On March 20th, 2012, Dr. Marjorie Kelly, former director of the Gulf Studies Program at the American University in Kuwait, in coordination with the Kuwait Textile Arts Association presented a fascinating lecture at Sadu House about clothing and culture in Kuwait. I’ve always found the dara’as (a long-sleeved, loose, floor length traditional Kuwaiti dress) to be so colorful, elegant and simultaneously comfortable. This was a great opportunity and an entertaining and informative way to learn about the history of the dara’a and to gain a review of this traditional dress as well as the heritage costumes and modern trends in Kuwait. Two models, Dalal and Dana, were present to wear the dara’a and explain on what occasions they are to be worn.

Dr. Marjorie Kelly has also presented one of her interested projects which entails a CD which she made essentially to portray the diversity of Kuwait and explain what it’s really like. It is a CD produced and directed by Dr. Kelly herself and narrated by Dana Al-Failakawi. I have yet to watch the CD which I purchased later on however I can tell that it is a very well-done presentation as we were shown a short part of the CD during the event (it was the part explaining the history of Kuwaiti traditional clothing both for men and women).

This is a dara’a that is normally worn during girgiyan. Girgiyan is an annual event which takes place mid-way through Ramadan in which the young girls dress up in their dara’as and the young boys dress up in their dishdashas (the traditional Kuwaiti male clothing, which is a thobe, an ankle-length garment, with long sleeves), walk around in the neighborhood and sing for sweets. It is almost like Halloween except it lasts for three nights 🙂

Dalal wearing her mother’s wedding dara’a. Dalal explained to us that this particular dara’a is worn while performing the Samri which is the name of a folkloric music and dance native to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It involves singing poetry while the daff drum is being played. Two rows of men, seated on the knees sway to the rhythm.

To tailor a bisht, as much as seven yards may be needed. Various types of woolen fabric were used. Coarse sheep’s wool was used in garments known as al mazwiyya, or bisht badia, which were mainly worn by the Bedouin. A similar hard-wearing fabric was woven for sailor’s bisht. Merino and London wools were imported from Britain for use in thicker bishts. A lighter weight fabric made of finely spun lamb’s wool was used for spring and summer garments. Even more expensive was the thin, lightweight summer bisht made from fine camel hair, called the bisht alwabar. The most famous of this type is called Al Najafi, after the town of Najaf in Iraq, where the fabric was made of finely hand spun baby lamb’s wool. Today, the majority of bishts are made from imported machine made fabric, but for sheer quality, nothing compares to a fine hand woven bisht. (**taken from Sadu House).

In general, the brisht’s neckline, front opening and sometimes the sleeve seams and cuffs are hand embroidered by men called al mejaben .The embroidery is done with handmade zari –silk thread covered in gold, or zari hurr – silk thread covered in silver and coated with gold. Colored silk thread called brisim may also be used in the design or as a contrast to the zari. Once completed, the embroidery is hammered with a large iron punch to smooth any rough edges in the metal thread and also to produce a sheen. If properly cared for, its glimmer and shimmer will last for a long time. (**taken from Sadu House).

I encourage you all to find out more about Sadu House and the Kuwait Textile Arts Association by clicking on the links. Sadu House is a cultural center concerned with the promotion of Kuwait’s traditional textile arts and related skills. Al Sadu is dedicated to celebrating the rich and diverse woven textile heritage of Kuwait, inspired by the values of productivity and creativity of the nation’s past, weaving together a cultural identity for both present and future generations. (**taken from the Sadu House pamphlet). You can also find out about weaving classes and traditional craft making workshops which Sadu House offers. Similarly, the Kuwait Textile Arts Association promotes the knowledge and skills of textile related arts in Kuwait and the Gulf region. They’ve got a quilt group, a yarn and fibre group, a library and plenty of other interesting special events and workshops.