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Silkworms long gone, Syrian weaver opens museum to waning ancient craft

After Syria’s conflict whisked away the silkworms from his mulberry timber, 65-year-old Mohammed Saud as a substitute turned his idle dwelling workshop right into a silk museum to rejoice the traditional craft.

In the inexperienced hills of Deir Mama, Saud, his spouse and three sons have been making silk for many years.

They would increase silkworms within the spring, watching them munch on mulberry tree leaves and slowly construct their thick cocoons, earlier than spinning the thread and weaving it into tremendous fabric.

But Syria’s nine-year-old conflict has difficult silkworm imports, and stemmed manufacturing for now.

In his courtyard-turned-museum, Saud held up a handful of glistening white silk cocoons the dimensions of enormous grapes.

Stooping down, he manually yanked round a big wood spinning wheel used to unfurl the tight coils into lengthy pale thread.

“There are just three families left in Syria working this craft,” he mentioned. “Today I am the only one left in this town fighting for its survival.”

A decade in the past, the yr earlier than the battle broke out, he had advised AFP that 16 villages and 48 households throughout Syria nonetheless labored in sericulture.

Cocoon harvests had already dropped from 60,000 tonnes in 1908 to only 3.1 tonnes in 2010. When combating erupted in 2011, all of it floor to a halt.

“I decided to transform my home into a workshop when I realised it would contain all stages of silk production,” Saud defined.

– ‘Clinically dead’ –

Sitting at a big wood loom along with his toes on the pedals, he demonstrated weaving, his agile fingers gliding backward and forward as he weaved weft over warp.

In a nook, off-white silk shawls had been displayed on the wall, or draped round mannequins.

Deir Mama was well-known for silk manufacturing earlier than the conflict, with most residents specialising in a single stage or one other of the method.

Not removed from the big Masyaf citadel, the city’s mulberry timber stretched throughout vast swathes of land, drawing in silk followers from Syria and past.

On the museum’s wall hung some previous pictures of Saud posing with international guests, and some of their thanks notes.

“I used to rely mainly on tourists, as they were the ones able to afford the silk,” he mentioned.

But as of late, even when the museum tour is free, guests are uncommon.

After 9 years of conflict that has killed 380,000 individuals and devastated the economic system, tourism is non-existent.

And for Syrians struggling to place meals on the desk amid alarming worth hikes, tremendous fabric is the final of their worries.

“Silk has become a luxury in this crisis,” Saud mentioned.

Before the battle the craft was like “a sick man we hoped would heal, but then the war came along and dealt it a final blow”.

“I alone am battling for the trade’s survival… even if it is clinically dead.”

– ‘Scared I’ll neglect how’ –

The artwork of creating silk, first developed in China, has an extended historical past in Syria.

Archaeological findings present silk was woven within the historical metropolis of Palmyra as early as the primary century AD.

During World War II, Levantine factories provided Britain with massive silk sheets to make parachutes.

The nation is known for its Damascene brocade, a cloth of silver and gold silk threads that many Syrians declare Queen Elizabeth II wore for her wedding ceremony.

But immediately, says Syrian heritage professional Murhaf Rahayyim, the trade is struggling.

“The problem is not production. There are hundreds of pieces of material waiting to be snapped up” however no consumers, he mentioned.

Tourism generated 12 % of Syria’s pre-war gross nationwide product.

“Before the war, tourists would buy most of what was produced, and we exported lots to Lebanon and the Gulf,” he mentioned.

But immediately that has stopped, and “silk clothes are no longer a priority for Syrians”.

Back in Deir Mama, Saud’s spouse Amal busied herself knotting silk strands in a spiral of intricate needlework.

These days, “I only crochet for fun and so my fingers stay nimble,” she mentioned, a white silk scarf draped round her shoulders.

“I’m scared I’ll forget how to do it,” she mentioned.

Like her husband, she hopes at some point silkworms will return to the household’s orchard.

“We’re the only ones still growing mulberry trees, but this year we fed their leaves to goats.”

(This story has been printed from a wire company feed with out modifications to the textual content. Only the headline has been modified.)

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