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Al Sadu in the United Arab Emirates is a traditional form of weaving practised by Bedouin women in rural communities. Traditionally men shear goats and camels, and the wool is cleaned and prepared by the women. The yarn is spun on a drop spindle, then dyed using local plant extracts (such as henna or saffron), and then woven on a floor loom using a warp-faced plain weave. The traditional colours are black, white, brown, beige and red, with distinctive patterns in the form of narrow bands of geometric designs. The result is colourful products: clothing, camel and horse decorations, Bedouin tents, majlis floor pillows, carpets and mats. Traditionally, women gather in small groups to spin and weave, exchanging family news and occasionally chanting and reciting poetry. Such gatherings are also the means of transmitting the tradition: girls learn by watching, and are gradually given tasks to do, such as sorting the wool, before learning the more intricate skills involved.
Al Sadu is said to be an ancient tribal weaving craft that artistically portrays Arabian nomadic peoples’ rich cultural heritage and instinctive expression of natural beauty. Woven geometric and figurative patterns and symbols reflect the traditional tribal lifestyle, the desert environment and the weavers’ creative self-expression. The textiles and weaving practice can be seen as an extension of the weaver’s hand, and the graceful moving pace of the camel. Camels were used for transportation and food, but also for textile production, and so their figurative symbolism is important. Camel symbols and tribal animal brandings can create a complex visual code depicted in highly prized woven Sadu textiles. With the demise of tribal existence and the decline of associated weaving skills and memories, the demands for tribal camel textiles have virtually ceased, and so Al Sadu weaving and nomadic animal husbandry, once crucial and vital.
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