This is Mr Haitham Elarab from Syria. He is a master at making ‘Igal’ or ‘Egal’ and he learned this from his late father. I walked into his shop this afternoon after having lunch at Souq Waqif. Although the souq is a tourist area, with many shops selling antiques made last week and useless ugly house decorations, they do have a few shops that in my opinion, are little gems. The three that I remember well are a shop that specialises in making Uud, the gulf’s number one musical instrument; a photo shop that sells images of the area and has a small studio to take photos of foreigners in local dress (he has a fantastic collection of antique cameras – but not for sale); and this tiny Igal shop.
I didn’t buy one this time, he will have the Kuwaiti style in a month or so. For my ‘special’ size head, I need to have it custom made! Last time I made it in Kuwait, I will make my next one here. According to Haitham, the best Igal makers are the Syrians. I’m sure he wasn’t just saying that because he’s Syrian. He struck me as the kind of man who LOVED his work. I fealt it the instant I walked in.
He was very welcoming, so I asked him how they make these, and if it was ok for him to be seen on my blog. I gave him the address. He sat exactly as you see him and continued to talk, softly, confidentally and not a word too many.
The process starts with a cotton core. Black thread is then tightly spun around it according to the thinkness required and – I can’t think of a better word – the ‘tread’ desired. The result is a solid and tight rope which now needs to be closed into a loop. This is where the science stops, and the art begins. The closing of the loop is done with wonderful precision, to avoid twisting, and the joint has to look good and remain almost unnecessarily strong. The final touches are: some more black thread to seal it completely, and the forced twisting and hammering into shape.
If it’s a Qatari Igal, however, then he’s only half done at this point. You see, they all have long ‘tails’ (not the men but their Igals) that are attached to the main set. There is also a unique pattern that ends up sitting at the back of the wearer’s head. The prices range from cheap to relatively expensive. The expensive ones simply take longer to make and the whole things sounds perfectly fair. Especially, if like me, you buy one of these every few years.