Research Activity Update



Sadu House museum, Kuwait

Kuwait Textile Arts Association Lecture:

‘Camel Trappings and Contemporary Textiles’

12 April 2011


As Research Fellow to the the Al Sadu Weaving Society, Dr Keireine Canavan recently delivered a lecture at Al Sadu House textile museum in Kuwait.


The lecture discussed camel trappings and associated textile decorations, with their elaborate patterns and decorative tassels, and compared images of Cardiff School of Art and Design Textile students’ work from the Zari Kuwait Design competition, as examples of contemporary designs inspired by ancient al Sadu textiles, for digital applications.



Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah. The al-Sabah Collection.  Kuwait.

Cultural Season 16:

‘Weaving in the Arabian Peninsula: Historical Traditions and Future Prospects’

25 April 2011


The lecture reviewed the regional cultural trends and historic context of weaving in the Arabian Peninsular, with an emphasis on the semiotics of Bedouin weaving in Kuwait.  As part of the DAI: Cultural Season 16 lectures, the presentation discussed the research being conducted by Dr Canavan in collaboration with the Al Sadu Society, Kuwait, in an effort to preserve declining memory, practice and awareness of traditional weaving, as well as explore the modern challenges facing expressive craft, once crucial and vital in Arabia and other parts of the Middle East.  Oral histories collected from the few remaining master-weavers add a unique and very personal look at this important subject.


The lecture was documented in full.



Qatar National Museum

Field Research: 26 – 28 April 2011


Dr Keireine Canavan, as Research Fellow to Al Sadu Weaving Society, Kuwait, was invited to the Qatar National Museum to consult on the al Sedu textile collection for inclusion in the new National Museum of Qatar, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.




SOAS: School of Oriental & African Studies, London

The Camel Conference 2011

23 – 25 May 2011


The focus of Dr Keireine Canavan’s recent paper at the Camel Conference 2011 was based on the important aspects of the camel upon traditional and contemporary Bedouin Sadu weaving practices, and the variety of creative camel symbolism within the decorated textile panels (sharjarah) of the woven tent divider (gata).


A recent research project with Bedouin master-weavers, informed and developed new woven camel symbols, and created contemporary woven camel trappings for exhibition, which messaged the weavers’ current integrity and tribal respect for the camel, plus their aesthetic observations of the remarkable creature.




Gulf Conference 2011

29 June – 2 July 2011

Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, Exeter University


Traditional Bedouin al Sadu Weaving of Kuwait: Current Practices and Future Developments.


‘Today, due to rapid regional cultural and economic changes in the Arabian Gulf, where hand made glimpses of past traditions are the only faint reminders of the past, it is obvious that many of the regional traditions are fast disappearing in the face of mechanisation and modernism.


Due in part to the settlement of the Bedouin people and rapid economic developments, the requirement of Bedouin traditions has diminished, and the number of weavers has declined considerably; in fact many of those who remain are in their autumn years of life, leaving only a few women who retain the knowledge, the skills, the memories and the oral history.


Due to widespread illiteracy, nothing is written down, and while these textiles still retain a role today, particularly with the older generations, at traditional ceremonies and on special occasions, Bedouin weaving in the main has lost it’s importance as a utilitarian and vital cultural craft form.


The significance of preserving this cultural identity, with all the associated knowledge and skills, is crucial if is not to be lost forever.  The young generation are familiar with computers & digitalised imagery and CAD/CAM production.   It is my opinion that if these regional textiles are to be recognised to value the cultural heritage that they portray, it is by means of improved preservation and storage of extant textiles, and the investment of academic research, and beyond existing educational programmes, both in Kuwait at Sadu House and in Oman, I believe further educational awareness is required.


I further believe it is a duty, that we, who are concerned with material culture and traditional crafts, and their place in civilisation need to blend the traditional and the contemporary, to encourage the mix of hand craft and digital application to ensure a future for these textile traditions.   A commitment to inspire the next generation and to create new designs and applications is required if we are to sustain something of this beautiful and majestic Arabian tradition for the future’.




