Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli purchased this from Mariam Sultan, Um Rashid. She used to work at the Abu Dhabi Women’s Union (Etihad al Nisa’i, Abu Dhabi). She had originally created it to display it at a crafts exhibition in 1970 and happened to still hold on to it in memory of her first public participation.
Mariam Sultan was in her late fifties at the time the two ladies met. She never attended any formal schooling but studied under a religious tribal teacher “mtawa’ah”, and like many of her peers could recite the holy Quran by heart. She married her paternal cousin at the age of 14 and bore five daughters and five sons. She was very talented in crafts and quickly became involved in exhibitions to showcase and sell her work.
Like many overgarments (athwab), this example is made from a light, see-through Chinese silk chiffon, locally known as (bu_tayrah), that allows the silhouette of the tunic dress (kandurah) underneath to be visible. Very much favoured by UAE women, it comes second only in line to the (bu_tilah) fabric as the quintessential local traditional textile en-mode of the period.
The heavier opaque silk satin version of this bu_tayrah fabric is generally reserved for tunic dresses (kanadir) or the lower visible part of the underpants (sarwal).
Four colours of bu_tayrah fabric are used in this thawb. The purple for the central panel (bidhah), is flanked by eight horizontal panels in orange, white, green, and purple. These panels create the sleeves (jinan).
Traditionally, this panelled style evolved out of frugality, where garments were made from multiple pieces of expensive fabric remnants. Over time it came to be recognised as a style in itself, called (myaza’).
The tailoring in this example is obviously naïve, as the paneling is not uniform in width, nor do the opposing left and right sides align. Some panels include hand embroidered floral motifs, others include the same motifs but upside down while some are devoid of any embellishment.
The floral machine embroidery (khwar_zari) in metallic silver and gold straw (khus) surrounding the neckline and central axis (bidhah) is outlined in green silk thread (brisam) and depicts stylised copies of the embroidered flowers that came ready made on the fabric, reflecting the general naivety of style of that period.
This example of thawb was common during the 1960s and continued up to the early 1980s. The community was small, fabric merchants were few and only limited bolts of fabric were ordered. In addition, there were just a handful of Indian or Pakistani tailors, of basic training and rudimentary experience that serviced the whole community. This resulted in the repetitive use of fabrics and designs, creating identical forms of (athwab) worn among the women of the same family, tribe and whole community. A phenomenon widely echoed in most old photographs representative of that period.