February 16, 2011
In traditional Arabian Bedouin society, women wove and built the family shelter, tents made of goat hair, by hand, using wool from their own herds as well as materials available in the environment around them or nearby towns. Joy Totah Hilden's sumptuous and substantive volume holds nothing back in its thorough and fascinating exploration of the art of Bedouin weaving and its practitioners. The author lived Saudi Arabia from 1982 until 1994, learning everything she could about Bedouin weavers and their art. On weekends she sought out weavers at Bedouin markets and villages. She befriended them and learned their spinning and weaving techniques. Being a weaver and weaving instructor herself, she knew what she needed to learn, and sought this knowledge with great determination, eventually covering every region of Saudi Arabia. Hilden stayed in touch with her favorite weavers over the years, noting how their art changed with the passage of time, and with their families' integration into the modern economy. While few if any young women in Saudi Arabia practice the traditional craft today, Hilden notes that many cultural institutes in the region are trying to preserve it. Hilden shares the fruits of her research with great generosity. Her fascinating discussion of Bedouin life through the lens of weaving reveals the gentle harmony they kept with the desert environment. The thorough information about the weavings photographed in the book will help collectors and archivists. This book is also a precise and accurate capsule of knowledge for those who would like to make their own Bedouin weavings. It includes specific directions on the weaving patterns of the Bedouin, spinning and weaving techniques, and information on natural dyes. As the last Bedouins disappear, one hopes that the knowledge Hilden has gathered and shared here will inspire future weavers to keep these ancient techniques alive.
BEDOUIN WEAVING OF SAUDI ARABIA AND ITS NEIGHBOURS, Joy Totah Hilden.
LONDON: ARABIAN PUBLISHING, 2010, DISTRIBUTED BY UNICORN BOOKS AND CRAFTS, HARDBOUND, 270 PAGES. ISBN 978-0-95588940
Bedouin Weaving of Saudi Arabia is a comprehensive textile and cultural study intended to nurture interest in an art form that is slowly vanishing along with the nomadic Bedouin lifestyle. Author, art educator, and weaver Joy Totah Hilden's 1082-1994 journey to document the textiles hat she loves leads her through language barriers, varied local customs, and suspicion of outsiders. A major inconvenience was the necessity of recruiting male drivers, as most Saudi Arabian women are not permitted to drive. Hilden traveled extensively through the Middle East to locate and often befriend Bedouin weavers living settle lives in cities as well as traditional lives in remote desert areas.
This book's first half examines the traditional fixed pit loom and portable ground loom. The portable ground loom greatly resembles the backstrap loom of the Americas and is the chief practical tool of Bedouin women weavers. As with other forms of indigenous weaving, materials, styles, methods and techniques are regional in nature, although the availability of trade goods and modern highways blurs those distinctions.
In the remainder of the book, Hilden discusses traditional bedouin weaving methods, showing finished items ranging from tent panels to saddlebags to camel harnesses. Excellent photography and illustrations are plentiful, as well as supply lists for weavers ready to dip a toe in the sand. Instructions are not this book's focus; it is, rather, an overview of basic techniques such as warp-faced weaves, weft and leather-strip twining, braiding, tassels, and joining the long, narrow woven strips intended for use as tent panels or as interior tent dividers.
Weavers of indigenous-style textiles or anyone interested in textile history will find this impressive work to be a thorough labor of love. Handweavers may well be motivated to explore Bedouin traditional color schemes as well as exquisite geometric design elements. Hilden's passion for seeking to preserve traditions dear to her is evident throughout as she pulls the reader along in her often frustrating but ultimately successful odyssey.
Roving Reporter Leslie Mitchell, Weavers Guild of Pittsburgh