Muscat Field Trip, Samayal Weaving Centre, Oman

UWIC Travel Bursary

2 – 8 Sept 2011



In process of writing-up field trip data

Visits to;

Samayal Weaving Centre

Bait al Zubair

National Museum

Natural History Museum

Museum of Oman Heritage

Omani Heritage Gallery



Samayal Weaving Centre, Oman


Exert taken from Keireine’s field notebook :


‘It was the first day of Ramadan.  The girls were excited to receive me and I was greeted with great respect.  There was much hilarity and everyone was happy to share their enthusiasm with me, although they had been informed that I was visiting the previous day and had been disappointed when I did not arrive.


One elderly lady sat ‘pulling through’ – threading the heddles.  I was told that she was very happy. 


Twenty girls had enlisted on the one year training project at the weaving centre; only twelve remained.  I was shown the looms; small table looms and inkle looms for narrow woven trims and braids, and larger floor looms where the girls wove headscarves.  There was no sign of the traditional shajarah technique, nor symbols and motifs, only stripes in pre-dyed cottons with wool and cotton warp threads.  Colours were dull; moss green, dull purples and rich ochres, unlike the usual bright colours of black, red, orange and natural white.


There was a commercial outlet where scarves and larger mechanically produced textiles were sold, alongside pottery, silverwear and frankincense.

I bought a headscarf.  7OMR Omani Rhials (about £10.00).


I asked about traditional Bedouin weaving and while the girls knew about it, and where some of the ‘old weavers’ lived; they knew nothing about the patterns or symbols.  Traditional weaving was not part of their training’.   




Forthcoming Events:


Goldsmith’s London University ‘Material Matters’ Conference

14 October 2011

Paper Title: The Semiotics of Sadu Iconography



University of Wales Institute Cardiff –  WIRAD: DIGIT Research Group

24 November 2011

Lecture Title: Unwritten Narratives of Bedouin Women Weavers



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Today’s Material Arts Lecture – Dr Keireine Canavan

It was great to have so many interested and attentive students from UWIC’s BA Textile and Ceramics programmes gathered at Llandaff Campus today to hear the first material Arts lecture ‘Traditions and Cultures: Middle East’.

I would also like to thank Stuart Neil for his introduction to WordPress Blogging, and for the comments I have received to date.

If you have any further questions or comments to make about the lecture or Sadu weaving, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Good luck with your blogging and reflective journals, which I look forward to reading.



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Victoria and Albert Museum London – Dr Keireine Canavan

V&A Museum: Oral History Society Conference Paper – July 2010



Al Sadu is an ancient Bedouin tribal weaving artform, which in its broadest linguistic identity is rhythmically linked to poetry, memory, the weaving practice, the extension of the hand, and the graceful moving pace of a camel.[i]

Al Sadu weaving conveys the Bedouin’s rich heritage and instinctive awareness of natural beauty, with patterns and designs messaging the nomadic lifestyle, the desert environment, and the emphasis of symmetry and balance due to the making process.

Nothing is written down or recorded.  Due to widespread illiteracy of Bedouin nomadic tribespeople, all motifs, patterns and associated symbolism are memorised and passed from generation to generation, by word of mouth and example. [ii]

The paper discussed the findings of my nine-month field study in Kuwait, in collaboration with AlSadu Weaving Co-operative Society, Sadu House museum, Bedouin master-weavers, academics, poets and social anthropologist.  The oral history of a dwindling number of master-weavers were video-recorded and documented to preserve the declining memory, practice and awareness, and to prevent further loss.

The focus of the paper was on the interpretation of the woven shajarah or central tent divide, establishing the wealth of meaning and communication from the codes or pictographic language.  Quoted from recorded interviews, the paper discussed whether contemporary weavers are disinterested in the names assigned to the overall design composition, but interested in the names and meaning of single motifs or components of motifs, or if names and definitions are personal testimony only to the weaver who created them, or whether the language of AlSadu has been lost in modern-day Kuwait, appreciated only for its traditional aesthetic values.

Keireine Canavan

University of Wales Institute Cardiff UWIC,

Principal Lecturer/ Programme Director Contemporary Textiles

Email: textiles

[i] Al Sabah, Altaf Salem Al Ali. 2001. Kuwait Traditions. Creative Expressions of a Culture.Al Sadu Weaving Cooperative Society, Kuwait. Pg.37. ISBN: 99906-604-1-7.

