Woven Wool Stools & the Heritage of Palestinian Crafts: a conversation with Lara Salous

A conversation between Handmade Palestine Morgan Cooper and weaver-designer-artist Lara Salous.

Morgan: Hi Lara. Great to see you. We've known each other for what, 6 years?

Lara: Yes I think so!

Morgan: It's so great to reconnect and have you as a partner artisan with us! Let's talk about history and culture! What inspired you to start weaving your wool stools?

Lara: It basically came through my academic background in interior design and architecture. I always see this traditional straw stool, and it's always the same: same design, same style, same materials. People aren't really making that stool much anymore. Functionally and materially, it isn't so appealing to people and we are losing that heritage. So I just upgraded it to local materials and skilled labours. Unlike the straw that's imported from Israel, I am looking to use more authentic, locally sourced materials and preserve our traditional knowledge to re-create these stools.

The wooden frame itself used to be joined manually and using the joinery method that I've talked about before. Free from staples and metal fixtures, we rely on this traditional knowledge. This kind of carpentry method is increasingly rare in Palestine. This generation of carpenters don't use it anymore. I'm working to revive this method.

Morgan: Amazing. For me, it's always really important that we tell the story behind the craft. The hands who make the pieces and the methods, especially when they are rooted in tradition and committed to preservation. Can you talk about the hands involved?

Lara: I would say that the straw chair used to be a production by an individual artist or from a family business. It's the same pretty much today. Or maybe even more individuals are making it. What I'm trying to do is involve as many people as I can in making the chair. There is first, the celebrity of the team, the sheep. Then there's the man who shears the sheep. The woman who cleans and beats the wool. The woman who prepares it for spinning and rolling. The woman who actually spins it. And then the dying, sometimes that's me and sometimes another woman.

There's also the wooden frame, so we have the carpenter and the other person who lathes the wood and then ultimately the man who does the painting. Ultimately I gather the wool and wood and design the pattern. Of course I have an assistant who helps me weave. We are in total 12 people, 12 sets of hands. What I'm trying to do is engage with the handmade aspect. It's our heritage. And it renders my work collaborative. Thirdly, we need to be aware of our local economy and avoid the industrial spaces of machines and repetitive labor. These pieces feature so many hands and are not the production of any single workshop.

Morgan: Tell me about colors. It's fantastic to look at your IG and to visit your studio!

Lara: I took my inspiration form the diversity in our landscape and climate in Palestine. The colors make me feel so energetic and these colors can also feed others' energies with happiness and pleasure. The most important thing is that if you look at our traditional woven wool rugs, you can see and take pleasure in these vibrant colors mixed in gorgeous designs. I believe we need to give our interiors these colors.

Morgan: So you commented to me today how there's no replication. Let's talk about that.

Lara: It's something of my personality that I challenge myself all the time to come up with new patterns and new designs. People also are more interested to see new designs each time. Sometimes I mix different colors in a similar pattern or I create completely new designs. 

Morgan: I want to ask one more question before I let you keep weaving. Tell me, what inspires you to create?

Lara: Simply when you create, you feel pleasure and take joy in it. I feel happy. That's the secret. When you create something that you feel is so beautiful, you feel the joy.

Morgan: Anything to add?

Lara: I am in love with people's reactions to my work, to the patterns. The encouragement of my clients is like food for the soul.

Morgan: Thank you so much for your time. It's been so much fun photographing and hanging out today. I want to end by inviting folks to check out your collection on our site and support you and all the other hands involved in creating these gorgeous stools. The quality is really so excellent! Thank you Lara.

Lara: Thank you Morgan for your time. It was such a pleasure!

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