Behind the scenes of kilim weaving (Iran)
We often say that our travels are crafted by a crew of unnamed and undetectable movie-makers. At times a happy one, at times mischevious, always surprising and never boring. Their presence is felt in the absurdity that surrounds most of our days and nights. We jump from scene to scene connecting the episoses by long roads or curvy paths. It was them who plotted our random encounters, the madness of travelling in Iran, the fun and the desperation. We are sure they were those who set us up, who made us sweat, who are laughing behind the screen at the little snails in their titanic efforts to stay afloat for a month with their 100 dollars left after 33 days of travel, three visas bought and a theft. It was them. We followed the unwritten script of the travel makers and their unedited movie of our days in Iran gave us no rest. We did it all, we laughed and suffered and went crazy for the enternainment of all, got to te sea, made it to the desert, walked the cities, danced to the songs of the mullahs. We talked to each and one of the secondary actors that crossed our way, drank tea, ate falafel, complained that “halal is not vegetarian”, cried for a letter that would take us to China. And in the end, they sent us a present, a reaward, a movie-makers gift that came wrapped in an email – An offer: to shoot a documentary about craft makers in the north of Iran. !!!! 4 days all inclusive with special envoys of our mythical movie maker: Reza – The director, – CameraMan, Farhat – SoundMan and the beautiful Mahtab – the assistant, the grip, the manager and the best spice for an Iranian film mix. They brought us to Anbaran, the closest we have been to Azerbaijan proper, and an Azeri town itself – Iranian Azerbaijan – for one last episode of cultural differences, colourful fabrics, encounters and farsi (mis)practicing.
Farhat’s Peykan parks behind us; we wait in the car watching women appear and disappear behind doors. They drag the best of their kilims to the movie scene – unknown to the fact that the director plans to peek into their very own houses later on. A rush of skirts and scarves, carpets spread and hung with cello tape over plugs and switches, weaving thread in unmatching tones and a giant stretcher, the scene is ready. And they bring the best of their party clothes to decorate Marta too. “Impossible, impossible to wear these endless layers of scratchy (but beautiful) fabric for two consecutive days twelve hours sitting on the floor. No way.” – The director’s nightmare starts with a wardrobe rejection. “Ok, ok, but can you keep the scarf?” She accepts and the show begins. 6-5-4-3-2-1-0
Sharnaz – shop owner / Lida, Faiba, Reham and Soraya- local kilim weavers / Marian and Tiba – mother and daughter weavers/ Marta – apprentice for a day / Boris – narrator
Kilim weaving is a family tradition reserved for the female half of the village. Its a secret shared by people all the way from the Balkans to Pakistan that in this area travels from mother to daughter, to daugther to…Marta, and the viewers that this film may reach. As she is taken in as a daughter for a day, the women’s world unfolds under the curious eye of the camera that follows us all around. We can count three generations sitting in this room, but it’s hard to know who is the sister, the cousin or even the mother of whom, so it might be more. They are all ready for the movie and their hands move steadily as they bring thread up and down the loom – the same moves, the same rythmic repetition of every week, every month, every new kilim. And Marta is only able to follow Sharnaz’s hands up and down, in and out, up and down, again and again – the white cotton spreads like a harp for a million hands, creating the warp,
That was step 1, and now come the weavers into scene. Make up ready, their skirts nicely spread, Lida and Faiba make patterns magically appear, filling the cotton base . They choose the correct yarns with the same care as speed and pass the colours through with imperceptible moves: first left and then right, left and right 8 times and then tuck the wool down with a giant fork to make the weft’s design appear. Absolute magic. How? How do they know where to reach, where to stop? The beautiful shapes that adorn their floors follow a local tradition of geometric symbols and lines of natural or mythological inspiration. As women pass on the technique, they transmit the memory of shapes to the fingerprints of the youngest weavers.
Tiba follows her mum’s steps and is just starting a new kilim in mini-version. The perplexed look on Marta’s face, speaks clearly that she should also sign up for the kindergarten of weavers. Reza wants to catch the natural talk of a foreigner and a kid, but our Farsi is good enough for a sentence and a half, and he keeps on making signs behind the camera “wait, wait for action before asking anymore! – it won’t look good on screen if you repeat’. He does not know that repetition is our everyday performance, that ten words turn into stories the way the five colours of the ladies yarns make once and again the same moves for a different piece. Reza forgets that the more times we ask somebody’s name the better we will spit the sounds so that by the tenth round they may know what we are asking for. And that everyday life goes on repeating itself without a camera to remind us when to act or cut. But our travel performance is under scrutiny today and our skills will be judged by the invisible audience.
While the women pose for a day of reality show the village gathers outside, curious neighbours get their phones ready for a hundred photos – a cloud of flashes directed more towards my hair than Marta’s clumsy attempts at weaving carpets. The repetition continues, with names and facebook exchanges that most won’t be able to check in the country’s bugged net. Dinner in the garden, one tea after the next, children, games and more weaving with the right shade of light. All that is natural is here performed in an attempt to catch an encounter that is as fake as it is real, with our foreign clumsiness making them laugh. Our inadequacy to the Iranian routine is made obvious by each move and word. And they giggle happily from the corners.
Despite all the cut and paste that they will need to do at the editing time, director, camera and sound man are happy with the outcome of the day, and it seems we have ended up filming 48 hours in 24. Tomorrow it will be Boris’s turn to try his luck at the jewellery workshop, to get silver fingers and expose his clumsiness on TV. A story he will never tell.
This post is part of the series Snail Trails – Handmade in Asia – a roving initiative to document, collect and share crafts from the places we pass by and the artisans we meet on our way East. Because there is a life behind the souvenirs and we are curious to see what it looks like. If you also want to know more click here for artisan’s and craft stories.