On a visit to Bahrain in 2018, Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli, sought to find crafters talented in silver embroidery (naqdah). She was advised to meet with Zakiyah Ali, from then on, they became good friends and Zakiyah began to source old articles of dress to help build the Bahraini section of The Zay collection. Dr. El Mutwalli has also commissioned Zakiyah to create a sample of her work, one specifically to be added in Zakiyah’s name in due course.
This overgarment was handmade by the late Maryam Ali Nasser Al-Hayki, famous for her skills in sewing and craftsmanship. Zakiyah Ali, her daughter, inherited these skills from her mother and excelled especially in silver straw technique (naqdah). Thus, she is known as Zakiyah Naqdah.
This black silk women’s cloak is distinguished by the machine embroidered pattern on each side of the central axis: in the shape of a fish, hence named (um_smichah). It is reserved for special occasions and social gatherings.
Customarily, such a cloak is distinguished by a large arabesque cartouche embroidered on each side either at the shoulders or hip-line in geometric, arabesque, and floral patterns, creating an abstract stylised fish motif (see ZI2018.50075 QATAR). However, in this example, the name is taken literally and the design depicted is an actual fish shape, illustrating naivety and lack of historical grasp by the client, tailor, and embroiderer.
All cloaks named (abayah), (bisht), (mishlah), (dafah), or (abayat_ras) are generally constructed from two rectangular pieces of fabric of equal length (fajatayn) sewn together horizontally.
The two outer edges of each length (fajah) are folded onto the middle and sewn at the top to create the shoulder line. In this fashion, the lengthwise folded sides (fajatayn) leave an opening in the middle, running the length of the front body region.
Two small holes are opened at the folded line, on the top corners of each shoulder line to allow the hands to pass through creating the sleeves without having to cut and add a sleeve, as in most clothes.
The abayah or dafah – as it is more commonly called in Bahrain and Qatar – is usually embellished with gold or silver cords (gitan) to cover seams on shoulder lines down to the wrists, around the sleeve openings, and on the edges of the front longitudinal opening.
However, in this example, the above-mentioned lines are delineated with two mirrored machine embroidered bands, in a number of parallel chain-stitch lines, with one looped line creating the outer edge.
The frontal neckline is densely machine embroidered in vertical lines using chain-stitch, creating a 10 cm wide lapel (darbawiyah), in gilded metallic thread (zari). Followed by another outer 10 cm wide line in a repetitive leaf motif, in satin stitch. This lapel reaches down to the hip-line where the two mirrored fish motifs are embroidered on each side.
The same running embroidery motif applied to shoulder seams is repeated past the point of fish design and continues from the hip-line down the front to the bottom hem on each side.
Traditionally, the article is complemented by a pair of golden zari cords (gitan) known as (amayil), regularly interspaced with a number of gilded thread (zari) balls ending, at times, with tassels (tarbushah). Occasionally, these are quite largely exaggerated and very prominent, at times they are made of gold with precious stones substituting for the thread balls. In this example, we have just one zari ball on each side ending with a simple knot of looped cord (gitan). These are mainly decorative and help fasten the cloak.
The upper back area on this cloak is elaborately machine embroidered in the same satin stitch gold colour metallic thread zari. The design starts with two large mirrored paisley (kazuwah) motifs, surrounded by a garland of leaves, followed by a line that resembles a string of beads creating one half of an oval shape. From this central oval shape, lines resembling sun rays emanate starting with an almond shape, followed by a flower, then a number of leaves, extending across the entire back area reaching the waistline at the center axis.