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 2013.0442.

7. Appliqué patterns and colours

During the twentieth century the style and colours used for the appliqué panels have changed considerably. An early twentieth century description of the Street of the Tentmakers and the two styles of appliqué panels then being produced was given by the English Orientalist, Douglas Sladen, in his book, Oriental Cairo (1911). This book was a tourist guide to the history, life, shops, buildings and so forth in Cairo. The first style he noted was the use of calligraphic designs, with texts taken from the Koran. The second was for the tourist market and featured Pharaonic scenes (Sladen 1911:81-82):

2013.0615Appliqué panel from the Street of the Tentmakers, Cairo, Egypt (TRC TRC 2013.0615), with a calligraphic design taken from the Koran. For more information, click on the illustration.


One of his happy hunting-grounds is the Tentmakers' Bazar, which might have been designed for tourists. Its shops, in a sort of arcade which has a College behind it, are larger and opener, and there is enough colour here for the whole of Cairo. Most of its shops have their owners hard at work embroidering till a victim passes; the floors are covered with embroidery in the making, the walls with canvases appliquéd with texts from the Koran and caricatures of the tomb-paintings of the Pharaohs. If you want colour you buy texts; red, white, and blue blended are the quietest tints used for texts; they may have yellow added, and a violent violet and a gaseous green are also very popular. The colours of some of the new texts intended for purchase by tourists are crude enough for a factory-girl's summer hat. But the faded texts which have done duty for mosque or marriage for many years are exquisite. Their colouring was probably flowerlike in its beauty when they were fresh; they have faded into tints like nature's own.

2014.0822Appliqué panel from the Street of the Tentmakers, Cairo, Egypt (TRC 2014.0882), showing a scene taken from Pharaonic depictions. For more information, click on the illustration.The parodies of the pictures of the Pharaohs are soberer in their colouring; the black of hair and the Venetian red of naked bodies play such a large part in these compositions. They are odiously vulgar, because their faces and attitudes are caricatured to make the tourist like them as much as Mr. Lance Thackeray's satirical postcards of Germans on donkeys and spinsters on camels. They are always in shocking taste and bear hardly any resemblance to their originals. The tourists buy them as greedily as they buy the smoked sky-blue and scarlet statuettes of European exhibitions.

In the mid- to latter half of the twentieth century, the main colours were red, green, yellow and blue, as these were described as being ‘happy’ colours. By the end of the twentieth century a wider range of colours was incorporated into the designs, in order to suit modern tastes, both at home and abroad. There was also a much wider range of designs available. Since the 1990s, for example, the designs have gone up-market and feature finer and more elaborate handwork.