Silkworms long gone, Syrian opens museum to waning craft

After Syria’s war whisked away the silkworms from his mulberry trees, 65-year-old Mohammed Saud instead turned his idle home workshop into a silk museum to celebrate the ancient craft.

In the green hills of Deir Mama in Syria, 65-year-old Mohammed Saud, his wife and three sons have been making silk for decades.

They would raise silkworms in the spring, watching them munch on mulberry tree leaves and slowly build their thick cocoons, before spinning the thread and weaving it into fine cloth.

But Syria’s nine-year-old war has complicated silkworm imports, and stemmed production for now, AFP reported.

Muhammad Saud, a 65-year-old Syrian silk farmer, handweaves silk threads on a loom at his home workshop in the village of Deir Mama, in west-central Syria on June 22, 2020. MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP
Sitting at a large wooden loom with his feet on the pedals, he demonstrated weaving, his agile hands gliding from side to side as he weaved weft over warp. In a corner, off-white silk shawls were displayed on the wall, or draped around mannequins. – AFP
After Syria's war whisked away the silkworms from his mulberry trees, 65-year-old Mohammed Saud instead turned his idle home workshop into a silk museum to celebrate the ancient craft. MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP
In his courtyard-turned-museum, Saud held up a handful of glistening white silk cocoons the size of large grapes. Stooping down, he manually yanked around a large wooden spinning wheel used to unfurl the tight coils into long pale thread. | Muhammad Saud sits with his wife Amal at their home workshop. – AFP
They would raise silk worms in the spring, watching them munch on mulberry tree leaves and slowly build their thick cocoons, before spinning the thread and weaving those coils into fine cloth. MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP
They would raise silkworms in the spring, watching them munch on mulberry tree leaves and slowly build their thick cocoons, before spinning the thread and weaving it into fine cloth. But Syria’s nine-year-old war has complicated silkworm imports, and stemmed production for now. – AFP
In the green hills of Deir Mama, Saud, his wife and three sons have been making silk for decades. They would raise silk worms in the spring, watching them munch on mulberry tree leaves and slowly build their thick cocoons, before spinning the thread and weaving those coils into fine cloth. MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP
Cocoon harvests had already dropped from 60,000 tonnes in 1908 to just 3.1 tonnes in 2010. When fighting erupted in 2011, it all ground to a halt. – AFP
Muhammad Saud, a 65-year-old Syrian silk farmer, handweaves silk threads on a loom at his home workshop in the village of Deir Mama, in west-central Syria on June 22, 2020. MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP
“There are just three families left in Syria working this craft,” he said. “Today I am the only one left in this town fighting for its survival.” A decade ago, the year before the conflict broke out, he had told AFP that 16 villages and 48 families across Syria still worked in sericulture. – AFP
Muhammad Saud, a 65-year-old Syrian silk farmer, handweaves silk threads on a loom at his home workshop in the village of Deir Mama, in west-central Syria on June 22, 2020. MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP
“I decided to transform my home into a workshop when I realised it would contain all stages of silk production.” Muhammad Saud, a 65-year-old Syrian silk farmer, handweaves silk threads on a loom at his home workshop in the village of Deir Mama, in west-central Syria on June 22, 2020. MAHER AL MOUNES / AFP
Muhammad Saud drops silkworm cocoons into a small woven basket at his home workshop in the village of Deir Mama, in west-central Syria. – AFP
After Syria’s war whisked away the silkworms from his mulberry trees, 65-year-old Mohammed Saud instead turned his idle home workshop into a silk museum to celebrate the ancient craft. In the green hills of Deir Mama, Saud, his wife and three sons have been making silk for decades. -AFP

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

They’d 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 material.

However 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 huge grapes.

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

“There are simply three households left in Syria working this craft,” he stated. “In the present day I’m the one one left on this city combating for its survival.”

A decade in the past, the 12 months earlier than the battle broke out, he had informed 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 made a decision to rework my house right into a workshop after I realised it will include all levels of silk manufacturing,” Saud defined.

‘Clinically useless’

Sitting at a big picket loom along with his toes on the pedals, he demonstrated weaving, his agile palms 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 large swathes of land, drawing in silk followers from Syria and past.

On the museum’s wall hung some outdated images of Saud posing with overseas guests, and some of their thanks notes.

“I used to rely primarily on vacationers, as they had been those in a position to afford the silk,” he stated.

However nowadays, 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 material is the final of their worries.

“Silk has change into a luxurious on this disaster,” Saud stated.

Earlier than the battle the craft was like “a sick man we hoped would heal, however then the conflict got here alongside and dealt it a closing blow”.

“I alone am battling for the commerce’s survival… even whether it is clinically useless.”

‘Scared I’ll overlook 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 historic metropolis of Palmyra as early as the primary century AD.

Throughout World Battle II, Levantine factories equipped Britain with giant silk sheets to make parachutes.

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

However right this moment, says Syrian heritage skilled Murhaf Rahayyim, the trade is struggling.

“The issue shouldn’t be manufacturing. There are tons of of items of fabric ready to be snapped up” however no consumers, he stated.

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

“Earlier than the conflict, vacationers would purchase most of what was produced, and we exported tons to Lebanon and the Gulf,” he stated.

However right this moment that has stopped, and “silk garments are now not a precedence for Syrians”.

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

Nowadays, “I solely crochet for enjoyable and so my fingers keep nimble,” she stated, a white silk scarf draped round her shoulders.

“I’m scared I’ll overlook how you can do it,” she stated.

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

“We’re the one ones nonetheless rising mulberry timber, however this 12 months we fed their leaves to goats.”

AFP

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