Ghalib al Inizi is an antique dealer, based in Kuwait. In 2018, he reached out to Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli through The Zay Initiative’s instagram account and expressed great interest in supporting The Zay Initiative’s activities. To date, he has helped The Zay Initiative source numerous articles of dress, not just from Kuwait, but from many other areas across the Arab world.
This overgarment (thawb) is an example of the traditional (thawb nashil) known across the Arab Gulf region, with Bahrain being the major centre of its production, if not ordered from India.
Sewn-in vertical and horizontal panels that create an overall traditional T-shape, of translucent black silk chiffon, with small side gussets (ibt), of the same fabric, separating the wide upper and lower sleeve (kmum) panels.
The round fitted neck opening, sports a V-shaped slit down the front. It is cut further down the fold on the front of the central panel, and so, when the thawb is worn, it sits off the shoulder and the back end hangs longer than the front end, creating an elegant train (thayil).
The thawb is hand embroidered in a simple chain stitch using metallic gilded threads (zari) accentuated by hand embellished shiny gold sequins (tirtir).
The dense embroidery pattern is focused on the area extending from the collarbones, at the top, to the bottom hem, of the front central panel (bdan). It includes combinations of delicate arabesque motifs with a prominent, repetitive, large sunflower design running vertically in two lines across the full length of dress.
Undulating embroidery lines cover all tailoring seams; outlining the small side gussets (tkhrasah / tnfayah), the paneling on the upper segments of each sleeve and covering the circumference of the two wide sleeve cuffs as well as the bottom hemline.
A simple four petal flower design is then scattered over the remaining areas of the thawb.
Such a garment is customarily worn over underpants (sirwal) and a tunic dress (dara’ah), or a waist-cinched dress (nafnuf). It is reserved for special events, social gatherings, and feasts.
Thawb nashil is a popular traditional dress across the Arab Gulf region. Known to have been manufactured in Bahrain as early as the 1940s, before then, it was imported from India on demand.
Materials such as chiffon silk and silver gilded straw (khus zari) were first imported from Gujarat, India, to be sewn and embroidered locally in Bahrain. Finer versions later came from Europe, mainly, from Germany and France.
The name of the dress is borrowed from the word (mnshal), used to describe brightly colored and heavily adorned fabrics that cover ceremonial passenger-less litter (mahmal) which were carried by camel, among pilgrim caravans, to Mecca on their way to (Haj). (Mnshal) was also used on the compartment (hwdaj) that transported women on camel back draped in a tent form with exquisite textiles.
Historically, the bride would wear this robe in Bahrain and most other Arab Gulf regions on her henna or wedding night.
Thawb nashil is customarily, sewn in T-shape, and the fabric is cut in the form of longitudinal and cross sections. The neck opening be it circular, triangular, or square can have a front slit reaching the middle or end of the chest area, and along this slit, ball buttons made of zari are added at times with loops to fasten it.
Large oval-shaped necklines, be it plain or embellished, are characteristic of the early 1920s-1970s overgarments (athwab) worn in Iraq, Kuwait, and by the Bedouins of the levant as well as Egyptian peasants. Bahraini overgarments (athwab) are recognised by their fitted round neckline with a central slit that soon became widely imported by most of the Arab Gulf region from as early as the 1980s. While in the UAE, overgarments (athwab) are distinguished by their square-shaped neckline.
The embroidery is carried out before the neckline opening is cut open, for added support during the embroidery process and to show the garment is new. This is significant to note as embroidery is commonly reused.
Muhammad Saleh Ahmad Zari is considered one of the oldest and most famous thawb nashil makers in Bahrain. He follows in the footsteps of his forefathers Saleh Zari and Mohammed Adul Qadir Zari. After sewing dresses and embroidering them with zari threads by hand, they all typically knocked and burnished the embroidery until it became polished, smooth, and shining.
In time, the sewing of this dress evolved becoming machine sewn and embroidered from several colors of natural or synthetic chiffon silk. Moreover, metallic thread (zari) rather than silver or gold plated coil renderings were incorporated, making it more affordable to the masses.
Traditional women’s dress in Kuwait, Salwa al Maghribi, 2006