The handicrafts industry in Jordan blossoms

Woman in Wadi Rum making a rug

 

Introduction

     

Jordan has many beautiful and interesting handicraft traditions that reflect its unique culture and history. Handicrafts made in Jordan are varied and include woven rugs, mouth blown glass, painted glass, jewelry, silver, earthenware ceramics, embroidery, mosaics, basketry, and carved wood products. These traditional crafts are representative of Jordan’s diverse cultural heritage. Certain parts of Jordan are known for specific crafts. Madaba is famous for its mosaics, and Jerash for its carpets for example. Tourists, as well as locals, looking for authentic Jordanian souvenirs and gifts, or household items that evoke memories and the spirit of Jordan will find an array of hand crafted products to suit their tastes and budget. 

    AL Burgan embroidered home decorations

A brief history of Jordanian handicrafts

Traditional Jordanian Rugs     Handicrafts in Jordan have an impressive and historical heritage. Multiple ancient civilizations have left their footprint on Jordan over the centuries. Not only do major ancient trade routes, established over 5,000 years ago, stretch across Jordan from north to south, they continued to be used as main and vital routes along the Silk Road, thereby exchanging knowledge, culture, art and religion between the major centers of civilization in Europe, Africa and Asia. The Nabataeans, the ingenious architects of Petra, were ancient Arabian merchants who controlled trade routes across the region and were famous for incense such as frankincense and myrrh, and other perfumes and spices, not to mention highly skilled in crafts such as ceramics. These roads were used and rebuilt by the Romans, and were also important pilgrimage routes for both Christians and Muslims. The more recent history of the 19th and 20th centuries has seen Palestinians, Circassians and Armenians – seeking refuge in Jordan – bring their artistic heritage with them, further influencing the diverse cultural traditions in Jordan.

Until very recently, Arab women, and particularly those among the Bedouins, were responsible for producing all their family and home’s needs, and were skilled in a wide variety of crafts needed for daily life and special occasions. Not only did their handmade Jordanian crafts showcase their personal skill, it also displayed their family’s status and tribal affiliations. Today, although modern conveniences have taken over, some skills are still handed down in most homes from generation to generation, such as embroidery. Traditional clothing and home furnishings are experiencing a modern revival. Many young women are choosing to wear custom handmade traditional Jordanian dresses at occasions such as their marriage ceremonies, for example, and in Jordan there are many skilled, creative and affordable fashion designers to choose from. 

 

Handicrafts impact local communities    

Handicraft production in Jordan is helping to provide new sources of income and employment and alleviating poverty in areas that provide few other employment opportunities. Jordan’s handicraft producers are comprised mostly of small businesses and artisans in low income, rural communities where traditional skills are passed down from generation to generation. Jordanian women in both urban and rural areas constitute a large number of the artisans in this sector, due to advantages such as the ability to work from home which is more acceptable within the family and community, flexible work hours and because of the minimal start-up capital needed. Income earned by women helps them to become financially secure and independent and improves their families’ standard of living. 

   Jordanian women are the primary workers in the handicrafts industry in Jordan
 

Women handicraft producers often become community leaders and decision makers, and become active players in the economic and political structures and processes of their societies, and are thus critical to improving the health, education and overall wellbeing of their whole community. Handicraft production in Jordan’s rural communities is benefiting both its local communities and its natural heritage, as many handicraft initiatives have been established to give locals an alternative source of income that does not involve stripping the land of its natural resources.

 

Jordanian Handicrafts 

The following is a brief description of just a few of handmade crafts to be found in Jordan: 

Pottery and Ceramics

Petra was a major center of sculpture and ceramics. Pottery was produced there for six centuries, from the first up to the sixth century AD. Nabataean pottery was considered the most sophisticated in the Middle East. The highly skilled potters used the wheel to produce refined egg-shell thin bowls and painted their wares with beautiful designs depicting nature using paints produced from the natural sandstone of Petra. Today, the art of Nabataean Painted Fine Ware is being revived by the Petra Pottery Association, established by local women from Wadi Musa, Petra who hand craft these beautiful ceramics.

