2 November 2013

Chéchia - traditional Tunisian felted hat (Arabic: شاشية)

Chéchia is the name given to a distinct hand-made Tunisian felt hat worn by men in Tunisia and its neighbouring countries.  Some people wrongly assume that a Chéchia is the same as a Fez.  This is not so, a Fez is more rigid and comes with a black tassle whereas a Chéchia is more supple and does not have a tassle. 

The fabrication of a Chéchia involves a time-consuming process which is made up of seven steps.  These are as follows:
Spinning of the wool/filage de la laine: Djerba et Gafsa ;
Knitting/tricotage : Ariana (par des femmes spécialisées appelées kabbasat/this is done by women who specialise in this called kabbasat) ;
Felting/foulage : El Batan (dans les eaux de la Medjerda/At a place called El Batan in the waters of the Medjerda river) ;
Carding wool/cardage : El Alia (origine du chardon/the thistles are grown in El Alia which is North of Tunis on the road to Bizerte) ;
Dyeing/teinture: Zaghouan/this is done in a place called Zaghouan which is around 100km due South of Tunis;
Giving it shape/mise en forme : Tunis ;
Finishing touches/finitions : Tunis

It is appropriate to provide a definition of the word felt here so that you can understand the process through which the large knitted woollen hat on the right-hand side went through in order to resemble the smaller, shrunken and pressed version on the right-hand side of the above photograph.

Felt, noun
A kind of cloth made by rolling and pressing wool or another suitable textile accompanied by the application of moisture or heat, which causes the constituent fibres to mat together to create a smooth surface. https://www.google.co.uk/#psj=1&q=define+felt

The felted Chéchia is then brushed.  This used to be done with the natural dried flower of a thistle as shown in the above photograph.  This process is known as "cardage" in French and the thistle flower known as a Chardon originated in a place called El Alia on the way to Bizerte a town in the North of Tunis.  The brushing of the felt is now done with a metal brush which looks like a bottle brush.

Once the felted hat has been brushed, it is dyed in a place called Zaghouan which is around 100km due South of Tunis.  The shop keeper in Tunis kindly explained to me that the red dye for the Chéchia's is natural and is apparently obtained from cochineal (which consists of the dried bodies of insects Dactylopious coccus which live on species of prickly pear Opuntia)

This photo shows the cylindrical terracotta base which resembles and up-side down flower pot.  This is used to give the Chéchia its shape.

Chéchia's used to be worn by men both young and old but these days they are only worn by a dwindling minority.  The shop keeper I spoke to lamented the demise of the Chéchia's saying the ubiquitous mass-produced, cheaper baseball cap was now the fashionable, sought after hat of choice for the young Tunisian men.  Chéchia's have for the most part been relegated as a curiosity purchase for tourists and can be found in most souvenir shops.  What a pity that this traditional, hand-made Tunisian felted hat has fallen out of fashion.  For the record at the time of writing this blog post I was informed that one Chéchia costs 25 Tunisian dinars equivalent of 11 Euros/15 US Dollars/9.52 British Pounds.  A bargain considering it is hand-made, made of 100% wool and a beautiful fashion accessory.

Voici un lien qui donne un explation en français de la Chéchia et

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