A highlight of our trip to Egypt was going to the area of the khan where these traditional craftsmen work and sell what they and others behind the scenes sew, traditionally tents and the colourful hangings that line them. I refer you right now to the blog by Jenny Bowker, http://jennybowker.blogspot.com posting August 2nd 2007 for some fabulous examples of the work by this dwindling group of people. The largest pieces are over 2m dimensions, and they are quite used to producing works much larger too – we saw one piece being commissioned as part of a large set of hangings(99) and it was about 1.5m x 3? 4? m length.
My pictures show: UL Ashraf seated cross-legged in front of samples of what he has designed and made or had some others make – he is a caligrpaher also, a passionate one, and this shows in some of his designs he explained to us, outlining the koranic content of the design. The protection of individual or special and innovative designs is important, a number of times we were shown pieces by people holding them up with their plain backs to the street and the curious eyes of nearby compeitors. UR is a closeup of the piece in Ashraf’s quick and nimble hands. What a wonderful person to meet and talk with, as were all the people we met in this expedition which took us around just some of the stands where Jenny is clearly a popular friend. We were made very welcome and felt very priveleged. LL is a shop set up as a tent, with a young boy sewing the traditional trimmings with tent lining designs on printed fabric, and many of which will be used to decorate homes and surroundings in the current season of Ramadan. LR shows one way the hangings were/are used -as windbreaks in the desert. I took this photo on our expedition to the Western Desert, organised by Jenny and i naddition to my DH there were a couple of other Australian quilters, Gloria Loughman and Sharon Hall plus DHs, and Esterita Austin from the USA. Our Bedouin guides are setting up the resting/sitting/optional sleeping area in a U-shape formed by the vehicles, lined up against the prevailing wind. The posts on which the fabrics are mounted are unrolled, the ends put in the sand, and the lower edges have sand shovelled up over them, then the huge colourful rag rugs laid down. All done in about 10 minutes. Most of us opted to sleep out under the stars on mattresses on the sand – one or two crept back into the sheltered area during the night as the wind rose a little. I slept out all night and awoke a couple of times in the moonlight after 2-30 am – and then again to see the early dawn and watch the sun appear. At this time, too, a little desert fox, fenneq, was busily scouting our camping area to make sure nothing by way of scraps from the previous night had escaped his notice. DH took a great photo which I might post some time.
The impossible competition from printed fabrics is causing the tentmakers’ number to fall dramatically. Tourism which has not yet recognised the value of this traditional craft, clearly offers hope. Readers of Jenny’s blog know that the exhibition she took to Australia earlier this year was a smash hit, and everything sold. Their art was greated with great admiration. She is currently doing a similar trip to France (read the frustrations of obtaining customs clearance etc in her most recent post) and no doubt when she returns home later this week will get to her blog and report another huge success. Through these exhibitions and the production of the book she has in the pipeline about their work, Jenny aims to raise the level of recognition so that one day arriving visitors will ask their guides and their hotels “Where do we find the Tentmakers?” and, that hotels and guides will know where to take or to direct them, of course.