Crichton, Anne-Rhona. 1989. Al Sadu. The Techniques of Bedouin Weaving. Al Sadu, Kuwait. Pg. 11.

Dickson, H.R.P. 1983.The Arab of the Desert. 3rd edition, rev. & abridged. George & Allen & Unwin (Pubs) Ltd. ISBN: 0-04-953010-0

Keohane, Alan. 1994. Bedouin. Nomads of the Desert. Kyle Cathie Ltd., London. Pg. 124. ISBN: 1-85626-342-8.

[ii] Dickson, Violet. 1978. Forty Years in Kuwait. 3rd Impression. George & Allen & Unwin (Pubs) Ltd. Pg. 91. ISBN: 0-04-920032-1

Thesiger, Wilfred. 1960. Arabian Sands. Readers Union Longman, Greens & Co, London.


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CSAD Summer Lecture Cardiff UK – Dr Keireine Canavan

Photo Credit: Dr Ali Alnajadah, Sadu House, Kuwait


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Back in Kuwait: 2 August 2010 – Dr Keireine Canavan

Early this morning, twenty years ago Kuwait was invaded by Iraq; 2 August 1990.  This began the first Gulf war.

I am back in Kuwait to continue my research about traditional Sadu weaving at Sadu House, and I have met many people here with fascinating and very frightening personal stories about the invasion; men, women and young adults who were children at the time.  Also, there remain many scars upon the landscape & remaining architecture as a constant reminder of the seven-month ‘oil’ war.  There was a real sense of fear and dreadful torture, and the impact is still very raw.

Interestingly, there was a massive impact upon the symbols and motifs used in post-invasion sadu textiles, which is something I am documenting in my research. Bedouin master weavers have reported to me that after the Iraqi withdrawal and the return of Kuwait to its people, greater respect was paid as a sign of thanksgiving by all Sadu weavers, and figurative forms were not depicted as symbols woven into the sharjarah textiles, although other symbols such as war-planes and guns appeared.   Some twenty years later, I have noticed at first-hand, a slightly more relaxed attitude by some Sadu weavers, however most conform to not depicting figurative forms that reflect the living spirit and in turn, continue to create beautiful geometric motifs and patterns.

British conservator, Kirsty Norman was working at the Islamic Museum in Kuwait at the time of the invasion in 1990.  I have listened with great interest to the current BBC Radio 4 programmes titled The Quiet Invasion: Part 1 & 2, where Kirsty paints a picture of her own personal experiences and the atrocities that happened to the museum collections.

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Masalama or Goodbye – Dr Keireine Canavan

I can’t believe it is time to say ‘Masalama’ or Goodbye….. even though currently I  can’t leave Kuwait and fly back to UK,  due to the Icelandic volcanic disruption and  no planes flying into Europe or UK airspace!

My bags are packed with all my books, equipment, textiles, Arabic coffee and dates  (no room for  practical things like clothing or shoes) and my precious MacBook Air –  without which I would certainly have neck or back ache, as it has been my  companion everywhere I have travelled during the past 9 months.

The last phase of the work was so incredibly intensive, trying to squeeze so much        into every waking moment, that I abandoned my blog and my daily swim, for which  I apologise and regret, respectively.

A trip back to UK to examine a PhD Viva, and a visit to the National Museums  Scotland, to see the Sadu Textile Collection in Edinburgh, broke a certain working  rhythm and time ran away from me for the last six weeks.  I managed to maintain  my Arabic lessons, which caused so much fun with my Arab friends, as I practiced  my pronunciation and vocabulary.  But when an opportunity for Dr Ali Alnajadah and myself to research and document the entire textile collection at the Kuwait National Museum, thanks to the Museum’s Director, Mr Shehab al-Shehab, it was too good to miss, and provided an academic balance and credence to the Sadu House Permanent Collection investigation.  But ….. it  took many days and much energy in sweltering hot conditions, during the last few weeks; but what a treasure trove of pure delight!

There have been many farewells (pictured with Sheikha Altaf Al-Sabah and Dr Ali), and many things have drawn to a temporary close with time now for serious analysis and reflection; but more about that next time…. that is if the planes start flying and I ever leave Kuwait.