 Ceramics

   Women producing ceramics and pottery in Jordan

Custom made Tree of Life mosaic for wall or floor inset decoration

Mosaics

Mosaics were used to decorate the floors, walls and ceilings of many buildings in Jordan, mainly between the first and eighth centuries AD. These colorful mosaics depicted scenes of everyday life, religious stories or mythological themes. Madaba, which is one of the oldest cities still existing, is famous for the mosaic map of the Holy Land in the Church of St George, made in the sixth century and used to guide pilgrims making their way between holy sites in the region. Today, Madaba is home to the Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration, where local students learn the art of making mosaics by hand, as well as scientific preservation and restoration of the country’s historic mosaic treasures.  Madaba is a hub for local mosaic artisans, workshops and shops. Handmade mosaic crafts are very popular as gifts and souvenirs and provide local artisans with most of their income. Mosaic crafts range from small items such as coasters and picture frames, to large items such as wall hangings and arabesque furniture.

 

 Mosaics

 

Weaving 

 

Weaving is a Bedouin tradition usually passed down from mother to daughter. Bedouin women making rugs in Tafileh, JordanTraditionally, when Bedouins greet their guests, the sitting area is furnished entirely with beautiful hand woven carpets and cushions. Carpets are still a source of pride among local women. Sheep wool and goat hair are used to weave tents, carpets, rugs, cushions, and storage containers; woven together the two fibers form a waterproof barrier. More expensive camel hair went to make rugs. Natural dyes were still used until recently: indigo (planted in the Jordan Valley), pomegranate, onion peel and mulberries were all common, as was the sumac berry (red), kermes insect dye (crimson), cochineal (pink), and even yellowish soil. Salt, vinegar or soda were added in order to make the colors fast.

 

When Jordan’s Bedouins began to settle in houses, they started to buy material instead of making their own and the traditional weaving knowledge almost disappeared. This art form is being revived by the local women of Wadi Rum, where people still set up tents outside their homes as they prefer sitting in them to sitting indoors. Today, hand woven carpets, runners, decorative tapestries and more are crafted by local Bedouin women, introducing a touch of desert beauty to any home. Traditional material has been adapted into stylish and eye catching handbags, purses and other items to appeal as gifts and souvenirs. 

 

The older, more traditional colors (deep reds, navy blues, greens, oranges and blacks), as well as the traditional styles of stripes and diamonds, are being augmented these days by brighter, chemically dyed colors and more modern patterns, to appeal to a new clientele. A wide range of both traditional and modern pieces are usually on offer. The majority of traditionally designed woven pieces are made by women, using only a flat ground loom, which they set up either in front of their home tent in springtime or at village workshops.

 

Weaving with straw is a more affordable woven craft to produce multicolored trays, mats, storage containers or wall hangings. Jordanian women of the north are particularly skilled in this art. Men also weave baskets made of local bamboo.

 

 Textiles & Weaves

 

 

   

 


Traditional embroidered dress by Abla Azar

Embroidery and traditional dress 

Hand-embroidered textiles and needlework are two of Jordan’s strongest craft traditions. Traditionally, dresses embroidered with specific colors and patterns would identify what village an Arab woman came from. Jordanian girls learned the art of embroidery from their mothers and grandmothers, and at one time, girls of all social classes embroidered their own trousseau. A bride’s trousseau consisted of around six to twelve loosely cut robes which she would wear throughout her lifetime. A girl highly skilled in embroidery was expected to attract a quality husband, with older village women judging her skill and playing matchmaker. Handmade embroidered jackets, dresses and cushion covers are available everywhere, in both traditional and modern styles. A number of programs are helping to revive the art of needlework as well as provide local women with supplemental income. High end designs by local fashion designers, such as Abla Azar, are very popular today among Jordanian women, especially to wear on special occasions such as weddings, and are often seen modelled on local catwalks. It is worth paying more for the hand embroidered, high quality items rather than the cheaper machine-embroidered replicas. Popular traditional colours range from shades of red, maroon, purple, and pink, with bright additions of green, orange, and gold. Motifs include trees, flowers, feathers, waves, and geometric zigzags or triangles.

