Wickerwork : craftsmen with golden fingers

Wickerwork : craftsmen with golden fingers

The sparterie, craft activity based on plant material is practiced throughout, all Tunisia, Nabeul is its capital of nattiers.

The harvest of rushes, smar, was before the intervention of the public domain managed in an original way.

The mats that cover the floors of mosques and mausoleums of saints, the entrances of houses, the benches of cafes and as insulation between the bed and the floor, and perfect carpets for domestic work, drying couscous or other spices when the mats, covered with immaculate drapes are spread in the middle of the patios or on the terraces.

The nattiers are almost all in Nabeul and in the same district, the Rbat where the street of nattiers stretches.

The work of the nattier is done at home in a workshop adjoining the house provided that it is humid. The workshop of the nattier is often a large vaulted room surmounted by a loft to increase the space.

The preparation of rushes is an operation that requires know-how and patience. First, drying in the shade and away from the rain, otherwise they break or rot. Then the rushes are sorted according to the colors, the size and the gauge to ensure the homogeneity of the weft and the tinctorial unicity of each piece. Then the nattier applies himself to dye the ornamental rushes which ensure the patterns and the stripes with natural colors of vegetable origin, generally madder and pomegranate bark. Each nattier keeps a secret to realize his dyes which make his fame.

The year 1942 was a feverish year for the production of mats, the German army placed a large order for the bedding of its troops and chemical dyeing and other colors were introduced by the products of Ciba, Zondoz and Francolor.

The loom and the tools do not require any capital, the loom called "noul" is made by the local carpenter. A saying goes: "The poor man's loom gives the poor man's carpet".

The workshops, often adjoining the house, are marked by bundles of rushes in front of the threshold, yellow, green, burgundy and blue-violet. At the entrance of the workshop, the horizontal looms, barely raised, are spread out, as the light obliges. The weft is formed by esparto cords, which gave the mats a coarse and thick form, the introduction of hemp threads has allowed not only the manufacture of fine mats, but other objects in variegated rush: satchels, cigarette cases, baskets, placemats and even poufs and tops of deck chairs.

The weaving is done by two or three people when the mat is very wide and silence is king. The dexterity of the weavers is obvious and the harmony of their hands demonstrates a secular know-how that is passed from father to son.

The decoration is done according to ancient motifs of pure forms, as on the carpets, a semantization of usual objects, animals and flowers, which confer to the products an ornamentation necessary to their marketing.

The mats are sold at the Friday markets in Nabeul, and on the other markets of the country, as in Djerba and Gabes, their trade is often coupled with the trade of the pottery, as it is noticed in the Souk of Sidi Mahrez in Tunis.

Unfortunately, the surge of Asian plastic objects is invading the market, and today we find mats woven in plastic rushes that are even made in Jordan.

The other activity of the esparto industry is the work of esparto.

The esparto grows in the steppe regions between Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine, it is used to make baskets for agricultural activities, large baskets for the transport of fruits and vegetables, flat baskets to fan the cereals and peanuts specialty of the region, huge bissacs, loads of mules and especially the scurtins necessary for the cold pressing of olives required by the oil mills. Now with the multiplication of the beaches, the parasols are formed of wooden structures covered with enormous circular mats in esparto. Dar Chaabane and Hammamet keep this activity which is threatened of disappearance because the craftsmen are almost all sexagenarians.

The baskets are made in Somaa, Korba and Menzel Horr. Recovered from small dwarf palm trees, the leaves are dried, striated and finely braided into strips to make baskets, bags and hats. Small oval mats for individual prayer, sajjada, are also made in these localities, and decorated with palms dyed like the rushes of the nattiers.

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