One of Saudi Arabia’s oldest traditional forms of weaving remains a key aspect of community life

Time: 05 January 2021

Al-Sadu is a craft that requires innovative skills and a lot of effort as the weaver works hard to transform the raw material into something new. (Shutterstock)

  • The loom, made of palm trees, was carried as Bedouins roamed the deserts in search of water oases to settle

JEDDAH/RIYADH: With tightly spun red, black or white colored yarns produced on handheld wooden spindles, one of Saudi Arabia’s oldest traditional forms of weaving remains a key aspect of community life.

The art of Sadu weaving is an ancient tribal craft. Inspired by the desert environment, Bedouin women of the Arabian Peninsula have for generations made use of the desert’s conditions and raw materials such as sheep’s wool and camel hair that allowed them to produce tents, rugs, mats and more in a variety of patterns and colors.
Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Delayel Al-Qahtani, the director of studies and research department at Atharna, a social enterprise dedicated to Arabian culture and craft, said: “Al-Sadu is made by laying the wool, hair or fur yarn horizontally on the floor loom to produce different shapes and colors that fit the daily needs of Bedouin communities in rural areas.

It is an intricate craft that requires precise hand movements. The final product is always a beautiful design.

Dr. Delayel Al-Qahtani

“Al-Sadu is a craft that requires innovative skills and a lot of effort as the weaver works hard to transform the raw material into something new. It is an intricate craft that requires precise hand movements. The final product is always a beautiful design.”
The craft is found mostly in the central and northern desert regions of the Kingdom and Kuwait, it was recently added to UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list.
To create the Saudi pattern, the weaver has to skillfully go through a number of phases. Firstly, the animal hair is sheared then cleaned before being shaken and combed. It is then dyed using colors extracted from pomegranate skin and tree cortex and finally spun on drop spindles, explained the director.
The loom, made of palm trees, was carried as Bedouins roamed the deserts in search of water oases to settle. With time and modernization, many families settled, but the tradition was kept alive.

FASTFACTS

• The craft is found mostly in the central and northern desert regions of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

• It was recently added to UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list.

• The G20 logo was a decorative shape reflecting Al-Sadu.

“The Sadu craft has been gaining increasing attention over the past two decades. The G20 logo was a decorative shape reflecting Al-Sadu. Many organizations and centers give training courses on how to make Sadu products,” said Al-Qahtani.

Al-Qahtani said the craft should be modernized and advanced technology should be used to make it. Craftsmen should be trained by designers on how to make Sadu products modern to attract community and tourists.
Saudi fashion designer and founder of clothing brand Hindamme, Mohammed Khoja, used patterns of Sadu weaving in one of his collections. Referring to Sadu weaving as one of the Kingdom’s cultural jewels, he was inspired by his mother’s origins from Al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province. He explored his ancestral background and applied it in his designs.
“My mom’s home of Al-Ahsa is rich in history and heritage; she has always encouraged me to be curious and informed about different elements of heritage and how they came to be and the reasons why they look the way they do,” Khoja told Arab News.
He stressed that the Sadu design pattern holds great significance to Saudis, explaining that each pattern or each symbol within the Sadu represents an element of life for the early Arabs and Bedouins.
“It’s sort of like a pattern that reflects an element of storytelling because it says so much about the livelihoods of the early Arabs and I think that once it is shared with the global audience, its popularity will only grow.”

The Sadu weave is very much sentimental to the Saudi designer because it reminds him of the past and it reminds him of his upbringing and seeing it in his many trips to the desert.
“Each pattern within the Sadu reflects a different theme, and we have only been exposed to a very small part of the Sadu,” he said, adding: “It comes in many various forms in various colors so it’s incredibly inspiring I definitely know within my designs I wanted to reference it. I wanted to reflect its beauty in a more contemporary format.”
Khoja encourages more designers to look into using the design, but not necessarily imitating their entire look: “They can interpret it in their own way and become inspired by it, by its geometrical shapes and colors. So when I applied it to season two of my collection for Hindamme, I applied it in a more contemporary format with pieces that were inspired by rock and roll.
“It was really a clash of cultures and I did reference two or three various types of Sadu within this collection.”

Khoja said designers should be true to themselves but also encouraged them to study their heritage “because knowing your past can guide your future,” he said, adding that many different traditions in the Kingdom’s past are coming to light.
“We’ve been given these cultural jewels, and for us not to be inspired by them or use them would not be ideal. I feel like using them would pique our interest into our own designs and shape our cultural and design identity.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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