T-Shirts & Traditional Dress

  

Jewelry

Arab brides wear much of their personal wealth in jewelry; these days mainly gold. This jewelry makes up part of a bride’s dower, a mandatory gift from her husband upon marriage, and she is free to do with it as she wishes in herlifetime, providing a safety net in case of future trials such as divorce or widowhood. Traditionally, Bedouin women preferred silver to gold. Striking statement pieces with chunky silver and semiprecious stones are typical of traditional Bedouin jewelry. Incorporated in the designs are usually colored glass, amber and semiprecious stones. Different stones have different significances; blue stones protect the wearer from the evil eye for example. A number of talented Jordanian jewelry designers, including Nadia Dajani, Lama Hourani and the Nabataean Ladies Cooperative, are producing contemporary Arabic jewelry; their unique lines are inspired by Arabic culture, heritage, nature and art.

Silver & Accessories

   One of the women in the Nabataean Ladies Coop working on silver accoessories
 

Mouth blown glass

Jordanian glass blowers are some of the most skilled craftsmen in the region, producing the finest mouth blown glass objects in traditional and regional styles. Glass blowers use a hollow pipe to scoop up a lump of molten glass from a 900 degree Celsius furnace and while continuously rotating the glowing orb, they blow through the pipe. Once the glass has been blown and expanded to its desired size, it is cooled in a special chamber. Jordan’s artisans produce beautiful handcrafted vases, bottles, glasses and other objects in colours such as royal blue and rich green. 

   Christmas decorations made from mouth blown glass balls

Sand Bottles

Sand bottles are as iconic to Jordan as Petra. Jordan’s sand bottles are traditionally crafted by artisans in the south, in Petra and Aqaba, using the vibrant natural colours of local sandstone, of which there are 20 naturally occurring shades, including the pink shades that made Petra famously known as the rose-red city. These days some artisans include artificially coloured sand for an extra pop of colour, but the natural tones remain most popular. The artisans bring their sand bottles to life with charming desert scenes of undulating sand dunes, camels, and names or words of the buyer’s choosing, and make a perfect souvenir or gift from Jordan. It is said that a Petra Native, Mohammed Abdullah Othman, taught himself the craft as a child, collecting his material from nearby mountains and caves. 

  Handicrafts in Jordan

Wood Carving

Olive wood carving is thought to date back to 4th Century Bethlehem, following the construction of the Church of the Nativity. Christian monks taught the art to the city’s residents. Palestinian settling in Jordan brought the art with them, and Jordan is now well known for its many skilled artisans in wood carving and also mother of pearl carvings. Olive wood is ideal for craft-making, one of the reasons being its resistance to decay. Olive wood is carved using simple hand tools. Boxes, picture frames, candle holders, rosaries, vases and religious ornaments and figurines are very popular. Mother of pearl is often incorporated into wooden carved designs. Local Jordanian designers, such as Madaline Marrar, are adding a modern touch to this ancient craft. 

Olive Wood

   Olive wood Nativity Scene
 

Ostrich Eggs

Uniquely designed, hand painted and carved ostrich eggs, made by women from the Azraq Wetland Reserve, using a special dotting technique on infertile ostrich eggs make a beautiful and truly unique handmade gift or souvenir from Jordan. 

Ostrich Eggs

   Tree of Life on an Ostrich Egg

Handmade Recycled Paper

Recycled paper is handmade into new paper products such as notebooks and cards, incorporating natural elements such as dried leaves and flowers.

   Wild Jordan staff recycling paper for packaging

Leather making

Candle lanterns, nature boxes, and other gifts crafted out of goat skin handmade by local Bedouin women of Feynan.