Talking about rug weaving in Asia, Lee Allane wrote ‘…weaving is the chosen and often the only medium for recording the religious, social and cultural beliefs of several nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes…… As such, it represents the only current example of ‘high art’ as a totally female preserve’.




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KTAA – Woven Pieces Article – Dr Keireine Canavan

Kuwait Textile Arts Association: Woven Pieces

23rd March 2010

Discovered Through Translation: Permanent Collection Gata No 2.

As an artist, weaver and researcher, Dr Keireine Canavan has previously researched and documented the endangered skills of traditional backstrap loom weaving with Iban Dayak ikat weavers in Borneo, Malaysia, and worked with the declining number of highly skilled Salvi Patola weavers in North-West India.

In March 2008, Dr Canavan’s KTAA lecture entitled From Dayak to Digital communicated and shared her wealth of knowledge about the many facets of ikat weaving and the rapidly declining knowledge and practice of specific traditional back-strap loom textiles.   She concluded her lecture suggesting that in the future, she hoped to contribute academic rigour to a greater understanding, appreciation and preservation of the traditional Sadu woven textiles of Kuwait.

As a regular visitor to Kuwait for the past seven years, Dr Canavan is currently being sponsored by the University of Wales for a six-month research sabbatical concerned with an academic study of the Bedouin’s rich heritage and instinctive awareness of natural beauty, through the translation of patterns, symbols and designs which message the nomadic lifestyle, the desert environment, and the emphasis of symmetry and balance due to the making process.   Nothing is written down or recorded by the weavers and all motifs, patterns and associated symbolism are memorised and passed, from generation to generation, by word of mouth and example.

With kind permission from Sheikha Altaf Al Salem Al Sabah, Dr Canavan embarked upon her study of Sadu textiles from the Permanent Collection at Sadu House in September 2009.  Advised by Sheikha Altaf and working closely with master weavers and Sadu House staff, Dr Canavan has formed a firm, professional collaboration with Dr Ali Alnajadah (weave consultant to the ALSADU Weaving Co-operative Society).   The process of a literature review, a rigorous fieldstudy involving Arabic and English translated recorded interviews with master weavers and photographic recording of Sadu textiles, plus regular documentation analysis followed.

In November 2009, Dr Canavan presented a public lecture at the American University of Kuwait, entitled Communication and the Language of Textiles, which reflected the early stages of the research project and explained the focus of the study of the sharjarah motifs and patterns within the Gata or central tent divider textile.

Tonight’s lecture describes the discoveries through the translation of a dwindling number of master-weavers’ testimonies about the integrity and symbolic meaning of Kuwait’s Sadu weaving heritage.  The importance of preserving the memories of existing oral history and knowledge of declining practice and awareness of Sadu textiles, to prevent further loss is examined.

The visual focus is on the translation of the woven shajarah of Gata No 2 from the Sadu House Permanent Collection, and establishes a recorded lexicon of meanings and communication from the codes or pictographic language.  Quoted from recorded interviews, the lecture discusses whether contemporary weavers are interested in the names and meaning of single motifs or components of motifs, or if names and definitions are personal testimony only to the weaver who created them, or whether the language of AlSadu has been lost in modern-day Kuwaiti society, appreciated only for its traditional aesthetic values.

The lecture concludes with ideas for future research and developments to generate and encourage second-generation weavers to continue to generate Sadu textiles.

Drs Alnajadah and Canavan will continue their collaboration and are seeking funding for future research.   They are currently writing documents for publication.

Dr Canavan will disseminate the outcomes of her sabbatical research study at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff UK in May 2010, and at the Oral History Society Conference, Victoria & Albert Museum, London in July 2010.

Dr Keireine Canavan is principal lecturer and head of Textiles at University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, and DIGIT, the academic textile research group of WIRAD South Wales.  Having graduated with an MA in woven and knitted textile design from the Royal College of Art, in London, and an MDes in textile design with computer application at the Scottish College of Textiles, she completed the first design PhD at Heriot-Watt University, and was awarded the McFarlane Prize 2003 for outstanding academic contribution to research.


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