Shortage of thread causes Syria’s last weavers to abandon looms

Sunday 13/11/2016
Trade is dead now

Ariha - With the deftness of decades of experi­ence, Abu Moham­mad wove thick green thread with a wooden loom in north-western Syria, creating a vibrant geometric pattern renowned among Arabic textiles.
It was the last day before the weaver, in his 50s, would be forced to close the workshop, leaving the last five remaining looms in his hometown of Ariha in Idlib province to gather dust.
“This trade is dead now… Today is our last day of work on the loom as we don’t have any more thread,” he said
Weaving has been devastated by Syria’s 5-year war, with thread be­coming too difficult to procure from Aleppo, once the country’s artisanal hub but now ravaged by fighting and bombardment.
Aleppo, 70km north-east of Ariha, was the main provider of the rough thread needed to weave Arabic tex­tiles, versatile fabrics turned into rugs, furniture covers and other household items.
Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern dis­tricts are besieged by government forces, making it impossible to ob­tain thread from there and materi­als from the regime-controlled west are too expensive, Abu Mohammad said.
Even though it was his last day, he worked as enthusiastically — as he had since his teenage years — pulling wooden levers to lay down colour­ful acrylic fibre across a white base. The sound of the panels smacking against each other was interrupted only by Abu Mohammad’s nasal singing or a brief tea break with fel­low weavers reclining on a shabby couch.
“Ariha, in Idlib province, is the most well-known in making this product,” said Abu Mohammad, ges­turing to the green-and-red blankets and pillow cases hanging on the wall behind him. “We make all house­hold items, from rugs for bedrooms to covers for the Quran. We would furnish entire houses.”
“Before the war, there were more than 100 looms in Ariha but the only ones left are the ones in this shop,” he said.
As the siege on eastern Aleppo’s tightened and access to thread be­came more difficult, only three looms in the Ariha workshop re­mained active.
“Before the war, our trade was booming. We could buy thread for pennies from Aleppo,” Abu Moham­mad said. He pulled out a small box containing dozens of spools of col­ourful thread: “This is all we have left.”
A kilogramme of the blend of cot­ton and polyester used for the tex­tiles costs $7, up from about 81 US cents. Abu Mohammad points to a rug hanging on the wall: “Before, I could make this whole rug with just 200 Syrian pounds (93 US cents).”
Another lifelong weaver, 40-year-old Abu Mostafa, said he began working a loom when he was about 12. He tried to find work in a differ­ent field but never felt comfortable doing anything except weaving, he said, as he pumped the wooden pan­els below his loom.
“I went to Lebanon and worked in construction and then to Turkey for a few months but I couldn’t hold any job that kept me away from a loom for too long,” he said.
Abu Mostafa beamed with pride as he reminisced about the robes and pillow covers he would pro­duce. “No one else could make the pieces we made. They looked as if they were printed,” he said. “I chal­lenge any computer to make some­thing like this!”
The products from rebel-held Ari­ha were once sold across Syria. Even as the war raged on, they were ex­ported to areas controlled by regime forces such as Damascus and Hama, as well as regional markets in Leba­non and Saudi Arabia.
Today transporting the woven goods — whether in or outside Syria — takes two to three months and is exorbitantly expensive.
“We used to send our products to Damascus at 10am and they would get there by 2pm,” Abu Mohammad said.
Despite the pressures, Arab textile production will resume eventually, the veteran weaver insisted.
If there was enough thread, “we could work 100 looms at once. The looms are all ready, we just need the thread,” he said.
“It’s a shame it’s going to end like this.”
Agence France-Presse