"Piece of Jordan" Souvenir Box - with shmagh, oleander and pebbles (Small)

   Leather framed souvenir boxes

Handmade Soaps

Jordan is a producer of some of the world’s highest quality, cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, and the hilly north of the country is particularly known for the quality of their oil due to the prevalence of groves of ancient olive trees lovingly tended by generations of local farming families. Orjan Soap House is based in the village of Orjan, Ajloun in Jordan, and makes exceptional handmade soaps. Orjan Soap House hand-makes 17 different varieties of soap using olive oil and organically home-grown herbs, and never uses harmful synthetic chemicals, preservatives, artificial dyes or synthetic fragrance oils. All of the handmade soaps are made in small batches to ensure the quality and freshness of each batch. Orjan Soap House is run by local Jordanian women whose families have lived in the neighborhood for generations.

Hand-made Soaps

   Hand made soaps in Orjan, Jordan

Map of Handicrafts in JordanHandicraft Map

The north of Jordan is famous for its ceramics and pottery, rug making, weaving and textiles. The north is also known for its production of natural olive oil soap, produced from local olive oil. Ostrich eggs are produced by skilled artisans in the north east.

Central Jordan is the handicraft hub, with many traditional artisanal cities and towns such as Madaba and Salt located in the center of the country. In particular, mosaics, ceramics, textiles and embroidery, wood carving, mother of pearl carving, painted glass, modern and traditional jewelry, traditional dresses, sculptures, arabesque furniture, paintings many more form of artistic crafts. The Dead Sea produces a wide range of cosmetic and beauty products from the healing salts and minerals of the Dead Sea.

The south of Jordan is known for its textiles, weaving and leather craftsmanship produced by local Bedouin communities, as well as high quality ceramics and pottery and silver jewelry craftsmanship. Artisans in the south are known for creating mouth blown glass and for sand art and sand bottles.  

 

 

Challenges facing Jordan’s handicraft sector

Despite a great amount of quality products available, one area in which Jordanian handicraft producers are lacking is the know how to market and sell their products effectively and to access external markets. For this reason, Jordanian handicrafts are not as widely recognized outside of Jordan as crafts from other countries in the region might be. Added to that, competition from cheap imported souvenirs is as much a problem in Jordan as it is around the globe. It is cheaper and easier for wholesalers and retailers to source products from outside of the country.

Producers of handicrafts in Jordan include non-governmental organizations and cooperatives with handicraft programs employing mostly women from low income backgrounds; micro and small enterprises; and individual or family groups of artisans. There are a number of Jordanian designers who work with producers to design for local, tourist and external markets. The two main handicraft associations in Jordan include the Jordan Handicraft Producers Association and the Jordanian Handicrafts Traders Association, the official body for licensing handicrafts in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (under its Wild Jordan brand), Noor Al Hussein Foundation, Jordan River Foundation and the Jordan Hashemite Fund for Development are examples of organizations implementing successful high end handicraft programs.

A National Strategy for Tourism Handcraft Development in Jordan was produced to help develop Jordan’s handcraft sector.   

 

New Trends in Jordanian Handicrafts

Jordan is witnessing a revival in interest for traditional handicrafts with a modern flair. Numerous designers of fashion, jewelry, home furnishings, art installations and more are choosing to reflect their Arabic cultural heritage in their clothing, jewelry and homes and offices by embracing the fusion of traditional and modern designs that fits their current lifestyle. Just a few of Jordan’s creative designers are listed below:

 

Jordan River Foundation (JRF)

HM Queen Rania inaugurates Jordanian Handicrafts exhibitJRF is a Jordanian non-profit, non-governmental organisation established in 1995 and chaired by Her Majesty Queen Rania. The foundation operates the Jordan River Child Safety and Jordan River Community Empowerment programmes, and aims to engage Jordanians to realise their full economic potential and overcome social challenges.  Since its establishment, JRF works with women from local communities under several socio-economic projects, such as: Bani Hamidah Designs, Jordan River Designs and Wadi Rayan Designs.  Their designs draw inspiration from olive trees, pomegranates, natural and urban and bedouin symbols.Their showroom is located in Jabal Amman.

