I have just got back from Egypt where I attended a conference about science and archaeology (organised by the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo), as well as giving a lecture about the textiles and garments of Tutankhamun at the Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza. The conference was held in Cairo and Aswan, which made the logistics difficult, but on the other hand we were able to talk with many more people.
During my stay in Cairo and Aswan I had several textile moments and I thought you might like to see/hear about them. Firstly in Aswan I came across a hand weaver working on the island of Elephantine. His family comes from Naqada (you can see that with some of the striped and triangular designs he produces), but his loom was unusual. It was very short and tension was provided by a system of winches, with the warp thread going vertically. The weight under the loom was a statue of an ancient Egyptian goddess! (a modern version I should add). The man makes lovely cotton shawls of various sizes.
Then back in Cairo, near the Street of Tentmakers, we went into the last of the tarbush makers (fezzes, a form of headgear) from that area. How long they will be able to continue working is another question. Tourist numbers have dropped by 80% and many craftsmen, including the tarbush makers, are really struggling. A little further on there was a man producing gold thread embroidery – I have never seen anyone doing this in public – the results yes, but not the craftsmen. His work was tensioned by a small, rectangular frame and he used card templates for the designs, which were covered with a cotton thread and then crinkly purl (a form of metal thread). His young son was helping him!
And finally onto the Street of the Tentmakers, where, once again, I bought too much. But these will form an important element in the TRC’s new exhibition that opens on the 4th of January (that is my excuse and I am keeping to it). Some of the pieces are exquisite and I have never seen such fine appliqué work before. Amazing. You can see these and many other pieces at the TRC Gallery from January until the end of April 2015.
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 14 December 2014