Monday, February 15, 2010

Bedouin Weaving of Saudi Arabia and its Neighbours - Joy Totah Hilden

Joy Totah Hilden, author of the soon-to-be-published BEDOUIN WEAVING OF SAUDI ARABIA AND ITS NEIGHBOURS took a few minutes to discuss her new book. Joy lived in Saudi Arabia from 1982 until 1994, and while living there, she became fascinated with the women weavers of Arabia. She traveled all over the Kingdom to interview and photograph them and their work. She amassed a great deal of knowledge of the craft as well as an excellent collection of weavings. I first met Joy in 2004 at a conference on bedouin culture in Ithaca, New York, where she taught an engaging and thorough all-day workshop on bedouin weaving. I'm thrilled that her book will soon be out so that western readers will be able to appreciate her extensive knowledge. Joy's website:

KHC:  Were you involved in weaving before you moved to Saudi Arabia?
JTH:   Yes. I started with tapestry, then spinning, then with the use of a floor loom and then more variety.

KHC: What was it like to live in Saudi Arabia?
JTH:  I found Saudi Arabia fascinating, as well as rich in culture and the varieties of its people and lifestyles. I thoroughly enjoyed my travels and research there. I was particularly fascinated by the little-known coastal and mountain regions in the Hijaz which I describe in the book.

KHC: How did you structure the book?
JTH:  It covers historic background of the bedouin and how weaving is integral to their lifestyle. Types of weavings that they produce are described, as well as the role of tribal marks in the culture and their appearance in weavings. A long chapter is devoted to portraits of some of the weavers I interviewed and their communities. A chapter on the techniques of spinning, weaving and dyeing describes the processes in detail, with diagrams, drawings and instructions. The chapter on Bedouin weaving of other Arab countries compares relevant information with Saudi Arabaia according to 1) regional contiguity; 2) geographical convergence; 3) survival of nomadic status; 4) impact of politial change and upheaval; and 5) diversified textile production.
KHC: Wow, it sounds fantastic. I'm looking forward to the weavers' portraits.

KHC:  Do you have a favorite weaving in the book?
JTH:   My favorite weaving (photo at left) is on the back jacket as well as inside. It's a small tent divider that I bought at the Nuayriyyah market a couple of hours north of Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia. It was a sprawling outdoor desert market where bedouin sell and buy all kinds of commodities, from tents and animals to rendered butter and spindles. I bargained for it, and was chagrined later when I realized how reluctant the weaver was to part with it at that price, or perhaps at any price. I wouldn't want to part with it! I love its vivid oranges and reds, the beautiful 'sahah' or 'shajarah' patterns in black and white, and the carefully made Cru Coast braids on both fringes.

KHC:  Are you planning any appearances in conjunction with the book's launch?
JTH:   I hope to give readings and slide shows in bookstores, libraries, organizations and schools and at conferences. I will post events on my website,

KHC:  When will the book be out?
JTH:   Later this year. I am very happy with my publisher at Arabian Publishing, Ltd., of London. U.S. distribution is being handled by The David Brown Company,  UK and European distribution is by Gazelle,

KHC:  Are the weaving arts in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf being preserved?
JTH:   As my Epilogue states, there are some programs in effect, which tend to adapt the techniques to modern uses. Efforts to maintain traditional techniques and styles are in effect in Kuwait's Sadu House, in Jordan at the Bani Hamida Project, in Israel at the Lakia project near Beersheba. Efforts in Saudi Arabia seem to be made by women's charity organizations organized by women of privilege. The government does not appear to be doing anything at this time. I would like to see them make the effort. There are still women in the region weaving, many of them using synthetic yarns and making smaller pieces than were traditionally made. Since the nomadic lifestyle is disappearing, and commercial products are available, more women are turning to these new ways of working. My personal preference is for weavings made with sheepswool and goat hair and spun in the traditional ways. I prefer the look and feel of them, as well as the color quality. However, it is very hard work, and I can see why it might not fit into the modern, electronic age.

KHC:  Thank you, Joy, for sharing the news of the book; we look forward to reading it and wish you luck with the launch!

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