By Ruqaya al Kindi
Sewing the Omani kumma, a piece of reinforced fabric embroidered with beautiful patterns made by women and worn by men, is one of the works that contribute to preserving the heritage of this ancient country. The preservation of this legacy has added an important dimension to building a modern Oman.
Kumma, in the past, was made by hand, and housewives took it as a hobby that brought them an abundant amount of money. Nowadays, technology has aided in the fast production of this important Omani identifier with many factories both located in Oman and other countries producing the said product in large quantity in a shorter amount of time which result in a drastic drop in pricing.
“Kumma is made from very simple tools which include threads, scissors, a needle and a kumma template/pattern (two pieces of fabric). Like other manual professions, making one requires a lot of patience and effort’’, shared Fatima al Tawakli, who has been producing kumma manually for the last seven years.
While factories mass-produce kummas in recent times, stitching Omani kumma by hand is still widely practised in different wilayats all over the country.
With the production divided into two stages, Fatima shared that, “The specialised tailor, in the beginning, prints the drawing on the fabric and fills in some details so that the drawing stands out correctly. The women, in the past, would bring a piece of white cloth and draw on it something that is inspired by Omani nature or from buildings or Islamic inscriptions, and then cut the piece according to the size to be sewn.”
“The women sew and embroider the drawing in attractive colours. Kumma comes in the form of two pieces. After the embroidery is completed, the machine comes and merges the two pieces, where the kumma is completed and becomes ready to be worn’’, Fatima said.
Manual production also used two types of threads — a thin and a thick one.
“These threads are made wet with water as water adds more strength to the thread and prevents it from breaking during the sewing period. A large needle is pushed into the kumma to help make a small hole in it and from there, the women begins sewing’’, shared Ruqaya al Hashmi, who has been making kumma for the last six years.
Both women are in agreement that mass-produced kummas affected the demand for hand-embroidered kumma.
“While demand for hand-embroidered kumma remains, it’s not as much as before due to its high price. Machine-made kummas are usually sold at a cheaper price. Thankfully, there are still people who are passionate and love hand-stitched kumma and are willing to pay especially if they see the quality’’, Ruqaya said.
“As the hand-stitched kumma are more expensive than the factory-made ones, you’d usually find people haggling for a lower price. Because of the current challenges and the stiff competition, there are also not a lot of shops for handmade kummas’’, Ruqaya added.
“It is not necessary to have shops in an era where social media platforms exist.” Fatima shared. Fatima promotes her work through her Instagram account “@tagiti_”, Ruqaya as well “@komty_”.
The prices of the Omani kumma vary according to its quality. Those that have lots of details and inscriptions are usually more expensive. The price of a machine-made kumma is estimated at RO 3, while a handmade kumma may start from around RO 30 and exceed RO 100.
“What determines the quality of kumma is the perfection of stitches (which is a single turn or loop of thread). Stitches are the fundamental elements of sewing and when buying a handmade one, should look into the excellent filling of voids, and the cleanliness of the punch inside and out’’, Fatima pointed out.
The time required to sew a piece depends on the patterns required to decorate it, which also affects its price when it is put on the market.
“Omani women, sometimes, spend several months to complete one kumma. This is determined by the type of stitch, the shape of the drawing in the kumma’s pattern, and the size of kumma (because it determines the daily working hours). The diversity of stitches is the most prominent form of the Renovation in the kumma without compromising its original identity’’, Fatima mentioned.
Despite the high price of the Omani kumma, Ruqaya believes that this profession can provide a sufficient source of income for its owners. “Choosing a suitable colour and shape, taking care of accuracy, quality and speed of performance, the profession can provide sufficient income for its professionals.”
Ruqaya confirms that a lot of people complain about the prices, and she said, “But if you come to think about it, this piece that you paid for is not just a product, but hundreds of hours, experiences, frustration and moments of pleasure. I mean, you bought a part of someone else’s soul and life.”