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Traditional Emirati handicrafts on show at Festival Promenade

Craftsmen in tents display various items at Festival City

Gulf News

Dubai: Relive the UAE’s colourful traditions and heritage at the Festival Promenade in Dubai Festival City during this year’s Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) and see how Emirati craftsmen and women use age-old skills of turning raw materials and into beautiful handicrafts.

Several tents have been put up at the Festival Promenade to provide visitors a taste of UAE’s past when beauty was created in the midst of adversity.

In one of the tents, three ladies sit in a circle, making a traditional dress with matching burqa, a thin strip of metal which Emirati ladies traditionally use to cover their faces. The entire ensemble, when complete, becomes the whole traditional dress.

“It all starts with preparing the basic materials for the embroidery on the top part of the ‘thob’ or dress,” one of the ladies said.

“The embroidery is done using a special thread called the ‘Al Tiely’, which is available in different thicknesses depending on the ‘thob’ that is being made. The entire ‘thob’ takes approximately three months to complete,” she added.

The most important aspects to note about making these traditional dresses, the craftswoman said, are precision, consistency and beauty of the work. It is also important to note that the colours of the dresses do not fade even after several washes.

Sitting in a tent not so far away was Nasr Khalfan. He was working by hand on a fishing boat made out of materials from date palm.

“Acquiring this skill does not come easy. It needs a lot of time, training and experience – as well as a lot of patience because it takes a while to build a complete boat. You also have to master your materials. I use strips of the trunks and the dried fronds of the date palm,” Khalfan said.

Khalfan said modernization has affected the practice in that machines have been preferred to traditional craftsmen. Their presence at Festival Promenade as part of the official DSF activities helps in spreading the message of preserving this tradition.

“These traditional skills began disappearing after the emergence of cheaper, machine made alternatives that could also be produced faster,” Khalfan said.

“However, I still think that though there is a decline in traditional handicrafts, one day people will realize the beauty of these handmade things and the need for the preservation of the skills of our forefathers –and there will be greater demand for handicrafts.”