Traditional Textile Craft – An Intangible Cultural Heritage? The Jordan Museum, Amman and Jordan 24th-31st March 2014



Eva Andersson Strand, Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark 

Jihad Kafafi, The Jordan Museum, Amman, Jordan

Mary Harlow University of Leicester, UK


It is my pleasure to report that the workshop Traditional Textile Craft – An Intangible Cultural Heritage? The Jordan Museum, Amman supported by Wenner-Gren Foundation has been successfully accomplished. The positive response from both invited participants, attendees and outsiders has for us been overwhelming.

The workshop took first place at the Jordan Museum, Amman (24-27 March) and then we travelled together in Jordan visiting several textile craft associations and cultural heritage ventures with the focus on textiles (28-31 March).

The workshop gathered 60 particpants from Denmark, Sweden, USA, UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Japan and India, representing textile craft organisations, modern textile designers, textile craft technicians, UNESCO, and the academic disciplines of archaeology, anthroplogy, history and philology.

Our aim to create an interactive, international and interdisciplinary network and platform for knowledge exchange which would allow wide ranging and innovative approaches in this area and to make the importance of textile crafts and textile histories more visible than hitherto, with a clear recognition of the inter-relationships between textiles, textile crafts, people and cultural heritage has been fulfilled.

Unsurprisingly all participants agreed that excluding the social, cultural and economic impact of textiles and textile production in the interpretation of ancient societies, means excluding a substantial part of our history. And if not visible in our past, then its importance will not be visible in our presence or future. The production of textiles is of utmost importance today – as it was in the past.

The lectures and discussions clearly demonstrated not only the need for collaborative events but also the importance of interdisciplinary and a clear wish to join forces. During the first theme Definitions of traditional craft-practice and the use of terminology it became clear that the use and meaning of the term ‘traditional’ is very complex. In the academic world the use of traditional textile craft and design in general often equates with an end product of high value, encompassing the notion of excellent quality combined with intricate techniques. This is also a sales argument which we experienced when we visited the cultural heritage sites. It was also interesting to note the differences in the craft organisations in different countries. For example, in Sweden today the aim is to preserve and teach old techniques but in India and Jordan the organizations aim first and foremost to give people (generally women) the opportunity to use their skills to earn money so they can, for example, send their children to school. As one of the participant’s expressed in her lecture “craft is not romantic” (Laila Tyabji). In India and Jordan the preservation of craft traditions is secondary to the economic benefits. However, craft process are changing and in worst case scenarios, disappearing. It is therefore essential, but a challenge to find a balance to make traditional textile craft be seen as a part of a living creative dynamic in which one can both earn an income and preserve the craft skills.

The second theme was The Relationship of traditional textile craft to modern fashion studies. Textiles have never been as cheap or as easily mass produced as they are today, with the sad consequence that traditional textile craft skills and knowledge are not always valued. The skills required for the complexity of textile craft are partly forgotten. The market becomes ever more restricted with the result that it becomes less advantageous for craftspeople to maintain their skills. As old (traditional) designs go out of fashion, it can be difficult for craftspeople to use traditional techniques to produce new designs. There is a negative circle of cause and effect which results in the diminution of traditional textile craft and a loss of knowledge. This loss is often invisible. However, the speakers in this session clearly demonstrated that the combination of traditional craft and modern design can be made to work creatively.  Consumer demand for more sustainable textile production should also be taken into consideration and used as an argument. Zero waste is now a part of many fashion designers portfolios, but in the past it was an integral part of clothing production (e.g. ancient techniques of weaving to shape).

The lectures given under the third theme, the use of traditional textile craft and craftsmanship in the interpretation of ancient societieshighlighted how important the knowledge of traditional craft is for our interpretations of past societies. We need knowledge of traditional textile crafts in order to understand the techniques and the textiles produced in the past, and also to understand the powerful, but often invisible, influence of craft on societies. The advantages and limitations are that it is not possible to directly transfer today’s craft knowledge to the past but it undoubtedly provides insights and new perspectives. During the fourth theme, Preserving traditional textile heritage and making it visible, we discussed how essential it is to preserve this knowledge and skill and also to make its importance more visible to a wider audience.  We also discussed ways in which we might collaborate to safeguard traditional craft, create new and exciting possibilities within the field, and finally to make traditional textile craft more visible.

During this session we also visited TIRAZ, Mrs Widad Kamel Kawar’s gallery for Arabic dress where Mrs Widad Kawar and her colleagues presented her internationally known and amazing collection of Middle Eastern dress and accessories. We also had a hands on session where craftspeople demonstrated weaving on different types of looms, spinning, felting etc.

The study tour was integral to the workshop: here theory became practice and we had the possibility to meet different actors working in the field of traditional textile craft from the reconstructions of Roman uniforms in Jerash, to the weavers in their home working for Bani Hamida Bedouin weaving project, via the Safi dyeing project which is now expanding into the reintroduction of indigo for dyeing (a UNESCO supported project) to Petra where all textiles were sold as traditionally made. This tour allowed up time to share many ideas and learn from each other as we learnt from the projects which we visited. On our way back to Amman we had a full day session on the bus when everybody presented impressions from the workshop and their ideas for future work and collaboration.

On our workshop website can be found the full program and background to the workshop, an introduction of the speakers, their abstracts and a resume of the presentations given at the workshop. When all the presentations are uploaded we will publish them as an open access e-publication so as many as possible can take part of the continuation of the workshop. During the workshop we filmed several of the sessions and our visits at different projects and we are working on a short documentary.  On our blog, that up to the time of writing has had over 12000 visitors, one could follow us during and after the workshop. Several of the participants have also shared their thoughts here about how we can move forward with the work we have started together. Both the website and the blog have become very important tools in order to quickly send out information and many people have asked to be on our mailing list.

As organizers, we feel that we have just scratched the surface of an important and urgent issue, and we feel obliged to continue the work. We have therefore started to work on a large application for founding for developing the following four themes:

  • Recording of traditional textile craft in collaboration with craft organizations and UNESCO using the latest methods for example Motion Capture.
  • An online dictionary for textile terminology in modern and ancient languages
  • An online conservation helpline that can used not only by professionals but also private collectors etc.
  • To work with design schools and private textile companies to encourage the use of traditional craft and design in modern textile design in new and creative ways.

To conclude, the workshop together with its participants have given us all new insights and new perspectives on the field of traditional textile craft. It has open new doors and given new possibility and we kindly thank the Wenner-Gren foundation for your support for this work.


Eva Andersson Strand  

Archaeologist, Associate Professor

The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research


University of Copenhagen

DK-2300 Copenhagen S

Telephone +45 51301536




The Wenner-Gren Foundation

The Jordan Museum

The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen

University of Leicester

The Department of Antiquities of Jordan

Tiraz: Widad Kawar Home for Arab Dress