x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Emirati women in Delma get help from Japan to learn art of weaving

The Life: New weaving loom and a candle-making workshop try to introduce crafts in Delma Island so that local women can start a micro-business from home.

Minowa Naoko, a textile designer from Japan, teaches a new method of weaving to women at Delma Island. Ravindranath K / The National
Minowa Naoko, a textile designer from Japan, teaches a new method of weaving to women at Delma Island. Ravindranath K / The National

Even on a weekday, downtown Delma Island comes across as sleepy.

Government offices, a supermarket in a neglected mall, old-fashioned tailoring shops, eateries and dusty corner stores keep the economy chugging along.

But the lack of job opportunities on the island means home businesses might offer a viable alternative for the Emirati women living there.

Fathima Khalil Al Hammadi, 24, with the help of her Ethiopian maid, had tried making baskets and knick-knacks out of dried palm leaves from her home and nylon threads sourced from the local market. She wanted to sell them but lacked marketing skills and doubted anyone would buy them.

So along with nine other women on the island, last week she attended a three-day workshop to learn weaving. "I do not have work at home and it feels good when I produce something," says Ms Al Hammadi, trying to raise her soft voice above the hum of the air conditioner and other women in the government training room.

In collaboration with Japan's Organisation for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development's Sougha division arranged last week's workshop

"When we met a group of young women from Delma, they were all complaining how no one buys their products and there is no market for those," says Leila Ben-Gacem, senior manager with the Khalifa Fund.

"And we decided to introduce crafts that would enable them to do that."

Unlike in the Western Region where women use Bedouin floor looms to weave patterns passed down the generations, Delma Island has not had a weaving tradition. And so introduction of a foreign loom would not interfere with the traditions of the people there.

At the workshop Minowa Naoko, who runs Studio A Week in Tokyo, was struggling to teach the Emirati women how to weave Bedouin patterns into pieces of cloth. The Bedouin patterns require tightly knit threads running vertically with a hidden horizontal one, but the mechanism of the looms from Japanese company Clover made the task too difficult. Ms Naoko instead set about teaching the women how to knit scarves and shawls with loosely knit threads.

"It is difficult for them because this is the first time they are weaving and need to understand the materials," she says. "There are many kinds of weaving and here they concentrate on vertical strings. In Japan they concentrate on strings from both directions."

Japan has been increasingly active in the Emirates, in ways large and small. Japanese companies have been pursuing a slice of the UAE's onshore oil concessions, which date to the Second World War and expire next year. The efforts have played out at the human level, such as a recent incense-making workshop for Emirati women in Abu Dhabi and on the macro scale, where a state-owned Japanese bank signed a deal this month to lend US$3 billion (Dh11bn) to Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to help to develop the emirate's oil industry.

In a simultaneous workshop in the next room, Julia Volet, a Dubai-based entrepreneur, was teaching seven women to make candles. It is one of the relatively easier crafts that any one with a sense of precision and passion for microbusiness can take up, she says.

By April, she says, the women would be ready to produce scented candles for the market.

Back in the weaving room, Amal Al Hosani, 27, is already on her second project of the day. Threading black and cream cotton strings to the loom, she thinks weaving is easy and young women would be drawn to it.

"I want to preserve my country's heritage and do not want it to die," says Ms Al Hosani. "And I want to sell to earn money."