Self-taught ‘carpentress’ sends powerful message to women in Jordan

woodworker - Zain Al-Jilani
Zain Al-Jilani’s carpentry work is photographed in this undated photo. (Photos: Handouts from Zain Al-Jilani)
AMMAN — Zain Al-Jilani used to be a software engineer. Now she is a self-taught woodworker who goes by “carpentress”. After working for five years in a job she wasn’t passionate about, Jilani, who had been teaching herself how to work with wood for 10 years, took the plunge and started her own business full time. In an interview with Jordan News, she described her love for carpentry, how the pandemic has changed her work, and how she hopes it will inspire other women.اضافة اعلان

Jilani says she fell in love with wood when she started working in an antique shop. Around the same time, she met Jordan’s infamous Duke of Mukhaibeh, who dedicated much of his life to preserving cultural artefacts and historical treasures. Jilani explained that the Duke gave her some antique pieces, which piqued her curiosity, and she began finding out more for herself. 

After her discovery, Jilani began to teach herself how to work with wood and antique pieces: “I learnt it basically from YouTube,” she said. “I thought it was easy for everyone, but it turns out it’s not. I started looking at YouTube videos and also went to a carpenter’s workshop in Sweileh for a month.”

Over the next few years, Jilani continued doing carpentry, DIY, and woodwork alongside her main job, learning more about her craft and occasionally selling pieces. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Jordan last year, she left her day job to pursue her passion full time. “It’s my full time job – it has been from the minute Corona started here in Jordan,” she says.

Since then, Jilani has expanded her work into a fully-fledged business, producing unique pieces such as dining tables, cabinets, benches, and chairs for her customers. Each creation is a fusion of old and new, many of them featuring bold colors and intricate wood carvings.

When asked about her favorite piece, Jilani did not hesitate: The bright red carved coffee table, originally an Indian antique over 70 years old, she said. “It has carving and two butterflies, and connecting them is the carved wood. It’s blending nature with colors and old wood. I love the vibes of nature in it.”

Zain Al-Jilani’s carpentry work is photographed in this undated photo. (Photos: Handouts from Zain Al-Jilani)

The striking red of the Indian coffee table is clearly one of the carpentress’ trademark additions to the antiques she finds. “I love the idea of putting color back into old pieces,” she said. “I love old pieces, I love old wood, I love the authenticity. If it was up to me, I would be doing makeovers for all the old pieces in Jordan.”

Beyond her aesthetic vision, Jilani has a wider message for those around her. She explains how she wants to dispel the idea that women and girls are not practically capable, and how she hopes that her own work can inspire women to take up less conventional roles and interests.

“Something I would like others to hear is that we are in a culture where we are told that we can’t do stuff as women,” she said. “My idea, as well as being my passion, is that we need to stop believing that there are things that men can do that we can’t. We need to clean our minds and get to the real ideas rather than what we were taught.”

With some defiance in her voice, Jilani added, “We are taught that we can’t do anything, we’re always the target. We’re told you can’t go outside or do things because you’re a woman … I’m trying to spread the idea that we can do it.”

Read more Trending