 

 


Abla Azar

A hardworking woman with a passion for heritage, love and people, designer Abla Azar has over 20 years of experience creating premium traditional embroidery and modernized Arabesque clothing. Abla’s boutique store is in Amman where she sells her custom-made shawls, dresses, blouses, jackets and other traditional clothing specially designed and tailored by her skilled local team of men and women who have inherited the skills to produce these works of art. Abla offers dozens of styles and hundreds of materials and colours to choose from.

http://allfromjordan.com/en/brands/abla-azar.html/

 

Nabataean Ladies Cooperative

At Nabataean Ladies Cooperative, the lost art of Bedouin jewelry is revived by skilled craftswomen melding contemporary and traditional designs worked into silver and metal handcrafted accessories. Because visitors to Jordan are presented with opportunities to buy “Bedouin jewelry” at every turn, it is perhaps not obvious to newcomers that authentic Bedouin Jewelry has almost disappeared. The truth is that gold jewelry has replaced silver as the favorite among Bedouins and Arabs in general. 

Apart from its obvious appeal as adornment, it is important to understand that silver jewelry has always been potent symbol of security and independence for Bedouin women. At her wedding, a bride was approached by guests who, one by one would adorn her with chains of silver coins, chokers, headdresses, necklaces, bracelets, anklets and armbands. Like a portable saving’s account, this dowry would remain with her throughout her life and portions of it could be sold during hard times or for a special occasion.

Silver kitabs or hijabs also served as amulets to scare away evil spirits. Young children often wore noise making amulets to serve this purpose.  A popular design was a cylinder holding protective verses, from the Quran inside it. Blue colored beads, triangles, stars, moons, rosettes or the stylized hands of Fatimah were also thought to keep spirits away. A woman’s jewelry informed onlookers about who she was and where she came from. 

 The people of Wadi Musa have a Bedouin heritage and are the protectors of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. The Nabataean Ladies Cooperative was established in 1996 to revive the disappearing art of Bedouin silver while creating jobs for women.

http://www.nabataeanladies.com

http://allfromjordan.com/en/open-bazaar/silver-and-accessories.html

http://allfromjordan.com/en/handmade-silver-earrings4.html

 

Wild Jordan

Wild Jordan handicrafts are part of the socio-economic development program of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) for local communities. Sixteen handicraft workshops operated by Wild Jordan have been set up in nature reserves around the country to help conserve nature by providing new sources of income and employment for families in villages near to nature reserves to reduce their dependency on the reserves’ natural resources. Wild Jordan workshops use the natural assets of protected areas to create sustainable economic and social benefits for local communities.

These distinctive handmade products, including jewelry, soaps, leather and more, are sold at nature reserves and the Wild Jordan Center in Amman. The unique and high-quality products are wonderful as Jordanian souvenirs and gifts or to decorate your home. They can be customized for corporate and large orders. 

 

 

Lama Hourani

Lama Hourani is the founding principal of her eponymous jewelry line. A designer, artist and adventurist at heart; she applies her background in Product Design and multidisciplinary arts to create one-of-a-kind pieces that are not only commercially appealing but also conceptually meaningful at all scales. In 2000, Hourani launched her first jewelry collection, establishing herself as a trendsetter by making Arab heritage accessible and hip to her peers throughout the Middle East.  Growing up in an artistic family, who founded Foresight32, the first private art gallery in Jordan, Hourani has always been surrounded with art and inspiration. She created her first collection in the gallery's kitchen with basic tools and one silversmith who taught her the foundations of jewelry making. Feeling that the world is divided by ethnicity and religion, she re-created prehistoric art elements and used them as a mean of expression, merging them with contemporary design elements and cultural references from all over the world. She is passionate about cultural innovation and recreating heritage through arts and design. 

http://lamahourani.com/

 

