Weaving in Lebanon was not exclusive to some privileged families or villages, as opposed to most other crafts. The weaving crafts are part of the country’s history and played a significant role in its economy as they have involved large communities, like sericulture and threading did as well. At the beginning of the 20th century, Lebanon accounted for a few hundred weaving looms, while today, these crafts survive barely yet continuing to deliver some magnificent craftsmanship.
The first three Lebanese flags were woven in Zouk-Mikhael tapestry factories (14 km from Beirut). In the old Zouk-Mikhael souk, weavers work on looms where the warp thread (hidden in the tapestry) is horizontally placed. Their tapestries resemble those of the Aubusson factory for the complexity of their drawings and the variety of the colors used.
Zouk-Mikhael craftsmen also weave table clothes, small silk bags, jackets and abayas, traditional ceremonial cloaks woven with wool or silk and embroidered with rich sparkling motifs.
The weaving of Abayas takes us to the villages of Bchetfine and Baadaran, where Druze traditions have promoted the development of these ceremonial cloaks weaving. Indeed, the Druze Sheikhs started weaving their own abayas in respect for their religion’s teachings which praised poverty and destitution.
The Bchetfine Druze used the horizontal warp loom, as in Zouk-Mikhael, to produce thick woolen over garments ornamented with stripes or floral motifs. These elegant yet comfortable abayas were to be worn at home.
On the other hand, the ceremonial abaya was woven in Baadaran. The latter was worn for important ceremonies and was inspired from Beiteddine’s dark colored and gold embroidered cloaks.
Until today, one can come across one of those ancient vertical weaving looms traditionally installed in the shade of an olive tree or grapevine in the villages of Kousba (17km from Tripoli) or Chhim (Chouf region, 47km from Beirut). These vertical looms are still used to weave goat hair tents or carpets. This fabric is particularly useful as it is water-resistant; the goat hair shrinks when damp. Goat hair fabrics became essential to the nomadic lifestyle as they helped protect the Bedouins from wind and rain in the winter as well as from the heavy heat in the summer.
The goat hair wool was purchased in Baalbek, washed, combed, and then threaded by the women. As for the men, they took care of the weaving. The loom used for weaving goat hair fabrics was made of a wooden piece framed by two pickets. The latter were planted in the ground and one end of a chain went through them. The weaver then attached the other end of the chain to his feet so that by moving them he allowed for the threads to separate and for the weft to pass. The woven strips of fabrics were then sewed together forming the ceiling and the walls of a tent. The ground was covered with carpets. The tents were colored in black, gray or beige.