Today I have a really interesting topic for you: the Tentmakers of Cairo.
They do wonderful appliqué work on sturdy canvas which was originally used to decorate the interior of tents in the Middle East. This work is called Khayamiya. It is an original craft and since many generations the skills are passed along from father to son.You can read more about the history of Khayamiya here.
As with quilts this art form was not recognized by collectors and/or museums. The art and the artists were “discovered” by visitors to Egypt. The Australian quilt artist Jenny Bowker brought them into the quilting world where they can be found at major quilt shows for some years now. Jenny Bowker tries to promote their work, not only to show the world what a stunning craft this is but also to support the stitchers as their art is a dieing one in their home country. You can find more about the tentmakers at Jenny’s website.
So if you are lucky you can find the tentmakers’ booth at one of the major quilt shows. If you walk into it there is a firework of colors,
there are some signs that someone is working here (like snippets of fabric on the ground),
and sometimes you even can watch one of the tentmakers working.
The beautiful appliqué pieces are only made by men with fathers teaching their sons. A skilled stitcher works really fast and often without marking the appliqué pieces. And still it takes him one to six months (depending on the size) to finish one of these beautiful pieces.
If you want to know more about this craft and their makers I have some videos for you:
In this video by Bonnie McCaffery the tentmakers not only show their stunning pieces but also describe how they design and how they work.
And in this video Jenny Bowker introduces two tentmakers and their colorful pieces. But the really interesting part is what Jenny has to say about their way of life and work.
Here a tentmaker shows the whole process of making a pattern, transferring it to the canvas and stitching the appliqué. Every traditional quilter (in a certain age I should add) recognizes the whole process. It’s the same way we learned to make patterns and transfer them to the fabric. (This was the time before water soluble pens were on the market.)
And last but not least there is a whole documentary on this ancient craft.
If you get a chance to see one of the tentmakers’ exhibitions don’t miss it. You will see a lot of colors, patterns and beautiful work and you will meet really friendly people.