You can learn some amazing traditional Bedouin skills for free

Abu Dhabi World’s Colin Armstrong tries out traditional Emirati handicrafts in the Garden City

What is it?

Sharing centuries-old skills with a new generation and expats that call the UAE home, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) is hosting free traditional handicraft workshops for the public.

Taking place four times a week, the classes offer a unique insight into the Bedouin way
of life, all within the stunning surroundings of Al Ain Palace Museum, the former royal residence of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Three skills are showcased and taught, including telli, a form of unique embroidery; sadu, a type of traditional weaving that’s part of the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list by UNESCO; and khoos, palm tree weaving done by hand.

You can try each of the skills or all of them if you’re interested, but in order to truly get a feel for one of the activities, it is recommended to try just one per visit.

What’s it like?

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Keen to learn some new skills, I decided to try my hand at khoos, a traditional weaving technique that’s historically practised by women – take that gender roles.

Used for wall and ceiling decorations, mats, hand fans, food covers, baskets and much more, this intricate skill is impressively versatile and has a wide variety of applications, even in the modern day.

Having never weaved a day in my life, I was a little apprehensive, but I never shy away from a challenge so I took my position, sat cross-legged on the carpet, and awaited instruction from my experienced Emirati tutor.

My teacher for the day started by taking eight strands of palm leaf, which were dried and thinly shredded, and interwove them together to create a base. Then it was over to me, and into the deep end I went.

Taking the strands into my hands, I didn’t know what to do even after watching a demonstration. But despite not sharing a common language, I watched the group and quickly learned how to begin delicately and firmly folding the strands under one another.

Experts make it look easy, but I can tell you it’s not. However, once you get your head around the technique, the repetitive nature of the task becomes quite therapeutic.

I continued to weave until I had a strand over a metre long, resulting in a huge smile
from my teacher, which I think means I did well, unless of course she was laughing at my feeble attempt.

Taking my handiwork home with me, plus some extra palm leaves so I can continue my project on my own, I waltz away knowing I’ve become quite handy with weaving, and I hope to continue practising over the weeks to come.

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Need to know 

  • What: Traditional Handicraft Workshops
  • When: Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10am-noon
  • Where: Al Ain Palace Museum, next to Al Ain Oasis
  • Cost: Free
  • Visit: 03 751 7755, visitalain.ae
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