Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Syria - the textiles

I have to divide the Damascus experience into categories, and textiles is a big one.  I hadn't even thought about what a wealth of textiles, both locally produced and imported, would be there.  But of course: the city has been around forever, it lies along trade routes between Europe and Central Asia and has hosted Mecca-bound pilgrims who sell off rugs and other wares to finance their journey, not to mention being the source of damask or dimasq fabric and silk brocade weaving (shown above.)
The most noticeable contemporary textiles are the shiny, glitzy clothing and accessories in the main market, Souq al Hammadiya. There seems to be no end to the glided embroidery available on caftans, tunics, tablecloths, and tissue box covers.
This love of the shiny is evident in the yarn shops, selling "silk" yarns in alluring colors. (It's really some kind of synthetic blend, but everyone in Syria insists that it's silk.)
I was sure I did not need any of this kind of yarn, and just went in to pay respects (a friend has already brought parcels of Syrian silk to us in Doha, and it was fun to see her source.) However, the owner of the shop was clearly skilled with color, and when he laid out several skeins, my resistance crumbled.
I bought these, which you may recognize from the warp in the previous post.  I had weaving on my mind in this shop, and suspected that these yarns would be nice elements, combined with handspun.
Then there was the rug shopping.
I was drawn into this space by a Bedouin floor-loom weaving that was hanging outside.  It was calmer than most, with natural colors and none of the weft-twining I've come to associate with Bedouin pieces.  The owner opened the door, said, "We have more...." and sucked us right in.  You could not see how spacious and rug-filled this place was from the street.  The storefront is through the hanging rugs at the far end of the picture, and it's a small space with a desk and some chairs, where the proprietors hang out between customers.  It's a wonderful, warm and delicious place to be, in here with the rugs.
He did have more of the type I liked:
 I loved the soft rhythm of the natural wool stripes, punctuated by the bright joining stitches and the occasional alternation of light and dark, which often looked accidental, as in this detail.
We bought a large, four-paneled rug of nearly 100% camel hair in natural shades.  It has a bit of black and white, which are probably goat or sheep wool.
We also bought this Bedouin piece, which has the familiar weft twining in rich colors.  Now I need to set up my own majlis-style cushions on the floor, so I can cover them with this rug.
Speaking of camel hair, the next textile investment concerned handspun, handwoven camel hair fabric from Najaf, in Iraq.  A designer in Damascus imports the fabric in bolts, then creates garments embellished with cross-stitch embroidery.  I am forever grateful that my husband and I agree that handcrafted textiles are a worthy thing to splurge on.
How to choose?
Again we went for the natural camel color, embroidered with "Syrian Jasmine" patterns
She explained how they do the cross-stitch against a canvas behind the cloth, then pull out all the canvas threads one by one. Otherwise the camel hair cloth is not stable enough to hold the cross-stitch. This red jacket also came home with me (it's posed on our camel-hair carpet, back in Doha.)
With all the stunning textile work around, I was especially glad for the cold weather which enabled us to rock some of my own handicraft.  My husband wore a handspun, handwoven scarf, which was sincerely admired by the rug shop guys, and I finally got to wear my mind-altering gloves on a daily basis!
One of the high points for me was when a waiter, who had seen me knitting on a simple scarf, noticed the gloves as we were getting up to leave and asked if I made them.  When I affirmed, he nodded and said, "Very good, very beautiful!"


Laura said...

Your new blog entry is showing such treasures I want to leave and see those stores right-away. Wonderful "plain" designs, not overcrowded yet so attractive and well-balanced. I fell for a handwoven carpet in Morocco - took me four hours to decide but the owner of the store had all the time in the world. I can well imagine the structure of the shop, opening up to more and more enticing items...

Tracy said...

Rug shopping is a pleasure in and of itself, when the owner loves the rugs and is more interested in a happy customer than a hard sell.
You should totally go to Syria!

ritarenata said...

wow , so wonderful. warm atmosphere.
lovely greetings from austria.

Laura said...

Returning to this blog in June 2013 - it sadly now reads like a swan song on Syria and her treasures - I am so glad you took all those pictures. Thank you.