Beit al Bawadi

Beit al Bawadi makes hand crafted ceramics. Drawing on the cultural heritage of the region for inspiration, skilled artisans in the Beit al Bawadi workshop create exquisite ceramic pieces that find their natural setting in any home, office or hotel lobby. The Beit al Bawadi ceramics project was set up by the not-for-profit Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD). For more than twenty years, through Beit al Bawadi, JOHUD has created productive and rewarding employment for more than sixty people.

http://www.beitalbawadi.com/ceramic-jordan

http://allfromjordan.com/en/home-decor/ceramics.html

 

Aennis Eunis Designs

Aennis Eunis graduated with a degree in architecture, and then left Jordan to embark on a career in fashion in places such as Florence and New York. Eunis finds inspiration for innovative shoe designs from his ethnic background and varied worldly experiences. Eunis owes the idea behind his brand to his solid cultural ties, his unique approach to design, and his attention to detail. 

http://www.aenniseunis.com

 

Hayan Maani

Adopting art as a way of life, Hayan Maani is a multi-talented artist whose work covers a wide array of design directions. From paintings and sculpture to calligraphy and interior design, Hayan has steadfastly left his own imprint in his home country Jordan. Firmly believing in the power of expression, individualism and originality, his works are a true reflection of his artistic inner nature.

http://www.hayanmaani.com/

 

Natalie Hijazi

Natalie Hijazi has over 10 years of experience as a 2D artist, illustrator, concept artist and art director within advertising, animation, gaming and film. She is also a skilled painter and enjoys working with water colours, oil painting, not to mention creating designs for her line of handmade silver jewelry.

www.nataliehijazi.com

 

Madaline Marrar – Olive Wood Art

Madaline Marrar is a talented local artist who paints on wooden bowls crafted by men and women with special needs. In Madaline’s own words: "I have an extremely unconventional thinking pattern when it comes to the world around me. I consider myself not only a graphic designer but also an artist. My interests are vast and range from painting, to designing, to filmmaking. Being interested in all things expressive, I love the creative process down to executing an idea to its full capacity.”   

http://beamman.com/stores-and-shopping/1101-talents-of-amman-madaline-marrar

http://allfromjordan.com/en/open-bazaar/olive-wood.html

 

Dania Kurdi & Zahra Kilani 

ZdSuzani was established by Dania Kurdi and Zahra Kilani as a reflection of their love for vintage fabrics, each carrying their own unique rich history and capable of being handcrafted into contemporary styles that answer the call for Ethnic Elegance. ZdSuzani combines vintage fabric with handmade tribal accessories for eastern and contemporary flair. The collection includes kaftans, shawls, clutches, and other accessories. 

https://www.facebook.com/ZdSuzaniDesigns

 

Jo Bedu

With a name that stems from Jordanian Bedouin Heritage, Jo Bedu is one of Jordan’s coolest t-shirt stores! Founded in 2007 by Tamer and Michael, Jo Bedu offers people of all ages cool and funny T-shirts, laptop sleeves, pillows, ipad sleeves, sweaters and stickers. At their small colorful store in Jabal Al Weibdeh, Jo Bedu has over 60 designs, mostly with funny Arabic slogans or common slang words, some English designs like “Wadi Rum and coke” or “I Survived Mansaf” or “ Got jameed?” are also available. Jo Bedu’s Jordanian wear t-shirts make great gifts to take back home, or to wear around the world and show off your Jordanian style! You will surely get people stopping you to ask where you got the t-shirt or what it means!

http://allfromjordan.com/en/open-bazaar/t-shirts-traditional-dress.html

http://allfromjordan.com/en/jobedu-camel-crossing-t-shirt.html

 

Elham & Issa Jewelry

Husband and wife duo Elham Kalaji and Issa Sabeh established their jewelry brand, known simply as Elham & Issa Jewellery, in 2007. Blending tradition, culture, and art with expert craftsmanship and intense attention to detai, each item the couple creates is a singular work of art. Aiming for mystery, the pair believes that the value of a piece of jewelry lies in its secrets.

www.facebook.com/ElhamandIssaJewellery