Preserving UAE culture through the Talli craft.

Arts and crafts are the heartbeat of any culture. Talli handicraft is one such gem of the culture of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that has been fading away due to modernisation.

However, the efforts of the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council in the UAE is reviving it actively.

In a fast-paced world where technology, globalisation and a cut-throat competition to excel from others keep taking priority, the task of preserving culture becomes more pivotal than ever.

The word "Talli" is of Turkish origin, meaning "shining thread"
The word “Talli” is of Turkish origin, meaning “shining thread”

A Celebration of Emirati Culture 

As one of the leading cities in the world, Dubai has not only witnessed a rapid boom in its economy in tourism, but it has been working towards the upcoming Expo 2020, which will draw the attention of the global community.

However, the city of Sharjah is what can be truly considered as the cultural, business and tourism hub of the UAE.

It is in Sharjah that the Talli craft has been revived by the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council. Talli is the celebration of Emirati culture in the form of weaving.

The word “Talli” is of Turkish origin, meaning “shining thread”. Talli is an indigenous craft from the UAE in which a kind of braid is woven by hand, using a technique like the bobbin lace.

In the olden days such a craft was traditionally practiced by Emirati women in their homes, where they would decorate the collars, hems and cuffs of clothing.

Vibrantly coloured cotton threads are woven together with synthetic metallic threads, such as gold or silver, known as “khosa” in the UAE Arabic dialect.

The goal: creating stunningly intricate designs in varied colours. As the number of bobbins can reach as high as 40, the women use pins to organise the threads on a cylindrical pillow positioned on a metal stand known as “kajoojah”.

Since such a traditional craft was limited to the Emirati households, it ended up fading as a result of modernisation, which brought the mass production of generic textiles and embroidery.

Reviving A Craft

However, the entry of the Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council was a positive one, that of a saviour who would invest their efforts to revive this beautiful form of craft. The council is an affiliate of the Sharjah-based NAMA Women Advancement Establishment.

At present Irthi employs more than 40 female artisans under its Bidwa Social Development Programme, directed and supported by the wife of the Rule of Sharjah, Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the founder and royal patron of Irthi. The artisans produce more than 50 styles and colours of Talli.

From an inspirational perspective, Talli patterns are based on elements in the natural environment, such as flora, fauna or common household items.

All pieces of Talli are unique since the identical pattern can end up looking totally different, depending on how the artisan works on it in terms of the pressure, as well as the pattern’s width and shape.

The women use pins to organise the threads on a cylindrical pillow positioned on a metal stand known as "kajoojah"
The women use pins to organise the threads on a cylindrical pillow positioned on a metal stand known as “kajoojah”

Taking Talli Modern

Creating these articles is a lengthy and complex procedure. To make a one-meter strand of Talli can take anything from a few hours to up to a few weeks or even months, depending on the complexity of the design.

And of course, it is not exempt from a plethora of mistakes and trial between the design and the actual weaving process, which usually results in unexpected outcomes, either good or bad.

All the hard work and efforts resulted in new applications of this craft, other than its use to adorn clothes. The organisation has integrated Talli in various modern designs and products, such as shoes, clothes, art pieces, tableware, handbags, décor, and bracelets.

It would not be wrong to say that Talli is a rich symbol of the UAE’s culture that is sustained as a result of the hard work, commitment and interest of Emirati mothers, and the role of various organisations who are keen on its continuation.

The Essentials

Getting Around

If you plan to visit Dubai in winter, check out La Perle, Dubai’s first resident theatrical show.

The Visit Dubai website has exciting activities, and has the latest information on the best tourist sites, shopping malls and must-visit places.

A variety of transportation modes are available in Dubai – taxis, rental cars, and the Dubai Metro. You can get a detailed list of information on the cheapest or most convenient transport mode on the Roads & Transport Authority website (click on “public transport”).

Make sure you get your tourism SIM card once you arrive at the Dubai International Airport. It is available at the DU or Etisalat kiosk at the airport. Having a local SIM card saves you the headache of paying roaming fees of your usual mobile provider.

When it comes to shopping malls, check out the City Centre Deira, Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Festival City, La Mer and the City Walk (situated in Jumeirah).

Getting There

SAA offers daily code-share flights to Dubai operated by Emirates Airlines from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Book your tickets today! 

Words by Rabi’ah M