Last Weavers in Caverns

Art & Culture Desk
Last Weavers in Caverns
Last Weavers in Caverns

Aba is a loose sleeveless cloak open in front, worn as an outer garment. It had wider usage in old times; it served as a warm coat, sleeping blanket, and accoutrement of religious rituals. To receive more blessing, some traditions have recommended wearing aba while performing prayers.

The rich wore abas of soft camel wool, while the majority of people had abas of sheep fleece and goat hair. Aba was quite often a garment of lifetime; it was only too natural if it bore patches.

Some say you never know what aba is good for until you have one. A decent aba is like one's second skin. You know when to wear it, particularly in the notorious cold of kavirs, the cruel sand deserts of Iran.

No one needs to remind a desert trekker the worth of a good gear, and aba was once a precious asset for every man living in Dasht-e Kavir, Isfahan Province, where day and night temperatures can differ up to 70 °C during a year.

Naeen, an old city located in Dasht-e Kavir, has long been famous for its abas. The abas made of camel fleece or soft wool, are in yellow, black, red and chestnut.

Naeen's aba workshops are mainly located in Mohammadieh district at eastern margin of the city. The shops are in fact caverns dug in the earth. This is why they are called 'sardab' (vault). The caverns lay there before arrival of Muslims. They open to the east; a possible indication of an earlier sun cult.

There are about 15 workshops in all, each usually accommodating up to 10 weavers. But it is not surprising to find only one aged man or a couple of old pals instead, patiently threading the shuttle and shifting the warps.

Each bolt of aba wool cloth is 6 meters long, weighing about 2.5 kg. The quality and integrity of the cloth is largely determined by how the undesired part of the wool is combed away. Both the wool cloth and the tailored abas are for sale. 

Admirers of such exquisite item are welcome to visit the workshops. After the few remaining grand masters of aba weaving craft, there may be no trace of Naeen-made abas.