The Art of Weaving

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They sit, regardless of where they are, sharing a common love of the arts, weaving with colored threads that expand and retract in a space that seems lost in time. Their nimble fingers working while a certain peaceful silence hovers above encompassing them in their work. Weaving, an art that has been forever been installed in the fabric of the crafts of this land, is still alive.

Weaving in Lebanon was not exclusive to some privileged families or villages, as opposed to most other crafts. It was part of the country’s history and played a significant role in its economy as it involved large communities. At the beginning of the 20th century, Lebanon accounted for a few hundred weaving looms. Today though, these crafts survive barely yet they continue to deliver some magnificent craftsmanship.

The first three Lebanese flags were woven in Zouk-Mikhael tapestry factories. In the old Zouk-Mikhael souk, weavers work on looms where the warp thread (hidden in the tapestry) is horizontally placed. Their tapestries resemble those of the Aubusson factory for the complexity of their drawings and the variety of the colors used.

Zouk-Mikhael craftsmen still weave table clothes, small silk bags, jackets and abayas, traditional ceremonial cloaks woven with wool or silk and embroidered with rich sparkling motifs.

The weaving of Abayas originally started in the villages of Bchetfine and Baadaran, where Druze traditions have promoted the development of these often fine and ornate ceremonial cloaks weaving.

The Bchetfine Druze use the horizontal warp loom, as in Zouk-Mikhael, to produce thick woolen over garments ornamented with stripes or floral motifs. These elegant yet comfortable abayas are worn at home. On the other hand, the ceremonial abaya was woven in Baadaran. The latter was worn for important ceremonies and was inspired from Beiteddine’s dark colored and gold embroidered cloaks.

Weaving with Goat Hair is another technique of work that can still be found in villages like Kousba and Chhim. These vertical looms are still used to weave goat hair tents or carpets. This fabric is particularly useful as it is water-resistant; the goat hair shrinks when damp. Goat hair fabrics are essential to the nomadic lifestyle as they help protect the Bedouins from wind and rain in the winter as well as from the heavy heat in the summer.

The goat hair wool was traditionally purchased in Baalbek, washed, combed, and then threaded by the women while the men did the weaving.  The loom used for weaving goat hair fabrics was made of a wooden piece framed by two pickets. The latter were planted in the ground and one end of a chain went through them. The weaver then attached the other end of the chain to his feet so that by moving them he allowed for the threads to separate and for the weft to pass.  The woven strips of fabrics are then sewed together, forming the ceiling and the walls of a tent, usually black, gray or beige. Usually the ground of a traditional Bedouin tent is covered with carpets.

In the remote villages of Jdeydet el Fekha and Aarsal, in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, the carpet weaving tradition is kept alive by the women of the village. In their homes, with their kids running around, the women are hard at work keeping this tradition alive, threatened nowadays by cheap products from China and Turkey.

This skill dates back to some 300 years and was brought to the area by a young bride from Aidmoon village in Akkar who taught her peers in Fakheh the intricacies and complexities of this art.  Carpet weaving quickly spread amongst women of all ages but has now dwindled considerably as production has become economically non-viable and the craft has not been passed on, as a result, of a general disinterest from the younger generation.

Most of the carpets are made following the Bergama Style. Bergama is a town northwest of Turkey. There carpets are pure wool and have a knotting density of around 12 knots per cm². They are typically three to four m2 in size. Bergama rugs traditionally have dyed wefts, usually red, and long silky pile. Wefts are horizontal plain colored threads, which run across the width of the rug, over and under the wrap strings and between each row of knots, to help hold rows of knots in place and strengthen the structure. Different colors are used in knotting in accordance with the pattern. The Turkish knot is looped around two different wraps, both ends are pulled down and cut.

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