Original Post: Aug 26, 2015
When I began this new adventure as a textile designer, I not only reached waaaay back to the beginning of becoming a designer... but found myself faced with the task of deciding on the application and end product. What was I going to do with all of this hand printed fabric?? So I traced back even further to our big move overseas and the practicalities of making due with materials we had available for everyday living.
Upon our relocation to Alexandria Egypt in 1982, we were starting a brand new life and with few possessions in tow. The country was still reeling from the loss of its leader, Anwar Sadat and the economy was struggling. We (my mother and I) had never been out of the US which made for an interesting challenge to acclimate to this new and very different culture we found ourselves in. Though I was raised to be mindful, the Western culture we were used to was, and still is, one of disposable conveniences.
I believe it was my mother and stepdads upbringing on the cotton and peanut farms of Alabama and the basics of homesteading that brought us through those first years in Egypt. Meals were completely made from scratch, food was 'put away' because we worked with what was seasonally on the market (and occasionally, the black market). The original Betty Crocker Cookbook, torn and tattered, became sacred texts of the kitchen. There were no trips to the US Embassy commissary (like an American food store, but much smaller scale) and our mailing system was limited at best. Imported goods from Europe, or rarer still, the US were outrageously expensive and difficult to find. So, much of our home products were made by hand.
With trips to the fabric Souk and a new sewing machine, my mother began working her magic. Curtains were made to keep the cold out (Yes it can get very cold in Egypt! Especially on the Mediterranean!), dinner parties were adorned with simple but elegant textiles. Alternate sets of tableware were made and intended for less formal and daily occasions. Materials were chosen for longevity in addition to lovely patterns and colours. It wasn’t just something for special occasions...it was also to be practical and durable.
In many ways, I believe this taught me about ‘sustainability’ and going ‘green’ decades before it was a mainstream movement. When I left Egypt for college, my mother created a stack of hand towels, sets of dinner and tea napkins and other home goods to help make my new location ‘home’. The irony here: I was often mistaken for someone from an affluent family because of such 'luxuries', when in fact, they were intended to cut costs on paper goods and bring comfort to a student thousands of miles away from home. I still have (and use) those pieces my mom made for me more than 25 yrs ago. Though being ‘green' or 'sustainable’, was not quite the goal...bringing our own personal aesthetic and practicality to our home, however, was.