If you’ve ever heard of the Women’s Handicraft Centre but never been – add it to the list as it’s one of Abu Dhabi’s lesser known attractions but one that is definitely well-worth seeking out. The centre is somewhere in deepest Karamah with no particular landmarks of note nearby, and if you don’t know where the centre is located, don’t follow the directions in google maps to the Women’s Handicraft Centre – instead, type in General Women’s Union and that should get you to the right side of the place where the car park is (and avoid you being on the wrong side of a locked gate with your car on the other when you go to leave later!).
First of all, enter the main exhibition hall via the doors you can’t miss and where the (slightly uninspiring) museum and shop are located. After a brief wander around the exhibits that depict how some of the handicrafts are performed and a few histories of the region, you’ll need to buy a ticket and the helpful attendant will take you over to where it really gets interesting, the handicraft centre itself.
The handicraft centre is made up of a number of rooms, each marked outside the door as to which craft they are devoted to. It doesn’t matter where you start, but work your way around them all to see traditional palm weaving, saddu weaving (which is classified on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage), tailoring, talli work and lots more traditional Emirati handicrafts being made.
You must take off your shoes before entering each building, and always ask for permission before taking photographs. Many of the women will not want to be photographed or will need to cover their hair first.
The woman in the above photos agreed to have her picture taken as long as her face could not be seen. The first photo shows her joking around with one of the palm leaf woven baskets on her head – both herself and the other women in the room all found this hilarious! The second photo shows her after the joke when the laughter had subsided and she went back to work. I was also interested to note the intricate beaded and handcrafted designs she wore on the calves over her sirwal trousers.
I found many of the women to be very friendly and welcoming, almost insisting I took photos, whereas others were much more conservative. Some of the older ladies also only spoke Arabic, so communication was either with hand gestures and facial expressions, or with the help of some of the surrounding younger and english speaking ladies.
But it’s not just women at the centre, there’s also a room of very talented males who work creating, decorating and tailoring ornate arabic clothing with very detailed machine embroidery. The resulting dresses are beautiful and are available to buy within the main exhibition hall.
The ‘shop’ in the main exhibition hall consists of a small bookshelf with a range of palm woven gifts, saddu weaving in the form of table runners, place mats and the like, notebooks with woven covers and various nick knacks. During my visit I found that the most beautiful works and gifts were still in with the ladies, not yet having been delivered to the shop so if you saw something that you liked and you can’t see it on the shelves, do ask and they will most likely be able to fetch it for you.
The prices are also very reasonable, especially considering the amount of work that goes into each item.
I bought a small palm woven basket and I just couldn’t resist the handmade dolls from the ladies tailoring section. This palm basket would take around a week to make they told me, and each doll around two weeks with numerous different ladies being involved – each one with a responsibility for a different part.
The Women’s Handicraft Centre is located in the Karamah area of Abu Dhabi (put General Women’s Union into google maps for directions) and is open from Sunday to Thursday each week from 7am to 3pm. The best time to visit though to see the handicrafts in action is between 9am and 12pm when the women are working. Outside of those times only the main exhibition centre is open.