Arab souk in Amman is treasure chests for do-it-yourselfer! Here’s my journey

silk scarf upcycle Turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse (or silk scarves into a brilliant curtain) with upcycled materials sourced from your local souk.  Make this patchwork curtain in under an hour and for about $10 – a little more work could turn it into a shower curtain or duvet cover. Get jiggy with junk!

Here in sleepy, post-Ramadan Amman, I am slowly adjusting to recent underemployment. My head loops with pithy proverbs as I stumble through “work days” newly freed from work.  And those ancient sayings? My sense of recall reveals me for the Yankee workhorse that I am.

A penny saved is a penny earned. Waste not, want not. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas (that last popped to mind after stealing a nap with the pup, I think more Catholic guilt than Puritan ethics).

So it occurs to look for the silver lining in all this free time. I’m in the house more now – what’s bothering me about that? Let’s start with the wall of shelves in a room where I write.  Practical storage for dusty photo albums, a decades’ worth of Guinness World Records, bags of unknit yarn, and hundreds of CDs (you remember CDs, don’t you?); each calls to me like a siren to a shipwreck of potentially wasted time.

How to quiet their enchanting voices so I can write?  Out of sight, out of mind (oy, these sayings!) – I need a screen.

silk scarf curtain
An amazing market pops up in downtown Amman every weekend.  On Thursday morning, the vendors of Souk Abdeli set up their racks of clothes and tables crammed with housewares and toys under a roof of orange and blue tarpaulins. The shops stay open for a continuous 48 hours, sellers sleep under their tables in shifts.

Inventory changes with the seasons. Winter was all about woolens.  Stacks of scarves appear in summer. And what better place to shop for headscarves than the Middle East?  They come in cotton, polyester, mystery fiber – and creamy, lush silk.  Plunge your arms into tabletop tangles and feel for your fiber of choice.

About half are damaged (stained or slightly torn) – you won’t know for certain until you get your catch home for closer inspection. Prices range from 4 for a dinar, to 2 dinar each (in USD, that’s 35 cents to under 3 bucks!), so slap on your game face and get your haggle on. Go home, rinse them in soapy water, hang them to air dry (20 minutes in Jordan sunshine), and iron them flat. I am obsessed.

For this project, I gathered my pocket-hankie-sized specimens (do people really empty their noses into silk? I mean, really?). Measure the area to be covered, and add about 20% to the width for a slight billow.  Group scarves with acceptable neighbors and machine sew them into long panels.  Next sew the panels together, and do a quick hem at the top for a curtain rod. (I went with an Ikea tension cable).  Better tailors than me would probably hem the curtain all around.

And there you have it.  A colorful swatch of sartorial history; once-swanky accessories donated by European women to their local charity shops, ending up in a Middle East souk, and bought by an idle American who is adjusting to life without a business card.

The souk reopens this weekend.  Wonder what can I do with with old t-shirts?

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