Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli purchased this from Fatimah Al Mghani who in turn sourced it from Moza ‘Ubaid Sultan, from Al Hir.
Fatimah Al Mghani, social researcher and folkloric expert, is a friend and fellow colleague, supporter of The Zay Initiative, and a valuable reference in UAE cultural heritage.
Moza ‘Ubaid Sultan, a housewife talented in tailoring and crafts works, attended primary and secondary schooling. She married her maternal cousin at the age of 14 and bore 4 daughters and 2 sons, who all went on to attain university degrees.
These underpants (sarwal) represents a fine example of the use of the traditional wide striped cotton fabric known as (sultani) widely popular in the UAE, for both tunics (kanadir) and undergarments (sarawil). The popularity of this fabric has persisted through time. Though this particular example is rarely found in today’s markets, more contemporary versions remain sought after by older women.
The badlah, in the Emirati Arabic dialect, refers to the cuffs on the underpants sarwal. It is generally composed of multiple lines of cords/braids/bands or ribbons (fatlat or ftul), that are individually created by knotting together cotton (hdub), silk brisam, or synthetic (nailon) threads, with silver or gold plated metallic straw (khus). Resulting in over 40 recorded designs in varying widths, motifs, and intricacies, often named after the motifs depicted on them.
The decorative cuffs (badlah) are generally composed of the central portion (bayt) and side or edge (traf). The bayt is the larger middle part of the cuff and can include between 1 to 20 different cord/ribbon (ftul talli) hand-stitched side by side. The centre is hemmed by the traf, meaning edges, that form the rim or border of the central portion (bayt).
The traditional basic style of cuff (badlah) includes a trim that sits between the central portion (bayt) and edges (traf) in a (talli_shakil) motif. The (talli_gitan) motif is generally the lower edge and the (talli_ghuli) or (talli_minsharah) motifs decorate the upper edge. Every cord/braid (fatlah) is made separately and joined later.
The larger wider sized cuffs are reserved for special occasions, while smaller narrower sizes are used for everyday wear or by the elderly.
Stylistically, this example follows cuffs (badlah) made in southern Iran rather than the UAE, which suggests it must have been ordered or purchased somewhere off the southern coast of Iran, clear evidence of connected lineage as well as continued cross cultural exchange among the two coasts.
In this example, bayt is composed of 12 cords/braids, all in black cotton thread (hdub) braided with silver or gold straw (khus). The top cord/braid is a combination of two motifs (talli_janah_warag) and (talli_minsharah), followed in order of decent by a 2 running stitch talli ftul, also known as (talli_fatlah) or (talli_khusah); (talli_almas) or (talli_‘ain_mozah) ; 2 running stitch (talli_bu_habah) or (talli_ftul_rayh_yay) ; talli_finkh_al_batikhah ; 2 running stitch talli ftul ; talli_almasah or talli_’ain_mozah; 2 running stitch talli bu_habah or talli_ftul_rayh_yay; 2 running stitch talli ftul; (talli_minsharah_bu_rasain); and ending in 2 running stitch talli bu_habah or talli_ftul_rayh_yay.
While the traf is composed of 4 cords/braids ftul: the first inner cord of 2 running stitch talli ftul motif, followed by talli_finkh_al_batikhah, talli ftul, and ending with (talli_garn_al_‘ijil).
It is important to note that the names used to identify these traditional design motifs stem from individual naive attempts to interpret the design by the crafters. Variants are used and at times terms are interchanged from one local to the other. It is impossible to identify and list them all, thus, only those most frequently used are recorded.