a very simple frame of metal pipes laid on the floor. She also shared with us samples of her weaving.
MozaalMansoori and her mother were our hosts for lunch at their home in Ghayathi. The food was DELICIOUS! It was such a pleasure to be able to sample all the local dishes. We were served in the traditional Bedouin style, with the food laid out on mats on the floor. Two goats were slaughtered in honor of our visit.
We even got to milk a camel and try warm camel's milk, which is frothy, sweet, and delicious.
What can I say but...it was a day, I will never forget. A huge thank you goes out to Leila, Moza and her mother, and all the weavers of Ghayathi. We thank them for sharing their love of weaving with us and for letting us share our love of quilting with them. Though we speak different languages and participate in different customs and traditions, we all appreciate and respect the skill and passion that allows us to create things of beauty with our hands.
If you would like to know more about the weavers of the Western Region of the UAE, I invite you to watch the following documentary.
My name is Cynthia Tomaszewski and I am the designer and owner of Simple Pleasures, a quilt design company with offices in Michigan and the United Arab Emirates. I am also the author of 5 books, "Garden Party - Applique Quilts That Bloom", "Tea in the Garden - Quilts for a Summer Afternoon","Let's Pretend - Whimiscal Quilts for Kids", "Quilts from Paradise", and just released, "Quilting Those Flirty 30's" which are all published by Martingale and Company.
Travel and adventure have been my goals and luckily I have found a soul mate in my husband Mike. We have travelled extensively through out the world, from Mexico, Europe, Africa, and the Far East to the Pacific Basin. After residing in Abu Dhabi for seven years, Mike, my son Zachary, and I took a two-year hiatus and sailed our thirty-three foot Hans Christian sailboat through the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to Spain. I currently reside once again in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates with Mike and our Yorkie Stanley.