The Stitch Like an Egyptian exhibit showcased several wonderful appliqué pieces made by tentmakers in Cairo. For thousands of years, complex canvas appliqué art decorated the interiors of tents and homes in the Middle East. There are only a small group of Egyptian artists (about 55, all men) continuing this tradition, working in their small shops along a covered street. Inspiration for the elaborate designs comes from architecture, Islamic carvings, calligraphy and nature. Some have circular mandala patterns, some have square and rectangular designs and others are pictorial. Here are examples of all of these. The color choices and sophisticated patterns are stunning.
This circular pattern above, entitled 573 Ekramy, is from the Al Farouk Shop and has Romy and lotus patterns. The one below, 353 Hosam, is from the Mohamed Hashem Shop. It is a complex Romy design with a star center. Romy applique incorporates a distinctive little curlicue that comes from the era of the Fatimids when the calligraphy permitted in mosques was embellished with small curls and tips that looked like growing plants of leaflets. It often winds under and over like Celtic applique, but is allowed two “overs” or two “unders”.
The next two utilize square and rectangular designs. 469 Hosam, 49″ x 58″, was made at the Al Farouk Shop. It has stylized lotus borders with Romy designs.
Here is another, the only one I saw done in a monochromatic pallet. I love the blue and white in 477 Mahmoud. 61″ x 68″, made at the Fattoh Shop. It has a vase with lotus and Romy, two side columns and an intricate lotus border.
The designs are made by folding paper and punching holes in one-eighth through all the layers. The paper is unfolded and laid over the background. Talcum powder, charcoal or cinnamon is rubbed over the surface making tiny dots on the fabric. Then the dots on the fabric are joined with a lead or white pencil to complete the transfer of the pattern. This technique has been used for the last 4,000 years.
Last, but not least, is the pictorial. This wonderful tree full of colorful birds, 703 Aly, 57″ x 57″, was made at the Mohamed Ibrahim Shop.