February 16, 2011

Amazon Book Review

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.

Gail Birch