Appliques From The Street Of The Tentmakers Cairo Egypt

Appliqué panel from the Street of the Tentmakers, Cairo, Egypt, 2013. Appliqué panel from the Street of the Tentmakers, Cairo, Egypt, 2013. TRC 2013.0315.

6. Preparing and making a design

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, the appliqué was made exclusively by men (khayamij; ‘maker of tents’) and boy apprentices, but at the end of the century a number of groups (NGOs and commercial groups) started to encourage women and girls to take up the craft.

The girls are taught by master craftsmen who do not object to women carrying out this profession. As a general rule, women’s work tends to include a different range of colours from that of the men (with an emphasis on bright yellows and reds) and is always carried out at home and not in public. It attracts lower payment than is the case for men, even though the final products are equally intricate. One of the stall holders noted (2014) that at present he had 10-15 women working for him, and between 20 and 30 men, depending upon the orders that had come in.

2013.0446b 2Pounced pattern for an appliqué panel, Cairo, Egypt, 2014 (TRC 2013.0446b). For more information, click on the illustration.The designs used to make a panel or tent are first drawn on paper or card by experienced craftsmen. The designs are then either hand copied or traced using pencil, pen or wax crayon of some kind directly onto the ground cloth.

If the designs are very complicated, they are worked out on a large piece of paper to achieve geometrical accuracy; an element of the design is first drawn onto the paper, which is then folded several times depending on the complexity of the design. As a generalisation the older patterns were based on a 6-fold repeat, while by the end of the twentieth century, designs were often based on an 8-fold form. The design is then traced onto the ground material. This is often carried out using a prick and pounce technique, whereby holes are pricked into the paper following the drawn outline of the design and then talcum powder or chalk is rubbed through the holes leaving the dotted outline on the ground material.

Some workmen use paper or card templates to cut out the pattern elements in the required colours. The process is repeated for all the pieces of coloured cloth needed to make the final design. More experienced workmen cut out pieces of coloured cloth in the approximate shape of the required design element.

As the work progresses, the cloth is trimmed and the edges of the cloth tucked under, until it fits exactly the design on the ground cloth. Elements of the designs created were, and are, sometimes highlighted with the use of stem stitch, which is used to create fine lines. One small panel, if properly made, can take many hours to make. The larger panels may take several weeks of intensive work.

Some of the cheaper examples of appliqué panels are made out of two layers of cloth: the ground material and the applied pattern pieces. More expensive examples are often made from three layers with a lining cloth, the ground material and the applied pieces.

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